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Disposing of archived artefacts
I serve on a committee that advises a designated museum on its archaeology collection and archive policy. We have been asked to advise the curator on whether or not it is acceptable for the museum to dispose of certain excess archived artefacts and if so how this should be done.

What we are talking about is, for example, the 100 kg of roman pot sherds and roof tiles from a villa site, the 200kg of building stone from a medieval castle and similar types of thing . Also included could be large quantities of animal bone and in some circumstances even human material.

The reason this is being considered is the cost of storage for material that may never be looked at again.

The options being considered are that the artefacts that are being disposed of should be sampled, a representative sample kept and then the bulk of the material is then deposited/ buried on the site it was originally excavated from in some kind of pit or silo.

All in all we are talking about roughly 1 tonne of material.

We have to consider the unacceptable and escalating cost of storage, the need to preserve and archive for future study and how to dispose of excess materials in a manner that is acceptable to the archaeological community

This is a difficult job for the committee members to consider and I am asking BAJR Bods to let me know their feelings and ideas so that we can come up with an acceptable way forward. we suspect that we may be the first museum to look at this problem but believe that other will have to follow soon. It is for this reason that we need to set an example of good practice.

In terms of tile, the current recommendations of the archaeological ceramic building materials group

is that once catalogued a large proportion of the assemblage can be recommended for discard, although the final descsicion should remain with the accessioning museum about what to get rid of of this material (typically 90% of an assemblage).
'discard' in this case can mean being used for out reach projects.
When material is discarded its final resting place should be recorded!
For CBM the most effecient way of processing would be washing and recording to discard on site...

There are I beleive already museums getting rid of uncatalogued stratified CBM assemblages because of space.

I don't think any discard policy could or should be arranged without full specialist input
I believe that the Surrey Museums Service looked into similar ideas last year. They were thinking of not actually discarding the material, but sort of "archiving" it underground (ie. reburial). The proposals were rejected fairly quickly is seem to remember. I also agree with Tile Man that nothing should be discarded without the appropriate qualified specialist input, which really should be done at the point of discovery (or during specialist post-ex analysis, obviously).

You asked for our feelings Magpie. Personally I feel this is a dangerous road to go down. I realise there are chronic storage problems across the country, but I don't think that accepting the principl of wholesale disposal is an appropriate answer. Once the precedent has been set for throwing archaeological material away, it will be used as an excuse to not address the wider problems of the under-funding of museums and lack of direction as to where the sector is going and what it exists for. It will also damage the educational remit of museums and they'd run the risk of becoming more like art galleries. Would the disposal criteria apply to pottery from the same assemblage that was equally "not worth keeping" academically, but just happened to look nice? Do we start to make judgements that no-one will want to look at things again simply because they aren't aesthetically pleasing? Etc., etc.

I think that as a profession we need to continue to heavily lobby the government for the appropriate levels of funding, strategic policy, and industry support, rather than be considering unsatisfactory alternatives in order to cover up for their inadequacies.
Surely we consider selection/retention and discard issues in every Post-Excavation Assessment and UPD?

That being the case, there should be a reasoned justification for the retention of everything that has been retained, and for the discard of other material. The precedent for throwing stuff away has been well established, because it happens every day - but it is being done on the basis of a reasoned, justified case.

If we are talking here about older material that was not subject to a P-Ex assessment and UPD, then the museum should give it that kind of reasoned consideration before selecting material for discard.

I don't think it is reasonable to expect to keep everything for ever - too costly, and too much warehouse space required, which in principle would have to expand indefinitely. I can see better ways of spending the money.


to let, fully furnished
I suppose I ougt to plug the archaeological archives forum's draft best practice guide

I would put the onus on having to justify the discard of archaeological finds, and only after proper specialist involvement at the earliest possible point in the project design process ( a la IFA S&G and Map2 etc. In my experience it is entirely reasonable to assume that if you are ecavating a roman villa ( or indeed Roman anything) large quantaties of CBM can be expected, so a proper on site sampling strategy can be agreed. It also needs to be properly implemented with the full informed involvement of the field staff (I'll stop there before CK accuses me of doing my stuck record routine. Ah too late....)
I'm not too sure about putting discarded materials back on the site they originally came from, whether in a 'silo' or any other type of feature.

If the material came from a research excavation on an exisiting and extant archaeological site then this could be a good idea. However anything from a site that is now developed is unlikely to be welcomed back by the developer/owner, especially if they have previouisly signed over ownership of the material to the museum.

As an aside, this issue remimnds me of the 1995/6 English Heritage excavations at Maiden Castle (Dorchester) whrere the dig team removed the backfill from some of Wheeler's excavations and found within it material that had been discarded at the time by the Dorset County Museum, including North African pottery and a stuffed crocodile.

Schools! There are plenty of schools that would welcome an opportunity to receive discard material.It makes for a superb school display cabinet-thingy and an absorbing teaching collection for the kids.Discard could be built into the new infra-structure to mark the presence of local history-after all, "preserve in situ" as an IFA tenet is largely ignored resulting in no visible record left on site.Just new concrete-built shops and apartments with green wavy rooves. Discard is only discard because we define it as such but I`m sure that theres plenty of interested public-types who would disagree.From local history/archaeology societies to homes for the elderly- theres plenty of people who would relish the chance of just holding a bit of old pot! I think we might be underestimating the intrinsic social value of what we deem to be "discard". On a broader note, we seem to be making discard decisions on behalf of the public who, have no say and are probably not even aware that it goes on.Isnt it time we thought hollistically about our actions and stepped outside of the box?Big Grin

..knowledge without action is insanity and action without knowledge is vanity..(imam ghazali,ayyuhal-walad)

'"preserve in situ" as an IFA tenet is largely ignored resulting in no visible record left on site.'

Not everything bad in archaeology can be blamed on the IFA. 'Preservation in situ' is a tenet of PPG16, not IFA, and there are plenty within the IFA who would like to see this issue reconsidered within the forthcoming (whenever) Heritage White Paper and subsequent PPS (or similar).

Preservation in situ happens all the time as a result of EIA work, especially on linear infrastructure schemes (roads, pipes, flood defences, etc), although most field unit staff would be completely unaware of it - they only get involved if the site is not going to be preserved.

What usually happens is that, at an early stage in scheme design, the EIA archaeologist spots a significant potential impact and flags it up to the designers, who pick a different route. It happens quietly on a daily basis, and rarely makes it into any kind of report (not even the Environmental Statement), simply because the impact has been identified and avoided before the route was fixed.

I have been personally involved in this kind of preservation several times, often for sites newly discovered as part of the EIA work. At least one site, which would otherwise have been destroyed as a result of motorway construction, is now a Scheduled Ancient Monument.


to let, fully furnished
Hello Folks
Completely agree with 1man and have been involved with lots of archaeology at the stage; you would never know it was there unless you checked the SMR. I also agree with Troll's point and I must add that preservation insitu should be our first option. There's a lot of badly excavated sites particularly on linear schemes that could have been avoided in the first place.
Anyway, whats this go to do with archived artefacts.

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