Backstage Pass to North Dakota History

This blog takes you behind the scenes of the State Historical Society of North Dakota. Get a glimpse at a day-in-the-life of the staff, volunteers, and partners who make it all possible. Discover what it takes to preserve North Dakota's natural and cultural history.

Digitizing Archaeological Collections: Advancing Research, Preservation, and Data Management

Archaeology collections management involves organizing and systematically caring for archaeological artifacts, specimens, records, and associated materials. Proper management is crucial to ensure the preservation, accessibility, and long-term research potential of these collections (Knoll and Huckell 2019). Maintaining high-quality curation standards goes beyond storage enhancement and environmental monitoring. It involves meticulous organization, comprehensive documentation, and secure storage to bolster preservation and ensure accessibility of collections for research and educational purposes. The primary goal driving artifact inventory, accessioning, cataloging, and curation is to maximize the research potential embedded within these collections (Allen et al. 2019; Benden and Taft 2019; Thomson 2014). 

Digitization facilitates efficient data management by creating digital records that can be easily organized, searched, and linked. This simplifies collection management, cataloging, and information retrieval. Digitized artifacts enable precise identification, tracking of location and loan status, and documentation of their condition and preservation requirements (Graham 2012; Thomson 2014). “Organizing objects digitally within a collections management system simplifies inventory processes, ensures effective storage and tracking of all items, and guarantees convenient future access,” according to Thompson (2014: 53). This digital approach significantly enhances the handling of substantial volumes of material (Graham 2012; Thompson 2014).

Moreover, digital access to collections allows for more extensive and efficient research, analysis, and comparison of artifacts. Digital records enable the seamless integration of various data types, including images, texts, and metadata, within comprehensive databases. This integrated approach empowers researchers to establish connections and correlations (Benden and Taft 2019; Thomson 2014). Digitization encourages data sharing and collaboration among archaeologists, researchers, and institutions, leading to more comprehensive research and discoveries. It streamlines data retrieval and expands collection accessibility for scholars, educators, and the general public (Graham 2012; Thomson 2014).

The archaeology collections team within the Archaeology & Historic Preservation Department utilizes the Re:discovery Proficio Collections Management Software to digitize, manage, and organize a wide array of collections, including artifacts, ecofacts (e.g., fauna, flora, pollen, and soil found at archaeological sites), specimens, and documents. Since implementing the software, over 136,000 artifact records have been digitized within the archaeology artifact modules. Beyond cataloging and inventory management, the software provides advanced search functionalities and customizable data fields to efficiently organize items based on diverse criteria. Proficio also facilitates monitoring item conditions and conservation efforts and supports user access control for data security. 

In sum, digitizing archaeological collections is a highly valuable approach that enhances accessibility, preservation, and research opportunities for artifacts. It fosters public engagement and collaboration within the archaeological community. By employing tools like Re:discovery Proficio Collections Management Software, we have digitized thousands of artifact records, paving the way for streamlined organization, efficient cataloging, and comprehensive documentation. In essence, the digitization of archaeological collections isn't just a technological advancement—it's a gateway to preserving the past, enriching the present, and shaping the future of archaeological research and public engagement. However, it's crucial to proceed with care, following best practices to maintain the accuracy and integrity of digital records.

An example of Proficio’s advanced filtering options to search and organize all glass beads from the State Historical Society’s archaeology artifact collections. The total record count for this module is located in the left corner of the display. Sensitive site information has been redacted from the image.


Allen, Rebecca, Ben Ford, and J. Ryan Kennedy. 2019. “Introduction: Reclaiming the Research Potential of Archaeological Collections.” In New Life for Archaeological Collections, edited by Rebecca Allen and Ben Ford, xiii-xxxix. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press and the Society for Historical Archaeology.


Benden, Danielle M., and Mara C. Taft. 2019. “A Long View of Archaeological Collections Care, Preservation, and Management.” Advances in Archaeological Practice 7, no. 3: 217-23.


Graham, Chelsea A. 2012. “Applications of Digitization to Museum Collections Management, Research, and Accessibility.” Master’s thesis, Lund University.


Knoll, Michelle K., and Bruce B. Huckell. 2019. “Guidelines for Preparing Legacy Archaeological Collections for Curation.” Society for American Archaeology.….


Thomson, Karen. 2014. “Handling the ‘Curation Crisis:’ Database Management for Archaeological Collections.” Master’s thesis, Seton Hall University.

Happy New Year? Remembering Y2K in the Museum Collections

While we look upon most new years with great anticipation and excitement for the possibilities of what the upcoming 12 months will bring, the preparations for the turn of the millennium brought fear and trepidation along with hope. Faced with the prospect of calamitous computer problems posed by the Y2K bug, people prepared to shelter in place or alternately to “party like it's 1999.”

Some artifacts in the museum collections show the variety of activities and emotions associated with the coming of the new millennium.

The specter of Y2K brought worries that computers in financial institutions such as banks wouldn’t be able to handle changing internal computer calendars from 1999 to 2000. Since many programs represented years by their final two digits, the concern was that systems, unable to differentiate 2000 from 1900, would crash and all the money in our accounts would be lost. This led some people to withdraw all their money from the bank with the plan of depositing it all back in early January. To prevent a run, bankers tried to quiet these fears by assuring their customers that their money was safe.

SHSND 2002.120.1-2

The U.S. government also did its part to assure people that Y2K wasn’t Armageddon in the pamphlet “Y2K & You: a new horizon” published by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. This pamphlet contained information on a variety of topics such as “The History of the Y2K ‘Millennium Bug’” and “What Are State Governments Doing,” aimed at calming a jittery public.

SHSND 2007.33.1-2

Churches also did their best to help bring hope for peace with the new millennium. Faith Lutheran Church in Bismarck included a notice on the back cover of its Christmas program inviting the congregation to attend a vigil on December 31, 1999, at 11:30 p.m., with a candlelight walk through the neighborhood at midnight.

SHSND 2003.19.10

For those who were “gonna party like it’s 1999,” there were lots of fun items to help with the celebrations. Along with the traditional party hats, noisemakers, and napkins, one could pick up a pair of 2000-shaped novelty eyeglasses or some confetti to toss at midnight. And for the big toast, a bottle of sparkling wine and a “Happy 2000” balloon could help you ring in the new year in style.

Celebratory accoutrements for the new millennium. SHSND 2003.19.1-9, 2004.5.9

There were also everyday items made a little extra special for the new year. M&M’s made special edition “Millennium Party Boxes” with its famous candies in confetti colors. (Though to be honest, aren’t they already in confetti colors?) It looks like brown was replaced by purple. Inside each box was a fun New Year’s resolution that the different M&M characters made. I particularly like Yellow’s resolution “to stay away from people who only love me for my shell. It’s what’s inside that counts, right?” No one can argue with that!

SHSND 2004.5.5-8

Not only was 2000 the start of a new millennium, it was also the start of a new century. Calendars were made to remember the previous century while this child’s calendar helped to document the firsts of the new century.

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Looking back at that time we can see the fears were largely unfounded, and for most of us 2000 was just another reason to celebrate and be able to say we lived in two centuries and two millenniums! So here is wishing you all a very happy new year in 2024.