Digital Archives in Archaeology

Want clear guidance on digital archives for everyone in archaeology? We're working on it.

Digital data and sustainable archives

The question of how to handle digital archive data has been a hot topic in archaeology for years – and now we’re doing something about it.

Historic England commissioned the DigVentures team, working with the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists, to develop up-to-date guidance for everyone working with digital data in archaeological projects. The guidance forms part of the Archaeological Archives Forum’s ongoing series of practice guides for archives management aimed at practitioners. As part of the project, we have also made recommendations to update CIfA’s Standards and Guidance to ensure consistency between practice guidance and regulation.

Why now?

In May 2018, DCMS endorsed Historic England’s proposals to respond to the Mendoza Review of Museums. One such proposal was to develop guidance… ‘that relieves museums of the expectation that they should attempt to curate digital material from archaeological projects in favour of their deposition in a Trusted Digital Repository that will guarantee the preservation and accessibility of digital material’.

To support this recommendation, HE recognise the need to provide clear guidance for practitioners that works alongside industry standards and is supported across the sector. The Digital Archives in Archaeology project has been initiated by the Archaeological Archives Forum to provide such guidance and encourage the consistent and robust management of digital data in archaeology.

Barney Sloane, Director of Research at Historic England, said “The Digital Archives in Archaeology project is a timely approach to ensuring that clear and practical guidance is available to all practitioners. We are entering a new era, where a ‘digital-first’ approach to all aspects of archaeological archive creation is becoming a reality. This project will help define what that means for those working with archaeological data every day – from data creators to museum curators”.

What will the project do?

Digital technologies have transformed the way archaeologists work, providing innovative research tools, improving how we investigate sites and giving new life to knowledge about the past. As with all parts of an archaeological archive, digital data contributes to the long-term preservation of sites by providing key information which can be accessed by researchers and the public alike. How that information can be used in the future is an important consideration and, as new technologies become the norm, we have to be sure that our archive processes adapt to incorporate innovative methods, tools and data.

The ambition of this project is to:

  • understand how digital data is currently used and managed
  • signpost how different digital data should be collected and stored
  • highlight relevant technical guidance and relate that to industry standards
  • provide step-by-step guidance for practitioners at all stages of an archaeological project
  • explain how born digital data can form part of a sustainable archaeological archive

What have we done so far?

The project has been running since August 2018 and we have put together a suite of documents entitled Work Digital / Think Archive. You can find these along with some supporting materials in the WD / TA tab above.

We’re still working with CIfA and HE to plan our next steps, so if there is anything you think would help you with your digital archive, just let us know.



Work Digital / Think Archive

The Work Digital/ Think Archive guidance is one of the outputs of the HE funded project (7796) which DigVentures has delivered with CIfA on behalf of the Archaeological Archives Forum.

Our aim has been to provide guidance for those working with digital archives in archaeology every day, linked to CIfA Standards and guidance and in consultation with practitioners. We have been working on the guidance over the past year and a suite of documents are now available to use.

We hope the Work Digital / Think Archive documents achieve three main things:

  • help archaeologists manage digital data and create a complete, ordered and stable archaeological archive
  • define how CIfA Standards relate to digital materials throughout a project, including clarification of what should be expected at each project stage
  • highlight where you can find details about best practice and technical standards, and practical advice in how to achieve those standards.

This guidance can be seen within the wider context of digital data management in research projects, ensuring that the standards of archaeological research undertaken across all sectors is in line with current practice and expectations.

The project is not finished yet and we hope to be making the guidance more accessible and usable by developing webpages, training and toolkits that help us all manage digital data better. And whilst the requirement to provide a stable, accessible and organised archive from archaeological projects is unlikely to change, the way we collect, manage and store data will.

As such, the content of the Work Digital / Think Archive documents will be updated as people start to use it and provide feedback, as we develop better ways to access the guidance, and as technology and archive practices develop.

For now, you can follow the links below and download the current suite of guidance documents. Enjoy!


Work Digital / Think Archive documents

Link to the draft document (dropbox link to PDF)

Link to the WD / TA Action Plan (dropbox link to PDF)

Link to WD / TA Action Plan – editable (dropbox in to Word document)

Link to the WD / TA Data Management Plan Checklist (dropbox link to PDF)

Link to the WD / TA editable Data Management Plan (dropbox link to Word document)


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