In the last decades, the number of archaeological excavations has increased considerably and the standards of analysing and recording have improved. This has lead to the creation of an exponentially growing volume of archaeological archives, including written or graphic documentation both analogue and digital, archaeological finds and samples of various natures. All archaeologists agree that this heterogeneous collection is extremely precious, being often the only testimony left to witness an archaeoogical activity. All are concerned with its long term storage and conservation, but it is often difficult to find the necessary resources to maintain these archives. The EAC Symposium topic in Metz 2007 was on archaeological archives. There, a variety of shared concerns could be identified alongside a willingness to work together to find solutions. The symposium recognised and discussed the importance of these issues and debated a series of the major aspects from the points oj view of various European countries:
- The definition of the archaeological archive to be kept "forever" and whether there is a legal basis to that definition
- Legal issues, who is responsible for the conservation and curation of this archive
- Procedures of selection and retention
- Storage and standards of conservation
- Accessibility of the archive.
The symposium highlighted the fact that most of the member countries shared many common issues covered by these topics and there was unanimous agreement that the development of best practice guidance and an overarching standard for European archaeological archives was a desirable goal.The decision was made to form a working party to establish common guidance for archaeological archives, and also to look at such aspects as training, digital archiving, access, archive management and storage/curation issues.
The members of the working party are:
Ann Degraeve, B (chair)
David Bibby, D (co-chair)
Duncan Brown, GB
Manuela Fischer, D (administration)
Ylva Larsson, S
Guus Lange, NL
Martin Kuna, CZ
Carla Schulte, NL
Bettina Stoll-Tucker, D
Sólborg Una Pálsdóttir, IS
Catherine Hardmann, ADS, GB
Kathy Perrin, GB
Sascha Schmidt, VS-Consulting, D
The first task of the working party was to agree both on a definition and the underlying principles of an archaeological archive:
Archaeological archives are all moveable remains/heritage, data and documentation from any archaeological observation or intervention
- An archaeological archive should be permanently preserved in a recognised facility;
- Every archaeological activity should aim to produce a structured, complete, stable and accessible archive;
- Standards for the preparation and management of the archaeological archive must be understood and agreed at the beginning of any archaeological activity.
The activities of the EAC-working party on archaeological archives resulted in the European Union co-funded ARCHES project to establish common standards and guidance for the creation, preparation and deposition of archaeological archives in Europe. The individual members of the ARCHES project are essentially the same as those of the working party. Even so, the working party and ARCHES are not identical. ARCHES more is more formally structured than the working party - into Work Packages:
1 Project management and coordination (Baden-Württemberg, Germany)
2 Core Standard Production (English Heritage)
3 Organisation of Workshops (Archaeological Heritage Agency, Iceland)
4 Survey (Sachsen Anhalt, Germany)
5 Applied Standard Production (Archeologicky ustav AVCR Praha, v.v.i Czech Republic)
6 Dissemination (Brussels Capital Region, Belgium)
7 Sustainability measures (Rijksdienst voor het Cultureel Erfgoed, Netherlands)
The Swedish Riksantikvarieämbetet, RAÄ has a role in each working party, rather than organising one itself
One of the central aims of ARCHES has been to produce a core standard and guide for the creation, preparation and deposition of archaeological archives, bringing together the recommendations of existing standards and guidance documents and providing standards where none currently exist as well as guidance for their implementation. The guidance addresses all areas of archaeological archives - finds, samples, environmental material, written, drawn and photographic records, and digital material - and all areas of the process from archaeological activity or intervention (whether invasive or non-invasive) to deposition. It is applicable to the compilation of new archives as well as to repositories and should, when possible, be regarded as a standard also to be applied retrospectively.
The "Standard and Guide to Best Practice in Archaeological Archiving in Europe", which was published online on 31. May 2014, also draws from existing ideas, principles, guidelines and related documents currently informing the archiving process. Ideas have been exchanged in:
- surveys conducted in early 2013 looking in detail at the best practice used in each country,
- local workshops in each of the ARCHES members' languages to encourage bidirectional information on local/national archiving practice and future visions as well as to elucidate the survey,
- a bibliography of all member countries' relevant literature and guidance documentation compiled as a guarantee that the project's results are relevant and appropriate in all the constituent parts of the EAC member countries.
Six principal activities have been identified in the compilation and preparation of an archaeological archive: collection, analysis, reporting, ordering, packing and transfer. This structure is reflected in the Guide:
- project planning and the stipulation of archive standards
- the collection of data, the recording of information, the treatment of records, finds and digital data
- the processes of analysis and archiving the results
- the packing of records and finds, the presentation of digital data, the ordering and indexing of the archive
- transfer, and the long-term curation and management of archaeological archives (sustainability).
You can also download the ARCHES Guide in seven languages at The Standard and Guide to Best Practice in Archaeological Archiving in Europe on the ARCHES Wiki where you can also find more information on the ARCHES project.
E-mail ARCHES at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The ARCHES- Project, with a total financial volume of € 323,654.00 will run initially from June 2012- May 2014. It is jointly financed by the working group member input and a grant from the European Commission's Education, Audiovisual and Cultural Executive Agency under the Culture Programme 2007-2013.
This project has been funded with support from the European Commission. This publication [communication] reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.