Collection Labeling and Packaging Guide
Collection Labeling and Packaging Guide
Web Edition 1.0 (August 2014)
Antonio J. Waring, Jr. Archaeological Laboratory
Archival labeling and packaging of objects, or groups of objects, are essential for the preservation and use of materials within an archaeological collection. Proper packaging and labeling ensures that collection information, most importantly those associated with the object’s provenience, is maintained and accessible. A curated archaeological collection and its component parts are not simply warehoused. The information contained within each collection has continuing value and is used for a wide variety of purposes, including scholarly research, specialized analysis, heritage education, and public exhibition. On many occasions, an individual object or small group of objects needs to be removed temporarily from the collection. A well-organized collection, properly labeled and packaged, effectively limits the possibility of information loss that can occur when an object has to be separated from its associated collection.
The information provided in this Guide is meant to supplement, but not replace, the Standards for Archaeological Curation for curation at the Waring Laboratory. The labeling and packaging measures detailed here conform with standards defined in Curation of Federally Owned and Administered Archeological Collections (36 CFR 79) and are compiled from information primarily derived from the American Association of Museums, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (St. Louis District), and the National Park Service. The Waring Laboratory recognizes that variant methods and materials may be required due to the specific nature of a collection and its parts. Departures from the specifics outlined in this Guide may be acceptable, if necessary and justified, as long as professional archival standards are maintained and the alternate methods preserve provenience information and facilitate use of the collection. Any variance must be approved in advance of depositing the collection with the Waring Laboratory. Archaeologists should consult the National Park Service’s Museum Handbook (especially Part I, Museum Collections) and Managing Archeological Collections: Technical Assistance for additional information.
Labeling and Packaging Rules
Each collection must be accompanied by three copies of a clearly identified Artifact, Document, and Photo Catalog in archival printed form and on a PC formatted disk or CD in a Microsoft Excel® or ASCII tab-delimited file format.
The Waring Laboratory does not mandate the specific type of artifact catalog system used. Catalog groups may be defined by analytic categories or classifications more specific than that provided by material class identification. Regardless of the artifact catalog type, the artifact catalog must have a unique catalog number for each catalog record and include a quantified count, a description, associated provenience information, excavation date, and site number (if available). The artifact catalog must clearly reflect the organization of the artifacts so each inner artifact bag contains only one unique number and be identified on the artifact catalog with that same number. Counts are required for all material except crumbling bone, fractions, charcoal, and C-14 samples. Weights are recommended for all material except for C-14 samples. Additional columns may include measurement, field number, restrictions, and other essential information. Refer to the table below for an example.
|Unique #||Provenience||Description||Date||Count||Weight||Site #|
The photo catalog must include a unique photo identification number (field number if non-digital or file name if digital), date the photo was taken, provenience information (site, feature number, and/or location), description, photographer’s name, camera used, project name, and format (i.e., tiff, 35mm).13 Digital photos are accepted, but all unnecessary photos must be culled and not included in the collection (i.e., pictures of pets and fun in the field).13, 11 It is not necessary to document which photos were discarded. Any altered images must be noted. The preferred format for digital photos is .tiff, which can be changed to be the default on most cameras.13 The digital photo’s file name must serve as the unique photo catalog number to allow proper correlation between the photo and the digital data.1 An electronic listing of all files within a PC folder directory can be generated with the command: “dir > filename.txt” at the command prompt. Then the files can be cut and pasted from the “filename.txt” file into a spreadsheet program.
The document catalog minimally must have a complete description, document creation date, and folder number. An example of a document inventory with multiple projects and suggested categories is shown below. Other specific or additional categories may be required.
Labeling involves directly labeling and placing a tag inside the storage container with the object. This section defines approved archival materials, identifies when to directly label artifacts, what information is to be included on tags, and how to label associated documentation. All artifacts and associated documentation must be clearly labeled using professional standards and appropriate archival materials for the medium. As previously stated, variations may occur and are handled on a case-by-case basis. Consult with the curatorial staff at the Waring Laboratory when the need for variant materials or methods is identified. The materials and methods that are used for labeling must be documented fully on the Collection Summary Form.
