Mapping the Value of Archaeological Archives in Museums

Samantha Paul

Research output: Contribution to conference (unpublished)Paper


It is widely believed that the archives that result from commercial archaeological interventions are important heritage assets, though there is little in the way of research to support this assumption. Professional archaeologists focus on the storage crisis, the potential loss of important material and the cost of curation, rather than what value these archives actually hold in the present and for the future despite the fact that this has direct relevance in terms of policies relating to acquisition and discard. While archaeologists debate these issues, they are not the ultimate custodians of this material and often those that are (namely museums) have no say in what we expect them to be responsible for.

As a direct result of the current space crisis within museums, not only the value but also the very existence of these archives is being questioned by the institutions which hold them. One published view is that ‘archaeological archives are not worth the space and time they take up within museum stores’ (Swain 1998). Current projects within museums aim to address the issue through the reduction of the archaeological archives they hold. The varied approaches to these reviews have led to a situation where certain elements of the archive are ‘legitimised’ by being accessioned into the museum’s collections while other aspects are effectively thrown away. But how are these decisions being made and what are the implications on how archaeological archives are created in the future?

Through presentation of a case studies this paper will explore the process of valorisation leading to the de-accessioning of archaeological archives within museums. Understanding this process of valorisation has the potential to inform the entire notion of archaeological archive generation, from decisions around the initial creation of the archive following fieldwork, through to the question of where archaeological archives should be deposited. The paper will begin to highlight some of the moments when value judgements could be applied throughout this process.

Swain, H. (1998) A Survey of Archaeological Archives in England. London. Museums and galleries commission.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2016
EventSociety of Museum Archaeology Conference 2015 - The Great North Museum, Newcastle, United Kingdom
Duration: 11 Nov 201512 Nov 2015


ConferenceSociety of Museum Archaeology Conference 2015
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


  • museums
  • collections
  • value
  • Sustainability
  • selection
  • discard
  • de-accessioning


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