PRESERVATION \ 71
1: G. Buccellati, August 2009

Principles of archaeological storage

Introduction: An organic view
The basic view: stockage and selectivity
The alternative view: storage as an intellectual process
   1. Collection
   2. Registration
   3. Auditing
   4. Documentation
   5. Boxing
   6. Shelving
   7. Access
   8. Integration in the record
   9. Recursive auditing and transparency
Curatorship

Introduction: An organic view

     A central goal of the Mozan/Urkesh Archaeological Project is to achieve a seamless integration of all the various activities that relate to the excavations – and storage is an important component of this concern. Viewed in this light, storage is not a practical problem. It becomes an intellectual issue, one that is tied in with the broader perspective of the record and its documentation.
     At one end, storage has to do with what one does with the immense quantity of physical items that are retrieved, observed and (in various degrees) recorded during the excavation.
     At the other end, assuming these physical items have been saved and stored, the question arises of how they can be utilized, by both becoming an integral part of the record, and being physically accessible for study.
     It is clear, in this light, that storage must not be a post-hoc concern, but must rather be inscribed in the basic strategy. It is also clear that storage is an essential part of preservation, inasmuch as it seeks to guarantee the survival, for later inspection and study, of the totality of movable items that have been recovered, regardless of their perceived importance.
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Stockage and selectivity

     What first comes to mind when thinking about storage is simple stockage, i.e., the more or less blind stowing of items for safekeeping, without an immediate anticipation of how they might be used in the future.
     Intrinsically linked to the question of stockage is that of selectivity. If space is limited; if the attendant record is minimal; if it seems that eventual use of the items is anyhow unlikely – then one is inclined to be selective, and even highly selective, in what one chooses to preserve for storage.
     Thus, if one even thinks of storage as an issue; i.e., if one does not simply ignore it as a non-problem, and one engages in a wholesale discard of non-Museum quality items – one may proceed at best with a blind stockage that indeed preserves the items, but as fossils to be rediscovered as the need arises.
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The alternative view: storage as an intellectual process

     To go beyond this posture means to identify the proper intellectual nature of storage as a set of procedures radically embedded in the archaeological process, and wholly integrated within it. In order to achieve this end, one must abide by certain principles, which help to define storage not just as a technique, but as an integral part of archaeological method. The eight points that follow articulate what I perceive to be the most important aspects of this effort.
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1. Collection

     Upstream of storage, but intimately linked with it, there is the moment of disposition. These are, as it were, the birth pangs of storage. Items must enter, as soon as they are collected, into a processing chain that has as its clear ultimate end a set place for preservation and consultation.
     This calls for a policy to be in place that defines from the very beginning what the ultimate step is in that process. Which items do we collect and record is in function of their ultimate destination – i.e., precisely, their disposition. Thus, when a given item has been identified in the field, excavators must be aware of the range of procedures they are setting in motion if they keep and record the item, and not expect only a black hole wherein the items effectively disappear.
     With a clear policy and an effective system to match it, the sense of responsibility of the excavators is sustained. In other words, the moment of collection benefits immensely from the awareness of what the ultimate disposition is going to be, especially if the excavators are themselves directly involved in the process that leads up to final storage.
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2. Registration

     The direct involvement of the excavators begins with the collection of the item in the field and continues with registration in the house. This is the moment when the items enter the accession chain. There is no new accession number: the field number assigned at the moment of discovery is unique and will remain the item's final number forever. But this is the transition moment when the item acquires its extra-unit identity. Most important is the assignment to the final eventual destination, in particular whether the items require conservation or not, and whether they should be treated as special. In either case, they are subtracted to the unit supervision and they are transferred to the direct responsibility of the conservator or the curator.
     Concretely, registration entails the definition of the stages through which the item will have to go in order to reach the final goal of storage. This is done through a routing log and a routing slip, where these stages are checked off. At this point, the items are placed on shelves that are labeled for the different stages through each item is supposed to go.
     In Mozan, registration occurs at the level of the unit, i.e., we do not have a general register. One reason is that there are too many items for a single person to handle. Another and more important reason is that it behooves the individual units to be familiar with all the items that they have excavated. Registration does not entail knowledge of the typology of each object. It only calls for a documentation that is minimal, but such as to make future access possible and meaningful.
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3. Auditing

     A critical moment in the entire process is the audit of the items after registration. This entails a check on the physical objects to match their actual presence on the shelves against the field logs. This is especially laborious for the sherd lots, because of their sheer quantity. For this, a single person has the daily responsibility of checking each bag against the record, and to make sure that the organization on the shelves remains in fully functioning order.
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4. Documentation

     Four aspects define the documentary process of objects and samples. (Sherds, animal bones and human remains are stored immediately for future analysis by the specialists, without this intermediary typological documentation.)
     (1) A very brief description that expands minimally on the definition. This is not a specialist's record with details about typology, manufacturing or function, but only a common sense statement about such things as shape, material or condition.
     (2) A set of measurable parameters, such as size, color or weight.
     (3) A set of studio photographs, generally taken from several angles.
     (4) A drawing: in most cases, this is omitted for items of the normal study collection, as it is expected that this would be the responsibility of a specialist coming at a later time and using more specific conventions and techniques.
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5. Boxing

     The final moment in the unit's involvement in the processing of objects and samples occur when these are boxed. A basic categorization system pre-defines the types of boxes to which each item belongs. The boxes are so prepared by the Curator, and the individual units feed to them their respective items, thereby effecting a rough preliminary typological sort.
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6. Shelving

     Shelving marks the transition from the unit to the curator, who now takes over fully the responsibility of caring for ("curating") the items. In the first place, This means making
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7. Access

     The dynamics of the curator's involvement is in providing
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8. Integration in the record

     Along each step of the way, the record builds up with input from each of the participants. Beginning with the individual excavator, then the unit person who registers the item, then the photographer and when involved the draftsperson – in each and every case the record of the individual item grows as a single entity, created by a wide variety of inputs that merge progressively, and automatically, into a seamless whole.
     But the potential for growth of the record is always there. Each time the items area accessed, the record grows apace.
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Curatorship


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9. Recursive auditing and transparency

     Besides the daily auditing described under item 3, there are periodical audits, for instace when a book is prepared for final digital publication. Taken seriously, an audit implies the possibility that items might be missing.
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