ESAR Curation Policy and Procedures

The term “collections” refers to materials recovered by archaeological surveys, tests or excavations and any supporting documentation, including, but not limited to, maps, field notes, records, catalogs, photographic media and properly completed site forms (IMACS, ASI Site Inventory Forms). ESAR Curation Policy and Procedures are directed toward providing optimal housing, conservation, documentation, and accessibility of collections in its care. In order to provide the best possible care, all collections submitted to ESAR must conform to the standards presented in the following pages.

Curation Agreement

A curation agreement is necessary before a collection can be deposited with ESAR. A Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) or a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) detailing curatorial services and responsibilities, as well as the Depositor’s responsibilities, is required prior to the acceptance of a collection. This Agreement should be arranged during the planning phase of a Depositor’s project and signed by the Depositor’s authorized representatives and the authorized representatives of the ESAR. Curation of federal collections is conducted in accordance with the provisions of 36 CFR 79.

In some circumstances a repository may accept a collection as a gift which transfers titles of the collection to the host institution managing the repository. Only those collections which meet the accessioning policy of the host institution will be considered as potential gifts. Transfer of titles must be finalized prior to, or concurrently with, submission of the collection to the repository.

At the onset of any contract or project the Depositor will provide ESAR with the following information: (1) the location and scope of the project; (2) name and address of managing parties involved (principal investigator, institution, organization, agency, contractor, etc.); (3) name and address of owners of the project collection; and (4) the anticipated nature and volume of the collection, noting if conservation problems are expected. In addition to this advance notice, it is necessary to notify the Collections Manager thirty (30) days prior to the delivery of a collection to the curation center.

It is the responsibility of the owner of a collection to ensure the archaeological materials are cleaned, sorted, labeled, catalogued, documented, conserved, and packaged, in accordance with ESAR standards. The repositories will accept only those collections which have received this initial processing. A repository may agree to accept a substandard collection under a service contract which will cover the direct and indirect costs incurred in bringing the collection up to acceptable standards.

This policy statement provides guidance on general standards for collections. Each repository had specific requirements which reflect differences in details of the physical plant, staffing, and host institution operating rules.


Smithsonian Site Numbers

Only collections that have received a Smithsonian site number designation will be accepted for curation. For southeastern Idaho, Smithsonian site numbers are assigned by the State Historic Preservation Office, Idaho State Historical Society, Boise (208/334‑2682). Contact should be made with that agency for information on the appropriate procedures to be followed in order to obtain Smithsonian site numbers.

Site Forms

As soon as possible after the pertinent site information is collected and a Smithsonian site number is assigned, it is the Depositor’s responsibility to send properly completed site forms (IMACS or ASI Site Inventory Forms) to ESAR and the State Historic Preservation Office in Boise. IMACS site forms and Users Guides can be obtained from the IMACS Administrative Office at the University of Utah (801- 581‑8663). If the Depositor is subcontracting under a Federal Agency (i.e., Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Park Service, Bureau of Reclamation, etc.), IMACS site forms and Users Guides may be obtained from that agency.

Each IMACS site form must be completely filled out, following the IMACS Users Guide. A photocopy of the appropriate USGS 7.5′ (or 15′ where no 7.5′ is available) topographic quadrangle showing the area in which the site lies must accompany each site form. The location of each site must be plotted accurately on the map.

ASI Site Inventory Forms may be downloaded here (ASI Site Inventory FormASI Survey Report Form). These and additional forms or guidelines may be obtained through the Idaho State Historical Society website at under ‘Federal Historic Preservation Project Review’.

