Landscapes and Prospects for Archaeological Curation

Sarah Buchanan


Archaeological curation, the management of objects and associated documentation after discovery in an excavation, is a complex endeavor that is carried out by over 200 repositories in the United States. The accumulation of collections accessioned into state and local museums without detailed provenience documentation had created the appearance of a “curation crisis” which archaeologists continue to take efforts to address. The work of repositories has been systematically surveyed since 1997/98, shortly after the Interagency Federal Collections Alliance sponsored a conference that fostered discussions about collections care issues between curators from federal agencies and non-federal repositories. Since then, studies have examined the adoption and use of repository curation fees to cover the costs of sustaining material in perpetuity. Such work has revealed differences in the categories and structure of fee types as well as regional variations and operational uses of the fees. This presentation will discuss the landscape of archaeological curation work over the past two decades as a way to outline future prospects at two levels: at the institution, the skills in demand for carrying out curatorship and stewardship, and for the discipline, the connectedness of repositories to public-facing museums and archives. The illustrated landscape reveals new avenues for productive collaboration across states, disciplines, and cultural heritage institutions.


Sarah Buchanan is an Assistant Professor at the School of Information Science & Learning Technologies at the University of Missouri. She completed her PhD in Information Studies at The University of Texas at Austin, M.L.I.S. from the University of California, Los Angeles, and B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. Her research interests in archival studies include data and provenance issues in archaeological archives, arrangement and description of special collections, and digital classics. In teaching, she promotes an enthusiasm for professional skills development in archives as well as community engagement. Sarah is active in the Society of American Archivists and is advising Mizzou’s new student chapter.