The organics revolution: new narratives and how we can achieve them

Penny Johnston, Nicholas Overton, Julian Thomas, Neil Carlin, Lucy Cramp, Ben Edwards, Mathew Knight, Dawn Mooney, Rhiannon Stevens, Whitehouse Nicky, Griffiths Seren

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Organic remains from excavated sites include a wide range of materials, from distinct organisms (‘ecofacts’) to biomolecules. Biomolecules provide a variety of new research avenues, while ecofacts with longer histories of study are now being re-harnessed in unexpected ways. These resources are unlocking research potential, transcending what was previously imagined possible. However, this ‘organics revolution’ comes with a salutary corollary: our approaches to recovering and curating organics, and making accessible research data, are not developing as quickly as we need. In this paper, we review retention guidelines for institutions in Britain and Ireland, setting this against the backdrop of a ‘curation crisis’ that is affecting museums throughout Europe, and beyond. We suggest key themes, including the state of existing documentation and considerations of intrinsic and allied research potential, that should be used to open a discussion about the development of more comprehensive and standardised approaches to archiving in the future. Engaging in this conversation is the only way that we can hope to ensure the long-term retention and preservation of organics, while safeguarding associated research data. These changes are needed to ensure future global research collaborations across the academic, curatorial and professional archaeological sectors.
Original languageEnglish
JournalWorld Archaeology
Publication statusPublished - 20 Feb 2023


  • Organic
  • Ecofact
  • Biomolecular archaeology
  • Museum
  • Data
  • Crisis
  • Radiocarbon
  • Multispecies
  • New Materialism
  • Big Data


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