Below is a list of materials that may be used for labeling and some that are to be avoided.4
Materials that may be used
- 100% cotton string, undyed
- Teflon monofilament
- Nylon monofilament in polyethylene tubing
- Acid-free 100% cotton rag paper
- Unbuffered paper with a neutral pH, high alpha cellulose, lignin free
- Japanese paper
- Cotton twill tape
- India Ink
- Acryloid B72 or B67
- Acid-free card stock
- Alcohol and acetone solvents
Materials that cannot be used
- Typewriter correction fluid
- Nail polish
- Rubber cement
- Pressure sensitive tape or labels
- Paper labels moistened by water
- Ballpoint ink
- Metal fasteners or tags
- Edged tags
- Silicone products
- Fusible iron-on fabrics
- Elmer’s® glue
- Nail polish remover
Every item should be labeled with its associated catalog number as applicable to its material and status in the collection, yet be reversible if the label must be removed or changed.4 Directly labeled artifacts are less likely to lose their provenience information or to be separated from their catalog number than are artifacts that only have catalog numbers on paper labels or labeled containers.4 It is crucial that this identifying number not be separated from the specimen. For this reason, objects that can be safely labeled directly should be. All diagnostic artifacts and a representative sample of non-diagnostic artifacts submitted for curation must be directly labeled with associated catalog numbers. These classifications are determined by the Principal Investigator (P.I.) of the project.
All diagnostic artifacts must be directly labeled when possible, either with the reversible “sandwich” technique described below or, when the material dictates, with a small label attached to the artifact with archival string. “Diagnostic” artifacts are identified and defined by the professional archaeologist who recovered the material and include many of the items that comprise an archaeological collection.4 A representative sample (as defined by the Principal Investigator) of non-diagnostic artifacts of each material class from each provenience also must be directly labeled with associated catalog numbers. Material classes define groupings of artifacts into elementary classification categories such as lithic, animal bone, ceramic, glass, etc. Listed below are a few examples of “Diagnostic” and “Non-Diagnostic” artifacts solely for illustration since the P.I. determines material class.4, 7
- Pottery – complete and partial vessels, plain sherds, decorated sherds, rims, basal sherds, lugs, handles.
- Lithics – points, blades, scrapers, drills, performs, blanks, utilized flakes, celts, atlatl weights, hoes, other ground-stone objects.
- Bone – identifiable animal bone, bone tools, worked or cut bone.
- Exotic Raw Material – non-local (imported) manufacturing materials.
- Ceramics – complete and partial vessels, plain sherds, decorated sherds, rims, basal sherds, sherds with maker’s marks, buttons, pipe bowls, pipe stems, marbles, doll or figurine parts.
- Glass – cut, pressed, decorated, vessel bases, lips, handles, fragments with labels or manufacture’s marks, complete and partial vessels.
- Metal – tools and large fragments, machine parts, building hardware, buckles, ornaments, jewelry, flatware, harnessry, other implements.
- Plastic/Rubber – vessel parts, tools/implements, toys.
- Bone – identifiable animal bone, bone tools, worked or cut bone
- Non-utilized lithic flakes, shatter, and other debitage.
- Shell fragments (if not worked or utilized).
- Small, indistinguishable glass fragments.
- Fire-cracked rock.
- Clinkers and slag.
- Construction debris (brick fragments, mortar, etc.).
The method used to label an object depends on a variety of factors. These include physical stability of its surface, roughness, porosity, physical strength, and flexibility. It is important to use methods and materials that are appropriate to the object and do not harm it in any way.4, 2 The catalog number should be placed in an area that does not impact important diagnostic or aesthetic features of the object, and minimizes the handling needed to view the number. The most common method for directly labeling objects is a “sandwich” technique. Steps1 for this method are: 2
- Clean (if necessary) the area to be labeled.
- Place a thin coat of clear reversible lacquer (e.g., Acryloid B72 or B67) on the labeling area. If the artifact is dark in color, use white lacquer for the base coat. Multiple applications may be necessary on porous objects, such as unglazed ceramics. Let the base coat dry thoroughly.
- Write the label information on top of the base coat using a permanent water- or pigment-based ink (e.g., India ink). Let ink dry completely. Apply a topcoat of clear varnish (e.g., Acryloid B72).
- Let the label dry thoroughly before placing the object in a container.
