1. “How do I care for archaeological archives and photographs?
  2. What supplies are recommended for archival storage of documentation?

How do I care for archaeological archives and photographs?

Archaeological archives consist of unique photographic and textual documentation generated by many years of excavations. These archives contain photographs, film negatives, drawings, and supplementary materials such as journals, field notebooks, and other ancillary records. Often the field notes are not acid free.

Important first measures in caring for archaeological archives and photographs are:

Photo by E. Williams. Used by permission of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.

  • To make an acid-free photocopy of paper records
  • To place all archives in acid-free folders and boxes
  • To place photographs in archival storage sleeves and, using hangers, place them in acid-free un-buffered boxes or in metal file cabinets, preferably powder-coat painted.
  • To find a repository to store all the archives in a controlled environment.

Paper records – require clean, dark, cool environment, which is stable with little fluctuation. Originals should be copied on acid-free paper to provide a copy for use as handling documents causes degradation.

Photographs, slides and negatives – require stable environments with a non-fluctuating humidity below 30-40% RH. High temperatures and humidity over 60% will accelerate deterioration. Slides, negatives, and color photographs will last longer stored in dark, cold storage with humidity control. Cold storage is not practical for all institutions and can even cause damage if used improperly. However, frost-free freezers can be used as long as special enclosures and handling procedures are followed. It is important to leave the photographic materials in bags or boxes until they come to room temperature before handling them. More information on cold storage can be found on the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) site.

An archives facility provides appropriate storage conditions for materials placed in its custody, ensuring an environment with proper temperature and humidity controls. Archive facilities provide access to archives through reasonable procedures for the circulation of records, proper handling during retrieval, and careful use by researchers and staff. Responsible security measures protect against loss.

Electronic Archives Preservation

Electronic archives preservation requires not just the physical preservation of the data but also depends on preserving the ability to retrieve and read it. To preserve electronic archives, planning must be implemented to ensure the regular migration of electronic records in the collection to enable ready retrieval. Software and equipment changes will necessitate migration of data. Transferring data to meta-data is the newest approach in preserving electronic data. Data should be stored on CDs that are copied periodically. CDs should be stored in polypropylene cases. Some conservators also recommend enclosure of Corrosion Intercept® pollutant scavenger inserts to protect the CDs from gases and fumes in the environment.

Additional Resources:

Appelbaum, B. (1991) Guide to Environmental Protection of Collections. Madison, WI: Sound View Press, 270 pp.

Bachmann, K. (1992). Conservation Concerns: A Guide for Collector and Curators. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press.

What supplies are recommended for archival storage of documentation?

Acid Free Folders

Folders manufactured from acid-free and lignin-free paper stock, buffered to pH 8.0-8.5 with 3% calcium carbonate.


Corrosion Intercept® CD Storage Insert

Corrosive gasses that can adversely affect the metallic layer of CDs are neutralized, preventing the loss of data. The insert also provides padding.

CD cases made of polypropylene

Polypropylene is stable and non-offgassing. It is also durable and will not crack or break easily.


Coroplast Boxes

Made of lightweight, corrugated polypropylene/polyethylene copolymer sheets. Used for storing artifacts.


Slide Storage Pages – “Safe T Store”

Polypropylene pages which safely store board, plastic, metal or glass mounted slides. Rigid page design minimizes wear from movement.


Copyright © 2006 Colleen Brady, Molly Gleeson, Melba Myers, Claire Peachey, Betty Seifert, Howard Wellman, Emily Williams, Lisa Young. All rights reserved. Commercial use or publication of text and graphic images is prohibited. Authors reserve the right to update this information as appropriate.