Outreach :: State Lands Permits :: Curation of Archaelological Collections at the New York State Museum

Under State Education Law Sections 233 and 234, the New York State Museum (NYSM) is the curator of New York's scientific and historical collections, including prehistoric and historical archaeological artifacts.


The NYSM's policy for archaeological collections is to accession well-documented materials that provide areal and temporal representation across the state, and/or that broaden the base of current archaeological interpretation. Of particular interest are (1) collections whose research design addresses specific interpretive problems, (2) materials from site categories currently under- represented in NYSM collections, and (3) collections from systematic survey projects that contribute to understanding regional site distributions. Collections resulting from the restudy of previously studied sites are sought if they expand the interpretive base and demonstrate sound archaeological methodology.


The following standards apply to archaeological collections being considered for accession by the NYSM.

1. Clear and valid title to the collection must be transferable to the New York State Museum (acting on behalf of New York State).

    a. All collections made on State land or under State waters belong to the State, and become part of the NYSM's collections unless placed in other custody by a specific law (Education Law Section 233, Part 1).

    b. Collections made by NYSM staff in the course of their work are State property and become part of NYSM's collections, unless otherwise authorized by the Board of Regents (Education Law Section 233, Part 2).

    c. Collections that do not automatically belong to the State cannot be accessioned until a valid transfer of title is made. The sole exception is certain collections covered by federal law or regulation.

2. Sponsored research and/or contract projects that wish to designate the NYSM as the repository for the project's collections must enter into a Curation Agreement with the NYSM, and pay a one-time curation fee.

3. Collections must have good provenience data.

    a. Collections made on previously collected sites must meet the following criteria.

    i. Surface Collections/Shovel Test Surveys. A spatially representative sampling strategy of surface collection or shovel testing must have been used, with identified site spatial parameters and identified physical locations for any artifacts found within those parameters.

    ii. Excavated Collections. Collections must be the result of modern systematic excavation and recovery techniques employing horizontal and vertical controls, and should contain new and substantial information not found in extant collections. Normally they should include the site's entire range of archaeological materials: faunal and floral specimens, radiocarbon and flotation samples, pottery, stone tools and debitage, etc.

    b. Collections from newly discovered sites or previously known sites for which no collection is extant must meet the following criteria.

    i. Surface Collections/Shovel Test Surveys. In general, collections should be the result of a controlled surface collection/shovel test survey whereby artifacts are located spatially within the site on a systematic grid or are piece-plotted. At a minimum, the collection as a whole must have precise geographic coordinates that can be plotted on a 7.5' USGS topographic map.

    ii. Excavated Collections. At a minimum, collections must have vertical and horizontal control in their excavation, and must be documented by excavation records and other associated documentation.

4. To be accessioned, all archaeological collections must have adequate documentation. Original records or high quality duplicate records on archival quality paper must accompany the collection. Such documentation includes proposals, field notes, maps, drawings, photos, analytical records, reports, papers, and/or publications.

5. Collections must meet the NYSM's Minimum Standards for Preparing Archaeological Collections, which provide guidelines for organizing, cataloguing, and labelling artifacts, and preparing electronic databases.

6. Replicas or reproductions of artifacts and/or exhibition props will not be accessioned into the archaeological collections, although such items may be acquired by NYSM for other educational or exhibition purposes.

7. Geological samples, such as flint or chert samples, will not be accessioned into the archaeological collections unless these items have a specific archaeological context.

8. Collections that do not fit any of the above categories usually are not accepted for the NYSM's archaeological collections. The Museum Education programs often acquire non- provenienced material for classroom teaching, where it is put to excellent use educating people about New York's rich cultural heritage.


Firms, agencies, institutions, or individuals planning archaeological projects that may yield collections and who wish to use the NYSM as their collections repository are requested to contact the Museum during the project's initial planning phase. This will facilitate the acceptance and transfer of the collections and accompanying documentation upon the project's completion. The process for establishing a curation agreement with the NYSM is outlined below.

1. The project's director should contact the NYSM very early in the life of the project to see whether the collection will fall within the Museum's areas of collecting interest. A project's collections may be accepted by the NYSM in advance of actual fieldwork, contingent upon successful completion of all required documentation and processing of the collection. Early- phase acceptance is based on project location, scope, research design, and ability to meet minimum preparation standards.

2. Fill out and submit a Curation Request Form. The following information is required in order to make a pre-excavation determination: a. Site name and locality data b. Copy of the contract, grant, or research design (excluding budget) c. Status of the collection's legal ownership d. Cultural time span expected for the site e. Types of artifacts and materials expected to be collected f. Levels of documentation expected for the site g. Volume of material expected to be collected (cubic feet) h. Planned extent of artifact preparation, preservation, or conservation i. Any relevant report(s) prepared to date. Additional information, specified in the form, is required for already-collected materials.

3. This information will be reviewed by the NYSM Anthropology Collections Committee, to determine whether the collection is appropriate for accession. If so, a Curation Agreement form will be returned for signature.

4. Private firms, institutions, and government agencies wishing to use NYSM as a repository are required to build curational fees into contract or grant budgets. Such fees do not apply to donations that NYSM decides to accept from private individuals. The current fee (under consideration for revision) is $200 per cubic foot of collections, including artifacts, specimens, and documentation. These fees do not duplicate State appropriaitons that support physical facilities or permanent staff salaries, but represent additional costs incurred by the NYSM in processing cultural resource management collections.

5. After the curation agreement has been finalized, the NYSM will provide the project director with accession numbers and additional information on preparing the collection for curation, including Deed of Gift forms for transfer of title.


If you have questions, or wish to obtain more detailed information about NYSM curation requirements and procedures for archaeological collections, please contact:

Dr. Penelope B. Drooker, Curator of Anthropology
Research and Collections
New York State Museum
3122 Cultural Education Center
Albany, New York 12230

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