Ancient Egypt Research Associates

Posted by Emma Johnson

The 2011 excavation season might technically be coming to an end this week, but work in the archive is never finished.

The archives can seem overwhelming at times (Photo by Hilary McDonald)

In the archive room at the villa, we collect and manage the documentation for every project undertaken by AERA. Our floor-to-ceiling bookshelves are filled with every feature form, every drawing, and every notebook used by staff and students. This season we’ll be adding much more including new excavation areas, a reconstruction project, a Luxor study season, and new specialist data.

But we don’t just archive new data in one place. We also have a matching archive in Boston, a digital backup, and an online database where information is accessible to AERA staff anywhere in the world. There is a lot of information, and a lot of places to archive it – and with over 20 years of work on the Plateau, you can imagine how daunting it is for a newcomer like me to manage it!

Soha working diligently at the scanner (Photo by Hilary McDonald)

Luckily, I’m not alone. In addition to a few volunteers who help me out, I have the support of Soha, who knows the archives better than anyone, and Mari, AERA’s long-time archivist who continues to oversee our work. Both of them seem to have an unlimited supply of patience, considering how often I ask them questions and seek their advice. But between the three of us, we’ve managed to stay on top of the current season and coordinate a few long-term projects, including a complete overhaul of the server. (And there’s some exciting things going on in the library too, but more on that later…)

I find it difficult to write about archiving without accidentally making it sound intensely boring, so in its defense, I should say that it’s not just about storing every scrap of paper and every Word document ever created. If we did that, we would be flooded with information and never able to find anything…and there’s already an ever-growing pile of big white binders on my desk.

Emma recording data from the field (Photo by Hilary McDonald)

Archiving is about deciding what needs to be kept, and how to keep it in the most efficient way possible. Archiving is also about planning for the future: after all, space is limited and digital files will not be accessible forever. Most importantly, though, archiving is about accessibility. Although we plan for posterity, this is still an ongoing excavation, and everything in the archive needs to be easily accessible to excavators and specialists, who need to know what happened in past seasons.