A provenance research study of archaeological curation
MetadataShow full item record
Archaeological curation is the process of managing objects and their documentation after their discovery in an excavation. It is an activity that occurs in the context of particular regulatory frameworks for archaeological conservation and historic preservation. Yet field archaeologists assert the continued presence of a “curation crisis” and collecting institutions are responding to ongoing dialogues for transparency in information about museum collections of antiquities, as upheld by the 1970 UNESCO Convention against looting and the sale of unprovenanced artifacts. Curators face an overwhelming volume of materials that demand curatorial attention in the form of provenance research, a pursuit which uses records and research generated during archaeological excavation fieldwork to construct a narrative of the object’s history from creation to display. Such provenance information supports the curation and public presentation of archaeological collections in museums, settings that currently bound our empirical understanding of curation. This dissertation finds that curation occurs in multiple settings but that curation activities are not well-coordinated. It examines the curation contributions of archaeologists and conservators, among other participants, that culminate in museum exhibition of objects. Fieldwork for this study occurred at four research sites including archaeological excavations (classical as well as contract and archival), a conservation lab, a curatorial facility or repository, and a state museum. The core findings of the study articulate archaeological curation as a discontinuum of distributed work, and the formation of the discontinuum through problematic data handoffs which arise from gaps in data interoperability and use purposes between four professional communities of practice. Handoffs between excavation, conservation, collections care, and exhibition activities impact the research potential of artifact collections – especially significant for museum archaeology practice and the public storytelling role. This provenance research study of work practices builds on archaeological, archival, and museum scholarship to articulate where, at these handoffs, separate communities of practice might collaboratively address archaeological curation issues. In positioning archaeological curation as a set of recordkeeping actions, this dissertation identifies opportunities for future research on coordination of data practices between multiple participants.