It is possible to remove a label if it is incorrect or applied in the wrong location. If a base coat and inked label have been applied, the ink may be removed with a cotton swab slightly moistened with water. This will not affect the lacquer base coat for the application of a new number. If all three layers have been applied, the lacquer and ink may be removed with careful application of the solvent acetone by rolling it on the label with a cotton swab.2, 9, 10
Some objects cannot be labeled directly using the sandwich technique. They may be too small or have unstable surfaces [e.g., rusting metal nails]. Most paper, basketry, leather, textiles, and wood should not be marked directly.4 Human remains must not be directly labeled.7
In addition to direct labeling, artifacts must be accompanied by an archival stable tag (such as 25% cotton and acid-free paper, or Tyvek®) placed within the bag or other storage container. Tags of different sizes and shapes can be used for the catalog group to fit the appropriate size plastic bag or other container. Tags that may become worn or dirty must be sealed in a plastic bag within the artifact bag to protect it. Tags must not be folded. The tags can be directly printed from the artifact catalog or handwritten. Pencil or archival ink (e.g., pigma pen) must be used on the labels if the tags are handwritten.2 Inner container tags must be labeled minimally with the project name, excavation date, site number, provenience information, description, and catalog number. Outer container tags must be labeled minimally with the project name, excavation date, site number, provenience information, and catalog number(s). See the figure below for an example.
Extremely large objects and special samples may require individual identification tags. Acid-free tags may be attached to large objects by tying or sewing. Identification tags for special samples can be placed in the sealed container with the sample or on the housing of the container. When attaching labels, use materials compatible with the object and its storage location. In general, string or thread should be softer than the artifact’s surface, should not cut through or into the object, should not be attached too tightly, and should not be colored or dyed.2, 4
Proper labeling of associated records such as photographs, audiovisual materials, digitized data, and field notes is essential. It provides a means to relate one or more records to specific objects or collections in order to obtain contextual information about particular material remains or other analytical information. Again, labeling techniques, as well as the amount of information on the label, depend on the media.4
Paper records must be in 100% acid-free and lignin free folders.2, 4Each folder must have a folder number handwritten on it with either a carbon ink pen or pencil. If paper documents must be directly labeled, identifying information should be applied neatly in very small capital letters in the same location on each sheet such as a reverse edge. If using pencil, such as a #4 graphite (2H), use a dull point and apply very little pressure.6 Critical information on the label includes collection name and/or number, box number, and file number. A unique file title and date may also be included.1
Supplementary information may be submitted electronically (i.e., CAD, GIS). A printout on acid free paper must be provided of all information provided electronically. A statement describing the software along with the version used and disk content must be provided. Archival CD-Roms (rated 100+ years) or a floppy disk may be submitted. Typed or computer generated archival adhesive labels should be used for audiovisual materials on tape or reel and for electronic diskettes. These labels must contain the collection name, the unique identifying number (i.e., folder number), a brief description of the contents, and software name, version, and size.2, 4
Labeling photographic materials begins with proper handling. It is always wise to wear gloves (cotton or nitrile) since the acid on fingers may cause permanent damage. Each image (negative, slide, or print) must be stored in its own envelope or sleeve made of inert plastic (no PVC) or interleaved with acid-free, lignin free high alpha cellulose unbuffered paper.2, 4 All photos, slides, and negatives must be cataloged with a unique number. This unique number must be written on the back of all photos and on all slide mounts.2, 5, 11, 13 Do not write on the negatives. Prints also may be labeled directly in the border area of the reverse side, using indelible or permanent ink. Care should be taken to minimize the pressure applied when writing since it can cause the emulsion to crack.4, 6
All digital photos must be printed both on (1) a thumbnail contact sheet with the attached file name13, and (2) in larger format no smaller than 3” x 5”. A digital copy of the photos must be provided. If CD-ROMs are used, they must be rated to last 100+ years. A photo catalog must accompany the photos refer to Cataloging Photos for specifications.