Catalogue of Materials

All materials accepted for curation must be accompanied by a hard copy of the collection catalogue. If available, an electronic copy is also desirable. In addition to listing catalogue number and object name and description, the catalogue should also contain entries for material type, condition, measurements for individually catalogued items or counts for lot items grouped under one catalogue number (such as a bag of debitage from the same provenience). Each site must have its own catalogue, preferably of acid-free or 100% rag paper with entries made in a #2 lead pencil or permanent ink. If the catalogue is typed or printed by a computer a carbon based ribbon/cartridge should be used. The Survey requires no particular cataloguing system, but each item sample and lot in the collection must have its horizontal and vertical proveniences either listed in the catalogue or directly reflected in the catalogue number. If portions of a collection have received special conservation treatment, the catalogue should be annotated to describe the treatment accorded each item; alternatively, an appendix to the catalogue may be prepared listing each item treated by catalogue number with a description of the conservation treatment applied.

When using successive Arabic numerals for cataloguing, there should be no duplication of numbers, no gaps left in the sequence, and letter designations should be added to the number.

Grouping material for bulk or “lot” cataloguing is normally considered part of the artifact analysis and professional judgment should be used. Diagnostic artifacts (such as projectile points, ground stone, rim and base sherds, and bone tools, bottle necks, bottle bases with maker’s marks, and similar identifiable items) should be given individual catalogue numbers. This will permit their individual identification in the repository’s collection database. A group of similar items of the same material from the same provenience which have no important distinguishing characteristics and are not individually diagnostic (such as unused flakes, unidentifiable bone fragments, and unidentifiable metal fragments) may be given a single “lot” catalogue number.

If working at a previously documented site please contact the appropriate repository for information on the previous catalogue sequence in order to avoid generating duplicate catalogue systems for the site.

Reports and other Documentation

In addition, archaeological materials submitted for curation must be accompanied by all documentation produced during the report. If a collection is produced by a project resulting in a published report, a hard copy of that report must accompany the collection or be submitted when it is available. If available, an electronic copy is also desirable. If there is no final report, a description of the project must be submitted with the collection. This description should include a list of personnel and institutions/companies involved, dates of field and laboratory work, a map and detailed description of the project area and site location, purpose of the project, methods used, and project results. When a collection is the result of work made possible by permit, grant, or contract, a copy of such document must be included among the collections records.

Written materials such as field notes, laboratory records, correspondence, catalogues, etc. must be legible, clearly labeled, and well organized. In general, documents should be grouped together by subject. Each document folder or archival box must be labeled with the site number, project name, project date/year, and a description of its contents. The use of acid-free or 100% rag paper is recommended to prolong the life of the documents. Never use yellow legal pad paper or felt tip pens.

In addition to the above noted label requirements, computer printouts should be annotated with the name of the application program used. A key to any codes used must be included if such a key is necessary to understand the printout.

Maps, profiles, and drawings must be clearly marked with the site number, project name, subject (including provenience, if appropriate), date, and name of the cartographer or illustrator. In addition, all necessary keys, direction arrows, scales, etc. must be present to properly interpret the drawing. If such information is not part of the drawing it can be added in pencil to the obverse of the drawing. Table drafting should be used for maps and profiles to promote their longevity.

Photographic Materials

Photographic media should be submitted for curation as part of the supporting documentation. All slides, negatives, and prints should be placed in archival quality sleeves appropriate for long-term storage. Material such as acid-free papers, polyester (i.e. Mylar), triacetate, polypropylene, and polyethylene are acceptable materials. Do not use glassine envelopes, vinyl, or other plasticized sheets containing PVC’s, nonacid-free papers, Kraft paper envelopes, rubber bands, paper clips, or pressure sensitive tapes.

Each storage sleeve or envelope should be labeled with the Smithsonian site number, date, project name, or other appropriate information. Contact sheets must accompany each set of negatives and should be labeled with the same information as the corresponding negative holder. Slide mounts should be labeled across the bottom with the site number (and catalogue number as appropriate). All photographic materials must be accompanied by a photographic record that is organized by roll and frame, identifying the photographer and any persons in the photograph, the subject and its provenience, the camera direction, and the date for each frame or slide. All materials must be self-indexed so that any individual item separated from the collection can be easily identified and restored to its proper place.

To enhance the longevity of the photographic record, black and white film should be used in preference to color slide or negative film. Custom processing should be used to minimize chemical deterioration of the image. Rapid film processing services use chemicals and procedures which shorten the potential life of photographic materials.

