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The text hereunder is the transcription of the following publication: Duncan H. Brown, Archaeological Archives. A Guide to best practice in creation, compilation,transfer and curation, 2007. The pdf of the complete document can be found here. This text has been used as the starting point for the ARCHES project.

Archaeological Archives:#

A guide to best practice in creation, compilation, transfer and curation#


The creation of stable, consistent, logical, and accessible archives from fieldwork is a fundamental building block of archaeological activity. Since the discipline emerged in the late 19th and early 20th century it has been recognised that the process of excavation is destructive and that no archaeological interpretations are sustainable unless they can be backed up with the evidence of field records and post-excavation analysis. Such records and analysis should be available for re-examination and re-interpretation. With this guide to best practice, for the first time the whole archaeological discipline has a single document to use in ensuring archives are created properly, and curated in such a way as to make them usable into the future.

This document was born out of the creation of the Archaeological Archives Forum (AAF) in 2003. This was a recommendation of Kathy Perrin’s 2002 report for English Heritage, Archaeological Archives: documentation, access and deposition: a way forward. This report built on and developed the Swain report of 1998, A survey of archaeological archives in England. These earlier documents marked recognition by the profession that the importance of archives in theory was not being translated into practice. Hopefully, this document and other work of the AAF will correct this.

The author of the report, Duncan Brown, who has for many years championed standards for archaeological archives in Southampton, should be commended for his efforts in producing a comprehensive, practical and exhaustive document. He was supported by a steering committee including myself, James Dinn from ALGAO, Kathy Perrin from English Heritage and Kenneth Aitchison from the IFA. Kenneth also acted as project manager. All organisations involved in AAF have endorsed this guidance and several have contributed materially to its production.

But this guidance should be just the beginning. It will be a great leap forward to have the confidence that all archaeological fieldwork in the UK is generating ordered and usable archives that are curated in a sustainable way and are accessible for all to use. There is then the need to ensure archaeologists are maximising use of this unique resource. Huge amounts of new knowledge are held in archives waiting to be researched and utilised. The next challenge to the profession is to unlock this knowledge.

Hedley Swain Museum of London/Chair AAF 2003-6


Supported by:

Archaeological Archives Forum
Archaeology Data Service
Association of Local Government Archaeological Officers UK
Department of Environment for Northern Ireland
English Heritage
Historic Scotland
Institute of Field Archaeologists
Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland
Society of Museum Archaeologists