The material used for packaging must be appropriate for the kind and size of the object or document. All materials used for packaging must be inert and acid-free. The table below identifies some of the materials that should, and those that must not, be used for packaging. Although the materials listed in the left column are considered archival, not all of them should be used with certain material classes of artifacts.4
Packing Materials that may be used:
- Acid-free boxes
- Polypropylene containers
- Acid-free poster board
- Polyethylene foam
- Heavy Weight Polyethylene bags with zip closure (e.g., 4mil thickness)
- Polyethylene sheeting and chips
- Acid-free tissue paper
- Polyester batting
- Tyvek® for labels
- Aluminum foil without any additives (C14 samples only)
Packing Materials that are not acceptable:
- Cigar boxes or regular cardboard boxes
- PVC or “plastic” containers
- Acidic cardboard
- Plastic wrap
- Polyurethane chips
- Toilet paper, facial tissue or newspaper
- Acidic paper
- Brown paper bags
- Cellophane tape
- Cotton wool
- Foam rubber, urethane foam
Minimally, material classes (e.g., lithic, pottery, glass, etc.) must be separated from one another in individual containers. More specific classification categories within material classes may be used when separating artifacts into individual containers. The artifact catalog must reflect the sorted organization of the collection, minimally at the level of material class. These material-class (or more specific category) containers then must be stored together in a larger container that includes all materials from a single catalog grouping or provenience (creating multiple inner and outer containers). Do not reuse dirty field containers. A container may be a polyethylene bag, small archival box, or polyethylene or glassine vial.4, 2 Select the size container that is appropriate for the object or group of objects. When using bags, a minimum of 4-mil polyethylene bags are required. Each bag must be no more than 2/3rds full. Bags must be broken into multiple bags (e.g., bag 1 of 3) if the bag is too full, or the artifacts are crumbly due to variation in size or fragility. Thicker bags or rigid containers should be used for heavy objects or objects with sharp edges, and padding should be added when necessary.4 Acid-free tissue or polyethylene foam sheets may be used to provide an extra measure of cushioning for objects or to cover a sharp object that might otherwise tear the artifact container.4 Artifacts must not be packaged in a way that would result in crumbling or crushing. Store very small and/or fragile objects (i.e., bone, seeds, shell) in a padded rigid container rather than in a bag.2 All artifacts must be organized within each archival box in sequential groups of catalog numbers. Larger containers of micro-climate metal, flotation, shell, soil, and matrix samples collected during a project may be boxed separately from the artifacts. A micro-climate is a container that has a sealed climate and is defined in detail in the next section. Human remains and sacred objects must be stored in a separate box to provide the respect they deserve.4 If a collection has a highly unstable or oversized artifact, then the Waring Laboratory must be contacted as early as possible to identify if special environmental conditions are required.
The Waring Laboratory performs an inventory for incoming collections to verify if an artifact is stable or unstable. Generally, artifacts are identified as unstable if they show evidence of debris due to crumbling, abrasion, breaking, and/or rusting inside its container. The stability of an object can usually be improved by wrapping it in appropriate acid free tissue paper, using a more rigid container, using special packaging or support, placing a silica gel packet with it, etc. Some artifacts may be highly unstable without conservation. Conservation practices, however, also may hinder some forms of analysis and the Principal Investigator should make informed decisions regarding specific conservation needs. Nevertheless, conservation must not be practiced without first consulting a professional conservator. Below is a list of material classes of archaeological artifacts with a guide to appropriate packaging for curation at the Waring Laboratory. This list is not exhaustive and additional requirements may be needed to ensure the stability of an object.
- Floral and Faunal Remains – artifacts and ecofacts are often small, dry, fragile, and/or brittle. These frequently require sturdier containers like a box, vial4, or gelatin capsules. If the artifact needs to be wrapped, unbuffered Ph-neutral tissue paper must be used because the buffering agent (CaCO3) can react with the artifact, changing its pH.
- Ceramics (Historic and Prehistoric) – Ceramics generally can be packaged together inside the same container. Unstable ceramics need to be wrapped in buffered acid-free tissue paper to stop abrasion. Larger ceramic pieces or vessels can be packaged inside a box supported with tissue paper or foam.
- Glass – Glass fragments need to be packaged in heavy mil bags and/or wrapped with tissue paper or foam to prevent breaking or tearing the bag. Vessels and other whole objects should be individually wrapped and supported with tissue paper or foam.
- Lithics – Most lithics are considered stable and can be packaged together inside the same container without additional medium. Care must be taken to prevent crumbling due to excessive weight and abrasion. Smaller flakes must never be packaged with larger heavy objects. Lithics can be wrapped in buffered tissue paper and/or subdivided into multiple bags.