Automated Data

As stated above under Catalogue of Materials, all materials accepted for curation must be accompanied by a hard copy of the collection catalogue. All automated data (whether a catalogue or some other assemblage of data) submitted on a computer disk or diskette must be accompanied by a complete printout of all information contained on the computer media. In addition, each disk or diskette must be submitted with appropriate metadata that includes at a minimum the following: name and date of the project, researchers associated, Smithsonian site numbers, time period of data entry, and all software and hardware requirements for viewing the data.

Conservation and Environment

In order to maintain the scientific value of collected materials and to assure proper care, all collections accepted for curation must be handled according to proper conservation procedures and documented appropriately. It is the responsibility of the Depositor to clean, sort, label, catalog, document, and package collected materials and documentation according to ESAR Curation Policy and Procedures. These standards may change from time to time as improved procedures are developed in order to provide the best possible care for the collections.

The guidelines that follow emphasize conservation of artifacts in the field and lab, including handling, cleaning, labeling and packaging, as well as requirements for supporting documentation. A list of archival suppliers is also provided in the event that the Depositor experiences difficulty in obtaining any of the suggested labeling, packaging or paper material noted herein (Archival Suppliers). Everything deteriorates, even though it is not always visible to the naked eye. It is possible to slow down the deterioration process and safeguard the object, but it is essential for anyone undertaking this responsibility to understand the basic concepts of conservation so that no irreparable damage is done inadvertently to an object.

Every material has a stable form in relation to the environment in which it exists. When a change in the environment occurs, the material of which an object is made will begin to adapt to the new conditions. Changes in temperature, relative humidity, light levels, and Ph are the most damaging to any object. Some materials are more sensitive than others to change. Stone and well‑fired pottery may deteriorate little in response to change, but many organic materials can disintegrate within hours.

When handling, moving, or storing objects, keep environment in mind and do whatever you can to minimize change or fluctuation. For example, in the field, never leave artifacts in the sun. Make sure that containers (i.e., zip‑lock bags) holding organic objects are ventilated to allow moisture to escape (please introduce any ventilation holes prior to placing the object into the container). Don’t leave objects outside or in a vehicle. If an object is wet when recovered, keep it wet (i.e., with damp acid‑free tissue and/or Ethafoam in a zip‑lock bag) until it can be treated in the lab.  Likewise with objects recovered from a frozen environment.


Never pick up an object unless it is absolutely necessary. Handle artifacts as little as possible, not only in the field, but also during cleaning, processing, studying, and packing. Assume that all objects are extremely fragile. Small objects should be picked up in one hand with the other cradling or supporting it. Pick up larger objects with two hands at the strongest part and in such a way as to distribute the weight of the object evenly. Never pick up any object by its handle, rim, or any other protrusion.

Use a padded surface when working with artifacts to avoid breakage. Try to keep the distance between the object and the table to a minimum. For example, to examine an object closely, bring your eyes down to the object. Do not bend flexible materials such as textiles, fibers, skin, hide, or metals. Fragile items should be placed on a sheet of non‑buffered acid‑free tissue, acid‑free board, or polyethylene foam for support and so they can be picked up and moved without actually being handled. Only inert acid‑free materials should come in contact with objects, even in the field.


Avoid attempting to clean objects in the field by extensive scraping, brushing, rubbing, or washing. This can cause damage to the surface edges of the object. Wait to clean objects under proper laboratory conditions.

Surface soil and dirt must be removed from an object before a label is applied. The use of water to clean metals, dry wood, and fragile or delicate bone is especially damaging. Even sturdy bone can warp, split, or crack as a result of changes in moisture content. Clean bone, pottery, wood and metal with a dry, soft‑bristled brush ‑ never with water. Washing of all objects including those of stone may remove mineral and organic residues providing evidence of past tool use of container contents, thus dry cleaning is recommended when possible Excessive cleaning beyond the point necessary for analysis or conservation is not encouraged. A good compromise is to thoroughly clean only the portion of the object to be labeled.