Pre-entry guidance for archaeological collections

This resource explores pre-entry and provides guidance on how to deal in advance with archaeological archives entering your collection. This will not be relevant for all collections but any that involve types of fieldwork will need to document the pre-entry process.

  • Introduction
  • Pre-entry definition
  • Minimum standard guidance and relation to Spectrum 5.0
  • Legal environment
  • Policy requirements
  • Suggested procedure

Previous versions of the Spectrum standard included a procedure for pre-entry. Following the consultation for Spectrum 5.0, pre-entry is no longer a Spectrum procedure, however the advice from previous versions of Spectrum is contained in the guidance below.

Pre-entry definition

The management and documentation of the assessment of potential acquisitions before their arrival at the organisation.

Minimum standard guidance

Following these pre-entry guidelines ensures that your organisation is accountable for acquisitions or notification of potential acquisitions that occur before the items enter the premises. It will therefore be relevant to all types of fieldwork, including archaeology and natural history.

Pre-entry is relevant to bequests and purchases at auction and to offers of large items or collections that require assessment hence the accumulation of data in advance of arrival. It can also be applied to collection surveys.

It may be used in conjunction with the following Spectrum 5.0 procedures where collections are assessed prior to deposition in the organisation:

  • Condition checking and technical assessment
  • Collections care and conservation
  • Acquisition and accessioning
  • Use of collections
  • Inventory
  • Location and movement control

Your organisation may need a policy covering the pre-entry requirements of objects and any related documentary archive. Note that some fieldwork will only result in an archive without associated objects.

To manage and document pre-entry, you should:

  • Clarify your organisation’s acquisition policy and conditions for deposition of objects and documentary records to the potential depositor
  • Ensure that your organisation is fully aware of the quantity and type of material that is on offer
  • Assess the impact on your organisation of acquiring the items, in terms of space, manpower, financial, legal and conservation issues
  • Ensure that a global organisation accession number has been assigned to the site (for fieldwork) or collection(s) (for bequests or purchases) if necessary
  • Ensure that an expected date of deposition and responsibility for the items in transit is agreed with the depositor
Legal environment

Import Duty and VAT

Organisations wishing to import objects should look at HM Revenue and Customs Notice 361: importing museum and gallery exhibits free of duty and VAT. To receive duty relief:

  • Organisations are required to be approved by the National Import Reliefs Unit (NIRU)
  • Objects must be scientific, educational or cultural nature and not for sale
  • Objects must be sent directly to the approved organisation when imported
  • Objects must only be for exhibits under the control of the organisation
  • Records of the objects are kept

For further information on VAT, see notice HM Revenue and Customs Notice 702: VAT imports. In many cases the shipping agent will deal with import and export paperwork. Your organisation should have detailed information about the objects in question including date, a precise description (including material), place and methods of production (eg hand or machine-made).

Due diligence in combating illicit trade and spoliation

Organisations must take precautions to ensure that they only acquire ethically acceptable items and reject those that might have been taken illegally from archaeological sites, or that are the result of spoliation, or are protected natural material. To ensure your organisation does this, it needs to exercise due diligence and retain all relevant documents. You can find cultural property and Spoliation advice at this link.


Objects and other material may have rights associated with them (eg copyright). Also information that your organisation records about people will be governed by rights legislation (eg Data Protection). Managing the pre-entry of objects needs to take into account these rights. Use the Rights management procedure for full details on how to do this.

A security copy should be made of field project archives. For archaeology fieldwork, a copy should be lodged with the appropriate national monuments record, before deposition. Your organisation should ensure that it has the right to make copies for security purposes of all graphic and written material in its collections.

Policy requirements

If you need to use pre-entry, your organisation should have policies and guidelines on that state:

  • The steps to be taken to ensure appropriate due diligence checks on provenance are carried out as soon as the potential acquisition is identified
  • The steps to be taken to assess the impact on the organisation of acquiring the items, in terms of space, manpower, financial, legal and conservation issues
  • How the organisation will keep individuals intending to deposit items in the organisation informed of its current policy and any changes to policy.

The depositor should arrange transport and insurance of the archive.

Suggested procedure

Before you start, ensure you have:

  • Checked the legal environment affecting operation of the procedure
  • Created the written policy that will govern the operation of the procedure
  • Created the part of the written documentation procedural manual that refers to the pre-entry of objects to your organisation

Regularly review and change, if necessary, the part of your documentation procedural manual that refers to the pre-entry of objects to your organisation. Changes may be made because of:

  • Changes to the legal environment
  • Changes to the policy of the organisation

Check that your organisation is the appropriate repository.

Your organisation must make available (eg online or by email) its acquisition policy and its conditions for deposition to a potential depositor.

Encourage liaison between the potential depositor and your organisation before, during and after fieldwork. For detail of the contents and issues associated with an archaeological archive deposition policy, visit the Society of Museum Archaeologists.

Assign a unique number to the item(s).

This may be a field collection number for items that have not been acquired, or an accession number for items that have been acquired. In the case of archaeological items and records:

  • In England, Wales and Northern Ireland – assign an accession number before archaeological fieldwork starts
  • In Scotland – the receiving organisation can only assign accession numbers at the post-excavation stage

Information requirements:

For archaeological items and records, issue standards for the transfer of project archives to your organisation.

This should include recommendations on the content and presentation of the archive, standards for documentation, packaging and conservation requirements and arrangements for the transfer of ownership.

Assess and record essential information on the size and content of the material and associated documentation.

This will be important for:

  • Measurement against your organisation’s acquisition policy, including preferred selection strategies
  • Assessment of the condition of the material
  • Assessment of transport and handling facilities required
  • Assessment of type and volume of storage facilities required
  • Assessment of deposition or storage grant to be charged, if applicable
  • Establishment of who holds legal title to the items by appropriate due diligence checks
  • Establishment of who holds any intellectual property rights (eg copyright) associated with the material (e.g. a project archive)

A proforma or checklist could be used and might include, for archaeological material, the following information:

  • Quantity/type of small finds, bulk finds and environmental remains (in the case of large archaeological groups, it is possible to indicate the quantity by boxes and material type, e.g. ‘6 boxes of Neolithic flints’; ’20 boxes of post-medieval pottery’)
  • Quantity/type of documentary archive on paper, film, magnetic, digitised and other media
  • Stability of archive, conservation work carried out and required
  • Suitability of packaging for organisation storage
  • Labelling, checklists and indexes to archive
  • Cost of items (if bid for or purchased at auction or any other off-site location)

Make a reference to this documentation.

Information requirements:

For fieldwork decide if the selection or discard of items is to take place prior to entry and acquisition, i.e. carried out on site or at assessment stage.

Identify the date or approximate date that the items are due to arrive at your organisation.

Issue recommendations to the owner for the care, storage and documentation of the items prior to acquisition.

In case of acquisition, your organisation should not accept an item unless it can acquire a valid title to it.

For items acquired as a result of fieldwork, obtain agreement in principle from the landowner for the finds to be donated to your organisation. Transfer of ownership must be complete before or on deposition.

Carry out a condition check

Do this prior to transport to confirm that the items are in a stable state and suitably packed prior to deposition.

Go to Condition checking and technical assessment

Go to Object entry



Date created: 2018

Author: Collections Trust

Publisher: Collections Trust