Beyond being a useful tool for organizing, preserving, and providing access to digital archaeological information, tDAR is a critical tool for use by agencies in complying with existing Federal regulations.  What follows is a summary of the legal analysis conducted by Cultural Heritage Partners PLLC on behalf of Arizona State University.


Agencies must ensure the long-term preservation of and accessibility to objects and physical records from federally mandated archaeological investigations.   These stewardship responsibilities also include the curation of digital data generated by these investigations. Digital archaeological data include field forms, drawings, maps, remote sensing data, photographs, artifact inventories and data sets, artifact and landscape scans, reports, and other kinds of digital products.   

Federal requirements for the management of archaeological collections and associated records (including digital data) are set forth in the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA), the Archaeological Resources Protection Act (ARPA), the regulations promulgated pursuant to those statutes (36 C.F.R. 79), and the regulations promulgated by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) for the management of federal records (36 C.F.R. 1220.1-1220.20).  The latter apply to all federal agencies.

Cultural Heritage Partners (CHP)’s analysis confirms that “associated records” as described in 36 C.F.R. 79 (see in particular section 79.4(a)(2)) include digital archaeological records.  Digital archaeological records are also covered by NARA’s definition of records, and are subject to NARA regulations.  These regulations require the protection of digital archaeological records from destruction, including technological obsolescence.  The NARA regulations require agencies “… to counteract hardware and software dependencies of electronic records whenever the records must be maintained and used beyond the life of the information system in which the records are originally created or captured.”

Federal agency personnel responsible for managing digital archaeological data must curate the information encoded as discrete bits of data and not just the media on which they reside.  Focusing curation efforts on digital storage media alone also fails to meet the standards for digital curation expressed in 36 C.F.R. 79, for three reasons: 1) archaeological data are at risk of being lost because the physical digital media is subject to degradation, 2) treating the physical digital media as artifacts to be preserved renders the data inaccessible to the vast majority of potential users, and 3) the format of digital information will become unusable due to software and hardware advances.   As a result, curatorial facilities need to implement data migration processes, in addition to collecting digital record metadata so that users can search for and access digital archaeological records.  These actions ensure the long-term preservation and accessibility of archaeological data, thereby meeting federal curation and records management standards. 

In sum, the CHP report concludes that federal laws and regulations mandate that digital archaeological data generated by federal agencies must be deposited in a repository with the capability of providing long-term digital curation, ensuring preservation of the digital files, and enabling accessibility to qualified users.

The Digital Archaeological Record (tDAR) is a digital archive and repository curating digital data from archaeological investigations and research. tDAR was developed and is maintained by the Center for Digital Antiquity (DA), a non-profit organization currently administered as a university center at Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona ( Depositing their archaeological digital data in tDAR is one way that agencies can comply with their obligations to make these data accessible and ensure their long-term preservation.

Cultural Heritage Partners PLLC, a Washington, D.C.-based legal firm with special expertise in cultural resource management and cultural heritage issues, has conducted a legal analysis of these federal archaeological curation requirements for Arizona State University. 

DOWNLOAD the full report on CHP’s analysis.


Currently, most RFPs, SOWs, contracts, and agreements do not specify the requirements for digital curation. As a result, digital data, such as field records, images, laboratory records, data sets resulting from field and laboratory analyses, and Geographic Information System (GIS) maps, are stored on CDs or other digital media within a curatorial facility that focuses on curating material remains. The digital records are treated the same as paper records and artifacts. Such curation practices neither preserve digital data nor make it accessible; CDs and other digital media degenerate over time, are not readily accessible to users, and will eventually become obsolete as computer hardware and software change.

DOWNLOAD Sample Language for RFPs, SOWs and contracts to ensure proper digital curation.