A Synthesis of Practices Concerning the Recovery, Retention and Curation of Archaeological Materials from Transportation Projects

Focus Area

Historic Preservation/Cultural Resources


Community & Cultural Concerns






1-2 years

Research Idea Scope

Transportation agencies conduct a significant portion of archaeological investigations in the US and in many developed countries around the world. Once a transportation project is built, however, there remains the question of disposition of recovered archaeological materials. Curation facilities and institutions are filling up and most transportation agencies are not equipped to serve as their own museums. This study will summarize the state of practice in the US and select other countries concerning the recovery and retention of archaeological materials; including no-collection strategies, field discard, discard after analysis, and long-term/perpetual curation. The requirements of federal and state law also will be summarized along with the practices of curatorial institutions across the US and in select other countries to illustrate the range of successful strategies available to transportation agencies and their partner curation facilities.

Urgency and Payoff

The disposition of archaeological collections is an activity that transcends the construction and budget of transportation projects. As curation facilities become increasingly full and unable to accept more materials, the burden of “what to do with the old stuff” doesn’t disappear and remains with the transportation agencies that recovered the materials. In economic terms, as the supply of curation options is reduced, the cost of long-term/perpetual curation will rise, both in terms of money and as a distraction from the mission of transportation agencies.

Suggested By

Antony Opperman

[email protected]