edited by Rebecca Allen and Ben Ford. University of Nebraska Press, May 2019. 450 p. ill. ISBN 9781496212955 (h/c), $80.00.
Reviewed September 2019
Courtney Baron, Director Bridwell Art Library, University of Louisville, firstname.lastname@example.org
What happens to archaeological materials and findings post-excavation? How are the items stored, preserved, and studied in an age with too much stuff and too little space, time, and resources? This is the focus of New Life for Archaeological Collections, which addresses the so-called “curation crisis” of accumulated archaeological collections that have neither been extensively studied and analyzed, nor made accessible to the public. This volume, edited by Rebecca Allen and Ben Ford, is published by the University of Nebraska as part of the Society for Historical Archaeology’s Series in Material Culture. It draws upon papers from the 2016 Society for Historical Archaeology conference as well as by invited authors, to advocate for the infinite research opportunities made possible through curating and studying existing archaeological collections.
This work, organized into three parts, includes essays and case studies on featured collections by contributors ranging from university faculty, government agency professionals, and cultural resource managers. The authors highlight solutions to the challenges faced by archaeologists when working with existing collections, such as the dilemma of storage, inadequate staffing and funding, and incomplete records and documentation. Part 1, "New Accessibility for Archaeological Collections", uncovers strategies for making legacy and orphan collections accessible to researchers and the public. The case studies demonstrate how archaeologists strike a balance between accessibility and the long-term preservation of collections. Part 2, "New Research for Archaeological Collections", shares new research tools and technologies that arise from studying existing collections. Methods include digitizing older collections for comparative study, implementing a model to translate spatial data sets, and creating 3D models for future interpretation. Part 3,"New Futures for Archaeological Collections", advocates using collections in public outreach initiatives to make this work relevant to those outside the scholarly discipline of archaeology. These efforts include traditional exhibits, presentations, living history programs, and social media campaigns.
As a collected work, the contributed essays showcase how researchers can use existing collections to ask new questions, increase access, employ new technologies, and allow for comparative study between collections and cultures. At 450 pages, this dense volume includes a comprehensive introduction, references, an index, and 50 black-and-white illustrations.
New Life for Archaeological Collections makes a strong argument for storing, preserving, cataloging, and curating previously excavated materials as a core component of archaeology. Though not an essential acquisition, this is nevertheless an important work that will be beneficial to graduate students, researchers, and professional archaeologists. This text is recommended for libraries collecting in the areas of cultural anthropology, archaeology, and museum studies.