- Metal – All corroding and/or crumbling unstable diagnostic metal artifacts must either be stabilized through electrolysis or placed in micro-environment. Non-diagnostic items must be packaged so as to reduce deterioration. Many different classes of metal artifacts exist. The most common are iron, bronze, silver, copper, and gold. Each class of metal requires a slightly different environment and must be packaged separately so that no one class is in direct contact with another. Metal artifacts showing active signs of deterioration must be packed in a desiccated microclimate designed for >20% relative humidity and loosely wrapped in acid free, unbuffered tissue paper.3, 8 A micro-environment is created by making a perforated pouch of silica gel. The pouch should consist of a polyethylene ziplock bag with small holes over its entire surface. Then place it on the bottom of a food-quality air-tight freezer boxes made from polyethylene/polypropylene, such as those made by Rubbermaid® or Tupperware®. Two large Rubbermaid® Model No. 3863-87 boxes (approximately 36x26x13cm, 2.2 gallon/8.3 liter capacity) will fit neatly into a standard box with room.8 For every 5 liters (5000 cm3) of volume within the container add 400 grams of silica gel.8 Place the artifacts inside a ventilated plastic bag with their identification tag. Add a humidity-indicating strip that can be read through the container, in order to monitor the RH at the artifact(s).12 Below are the general warning signs of instability associated with each class of metal artifact.3
- Unstable iron is identified as crumbly and shows signs of pits and/or active rust and leaves a red powdery residue on gloves or in the package.
- Unstable bronze crumbles and shows signs of pits and leaves a green powdery residue on gloves or in the package.
- Tarnished silver is relatively stable, as the patina acts as a protective barrier. Any newly formed abrasions that tear through the patina cause the rate of deterioration of silver artifacts to greatly increase. Therefore, the method of packaging needs to eliminate the possibility of scratching the silver artifacts during transportation and curation.
- Copper is highly reactive and difficult to stabilize. It leaves either a green or white crumbly residue on gloves or in the package.
- Soil and Midden Samples – Heavy bulk samples should be double-bagged and packaged separately from the artifacts. All samples must be dry.
As previously mentioned, all inner and outer containers must be labeled in permanent ink using an extra fine Sharpie® pen.13 The outside of each outer container must be labeled with the project name, catalog number(s), site number, provenience information, date of excavation, and any other essential information. The outside of each inner container must be labeled with the project name, site number, material class, catalog number, and other essential information. An archival identification tag (see Labeling) must be included inside each outer and inner container of artifacts so it is clearly visible. Identification tags in inner bags containing shell, metal, bone, soil samples, or other materials which may deteriorate or stain labels, should be placed first in smaller resalable bags to prevent contact with these artifacts.4 The example below is demonstrated as bags, but labeling rules apply to other archival storage forms (i.e., boxes).
Photographic and paper documents are highly sensitive materials and can be damaged by bending, folding, crushing, and off-gassing from the artifacts. Therefore, all documentation must be stored separately from the artifacts, regardless of how few artifacts are recovered.
All documentation must be organized by categories, clearly identified, and placed in archival folders or sleeves. Each folder must be labeled with the collection name, excavation date, documentation category, and folder number.
All documents are to be on acid-free paper or an archival copy should be packaged in folders separate from their original counterparts. Paper records must be placed in acid-free files and folders of appropriate sizes that are properly labeled.4 Listed below are some general guidelines for packaging documents for curation at the Waring Laboratory.
- Photographs, Negatives, Slides – Are to be packaged in polypropylene or polyethylene sleeves.4,2 A photographic catalog must be included.
- Final Report – Three copies are required and one of these must be unbound.
- Field Notes and Laboratory Analysis – The original and one archival copy of all field and laboratory documentation are required.
- Catalogs – Three copies of the artifact, document, and photographic catalogs are required. A copy of each of these catalogs must also be provided on a PC formatted disk or CD in a Microsoft Excel® or ASCII tab delimited format.
- Electronic Media (i.e., CAD, GIS) – May be included with the documentation and must be accompanied by a statement describing the system and software used and the content of each disk, tape, etc.
- Maps, Large Drawing, Charts – Must be rolled or folded and properly labeled. Fragile and/or frequently used materials may require encapsulation in Mylar®.4 Maps on acidic paper should be copied onto acid-free paper whenever possible. Minimally, separate each map with a sheet of acid free tissue paper.4 Contact the Waring Laboratory if any maps are oversized and are too large to conveniently and safely be placed in the standard archival box.
