New paper explains factors influencing archaeologists' and zoologists' skepticism about data preservation

Written by Rebecca D. Frank, Elizabeth Yakel and Ixchel M. Faniel, "Destruction/Reconstruction: Preservation of Archaeological & Zoological Research" is available in a special digital curation issue of Archival Science, Volume 15, Issue 2. A preprint [pdf] is also available online.

Key highlights from the article include:

  • Disciplinary norms around data collection and data management/recordkeeping affected attitudes toward data preservation. External factors of funding, legal requirements, and the status of museums and repositories were factors, as well. Data collection was a particularly strong influencer since it often involves destruction in archaeology and zoology.
  • While researchers were aware of the need to preserve both the artifact/specimens and the contextual information required to make sense of data over time, data collection and analysis concerns still trumped data preservation in terms of time and attention.
  • Although the attention to contextual data is good news for repositories, capturing contextual data in a standardized and usable form for preservation and subsequent use is difficult given the data management practices of researchers. This puts the onus on repositories to develop and maintain standards post-hoc.
  • Neither the zoologists nor the archaeologists saw long term preservation as their responsibility. Members in both disciplines viewed museums and repositories as responsible for addressing preservation issues.


Archaeology and zoology are fields in which data collection and analysis involve destruction. In this study, we examine the results of 49 interviews with archaeologists and zoologists, focusing on researchers’ discussions of internal or disciplinary norms and external factors affecting their attitudes and actions concerning preservation. We identified two categories of disciplinary practices: data collection and data management/recordkeeping as key to shaping attitudes and activities about preservation. Likewise, we found three external factors: funding, legal requirements, and the status of museums and repositories, influencing attitudes toward preservation. We found that while archaeologists and zoologists are uniquely positioned to appreciate the value of data preservation, because data collection in both disciplines involves destruction, they are skeptical about whether preservation is possible and that these attitudes are influenced by both internal and external factors.


Frank, R. D., Yakel, E., & Faniel, I. M. (2015). "Destruction/reconstruction: preservation of archaeological and zoological research data." Archival Science, 15(2), 141–167.

This research was made possible by a National Leadership Grant from the Institute for Museum and Library Services, LG-06-10-0140-10.

For more information:

Ixchel Faniel, Ph.D.
Research Scientist
OCLC Research

Melissa Renspie
Senior Communications Officer
OCLC Research