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Peterborough Museum - Archaeology Archive

An ambitious project is underway at Peterborough Museum to consolidate its archived materials. These include finds from many local archaeological excavations. Items are being digitally recorded and stored appropriately, making them available for academic research.


This project parallels those undertaken by NVAT over the past 20 years which have focused on proper documentation of excavations undertaken in the latter part of the 20th century. Many of these were hurriedly undertaken in advance of urban expansion, with limited resources devoted to report writing and archiving. 


Examples of excavations where both NVAT and Peterborough Museum have worked to piece together fragmentary information and artefacts into meaningful records include the 1950s & ‘60s upgrade of the A1, Orton Hall Farm, and Lynch Farm.


The Peterborough Archaeological Archive Enhancement Project (PAAEP) is being led by Jason Cumberworth (Peterborough Museum) and Dr Sam Paul (Sam Paul Heritage). As well as addressing an urgent local need, the project is establishing methodologies and best practices which are likely to be applicable to museums throughout the country. The project is being supported by Historic England and The Headley Trust.

Scale of the Problem

Loss of expert staff and reduced funding mean museums of all types and sizes have struggled to take good care of their archives – and Peterborough is no exception. The first stage of the PAAE Project in spring 2022 was a top-level audit of the archive and an initial digital database. This recorded over 6,500 boxes of material, the large majority of which were in need of re-packaging, re-boxing and cataloguing to bring them up to current archiving best practice. 

Unboxed artefacts on open shelves

Inappropriate boxing, often with inconsistent, missing or incorrect labels 

Random animal bone in disintegrating bags

Disrespectful and jumbled storage of human remains

Few systematic discard policies and archiving instructions ignored

Confused labelling of human remains


The project has provided a one-off opportunity to establish new professional norms which will assist both preservation and accessibility of the archives. A set of standards has been established to which future depositors will need to comply.

Example of new standards, in this case relating to metalwork

New procedures for archiving human remains are in place, including a special purpose storage area

Records are being digitised to enable database access

Sorting, re-packaging and selective discard have proven to dramatically reduce storage space required

Team of Volunteers

The core team of two, undertaking this project alongside other duties, would have had no chance of success. The answer has been to enlist the hands-on assistance of a team of enthusiastic volunteers. More than 50 have participated, enabling the project to proceed whilst expanding the interest, knowledge and skills of local amateurs. The project has also provided practical experience for early career museum and archaeological professionals.

Reconciliation of conflicting references used on artefacts, in notebooks and in reports 

Deciphering hand-written, over-written context sheets

Seeking to restore important prehistoric metalwork to unstated sites and contexts

Sorting and re-packaging of material

Re-assessing human remains to reconcile to site records – and correcting earlier interpretation with the support of professional osteologists and researchers

Practical Results

The project is transforming the value of the archive whilst allowing a significant reduction in its physical size. 


  • Improved storage conditions and useability

  • Better access for researchers and the public

  • Increased interest in the archives

  • Engagement with local heritage and skills transfer

Awareness and searchabilty of the archive have resulted in many more requests from researchers

Unexpected Treasures

Delving into the archive has brought some unexpected finds. In the 1960s antiquarian objects from outside the Peterborough area were discarded as non-relevant. Some were rescued from skips by people who recognised their wider significance – and have been re-discovered by the current project. They include artefacts acquired from Egypt.

The existence and future plans for these items have been discussed with subject area specialists whose advice and support have been invaluable

The NVAT is grateful to Peterborough Museum for its assistance in compiling this report, and for the images included - March 2024

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