Special arrangements may be made for packaging artifacts and documents that result in small collections from multiple projects. A small collection is defined as one that occupies less than five (5) linear inches of an artifact box (1/3 of an archival box). Multiple small collections may be stored together in the same box only if all of the collections have the same collection owner and with prior approval from the Waring Laboratory. Box labels and box inventories must clearly identify the number of small projects in each box.
Artifacts are packaged the same way as with larger individual collections, but each collection must be organized in the box so it is easy to distinguish one collection from another. Several methods are available for organization of multiple small collections. One method is to place each collection in a small archival box within the curation box. A second method is to use dividers or trays within the curation box. Dividers must be sturdy enough to prevent collections from becoming mixed during transportation. Acidic brown cardboard is not acceptable because it off-gases and attracts pests.4, 2 Recommended forms of dividers are acid free blue-board or Coroplast™ (a plastic polyethylene board).4, 2 Dividers or trays can be purchased already put together or in sheets that can be cut and molded to preferred dimensions and shapes. Several ideas for dividers and trays are shown below.
Delivery and Footnotes
Delivery of a Collection to the Waring Laboratory
An approved Request for Curation Form must be on file with the Waring Laboratory before a collection can be scheduled for delivery. Schedule delivery to the Waring Laboratory at least one week in advance. A Collection Summary Form must be completed and submitted to the Waring Laboratory by the depositor at least one week prior to delivery of the collection.
Preference will always be hand delivery. Prior approval will be required for delivery by mail. Appropriate measures must be made to ensure that material will not be broken during shipment, including additional wrapping of artifacts. All material delivered through the mail must be insured, certified, and sent via a Fine Art Shipper. Many shippers are available and information can be found at www.icefat.org. The Waring Laboratory is not responsible for damage occurred during shipment.
It is acceptable to package the artifacts in extra boxes and packing materials just for transportation purposes. All extra boxes and/or packing material can be removed and returned following delivery to the Waring Laboratory.
- Adelstein, P. Z., “Permanence of Digital Information,” Access to Information Preservation Issues, Proceedings of XXXIV International Conference of the Round Table on Archives (Citra-1999), (Budapest: International Council on Archives, 1999) pp. 149-159.
- Buck, Rebecca A., and Gilmore, Jean Allman, eds. Museum Registration Methods. 5th Edition. Washington, D.C.: AAM Press, 2010. Print.
- Canadian Conservation Institute. 1995. Storage of Metals. CCI Notes 9/2.. 5 pp. Ottawa, Canadian Conservation Institute.
- Childs, S. Terry and Eileen Corcoran 2000 Managing Archeological Collections: Technical Assistance (www.cr.nps.gov/archeology/collections/). Washington, DC.: Archeology and Ethnography Program, National Park Service.
- Freud, Leslie, Collections Manager, Phoebe Apperson Hearst Museum of Anthropology, University of California. May 2010. Personal Communication.
- Gaylord Bros., Inc. Guide to Collections Care. New York: Gaylord Bros., 2007. Print.
- Griset, Suzanne and Marc Kodack. 1999. U.S. ArmyCorps of Engineers, St. Louis District. Guidelines for the Field Collection of Archaeological Materials and Standard Operating Procedures for Curating Department of Defense Archaeological Collections. Legacy Project No. 98-1714.
- Melba Myers, Virginia State Repository, How do I create a desiccated microclimate for storage? www.sha.org/rese/arch_resources/conservation_faqs/process.cfm. accessed 8/11/2010 (Accessed August 8, 2010)
- National Park Service, 1993. “Use of Acryloid B-72 Lacquer for Labeling Museum Objects.” Conserve O Gram 1/4. July 1993. 4 pages.
- Northern States Conservation Center. Collection Labeling Kit Instruction Booklet. 1998. Print.
- Registrars’ Committee of the American Association of Museums. firstname.lastname@example.org or www.rcaam.org. Online posting.
- Society for Historical Archaeology. Initial Processing Of Archaeological Materials www.sha.org/research_resources/conservation_faqs/process.cfm
- Young, Holly, Curator of Collections Pueblo Grande Museum, Phoenix AZ. May 2010. Personal Communication.