Parks Canada Archaeological Recording Manual: Excavations and Surveys

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This section describes recording and cataloguing procedures for “still” images, in both traditional film and digital formats. As Parks Canada is currently in a period of rapid transition between traditional and digital formats for image recording (and the development of standards to manage them), this section will require periodic amendment to keep pace with innovations and developments. For the purpose of this manual, “still images” refers to single-frame images, in either digital or film format (e.g., individual exposures recorded using a film or digital camera, and including single-frame video image captures). “Moving images”, refers to images created by video cameras, film cameras etc. in either digital or analog tape format. Moving images are treated differently, as “media”, in section 8.0.


  1. All image records are prepared in such a manner that Collections Management staff or data entry clerks from the appropriate Parks Canada Service Centre can assure their efficient and complete entry into the archaeological records/database system.
  2. An archival quality paper record of the image catalogue is produced for Collections Management for long-term records management and preservation.
  3. All image data is input into the appropriate Parks Canada Archaeological Database.
  4. A link is assured between the exposure or record number and the Image Catalogue Number after processing.
  5. Where possible, manual transcription of data is avoided. Rather, data is transferred or input directly into the appropriate Parks Canada Service Centre Archaeological Database to ensure data integrity and reduce transcription error.
  6. Where possible, unwanted digital images are deleted shortly after the recording event.
  7. Digital records are organized daily to ensure integrity, completeness, and efficiency of data transfer.
  8. Copies or digital data backups are made for all original images, according to the Collections Management standards of the appropriate Parks Canada Service Centre.
  9. Core metadata pertaining to each file is recorded for each digital record to ensure the long-term preservation or integrity of the record and associated data. Every effort is made to keep current with latest Parks Canada initiatives on Digital Multimedia Asset Management and Metadata Standards.
  10. As for all field records, the maximum possible legibility is essential for all entries pertaining to images, whether on forms or in field notes or other media.


The image cataloguing system used for archaeological site photography (still images) in Parks Canada requires the assignment of an exposure or record number to each image at the time it is taken, and the assignment of an Image Catalogue Number to each image that is accessioned as a necessary part of the records of the excavation or survey. Both traditional film as well as digital photography can be catalogued using the same procedure, with slight variations according to the medium, and integrated into the same Image Catalogue Form example (see Section 7.4 below, and Appendix B).

Image Catalogue Numbers are assigned after the unwanted images have been culled by reason of technical quality or redundancy. In the case of traditional film photography, the Image Catalogue Numbers are assigned after the film has been processed and unnecessary exposures have been culled. For digital images, image cataloguing may be possible shortly after the recording event, as images can be quickly reviewed and culled as required.

7.2.1 Image Type Code

A single letter of the alphabet codes the type of image or film being used. It is recommended that no more than one type of image appear on each Image Catalogue Form. Note that most of these image codes are no longer used, but are listed here as they form an essential part of the legacy of data generated to date. However, traditional film types such as slide (T) and 35 mm colour (W) or black and white negative (M) are still in use. These must necessarily be coded in a manner consistent with previous work. The Image Type Codes are noted in Table 7. Three new codes are introduced in this version of the manual: “E” for digital images, “R” for radiograms, and “V” for digital video “still images” or “captures” (“moving images” are catalogued differently, under “Other Media”. See Section 8.0).

Table 7. Valid Image Type Codes

Code Description
4 x 5 colour slides (transparencies)
4 x 5 black-and-white negatives
4 x 5 colour negatives
35 mm black-and-white slide (transparencies)
Electronic (digital) images
Black-and-white negatives other than 120, 4 x 5, 35 mm
35 mm black-and-white negatives
120 colour negatives
120 colour slides (transparencies)
35 mm colour slides (transparencies)
Video (“still images” or “captures” only)
35 mm colour negatives
120 black-and-white negatives
Colour negatives other than 120, 4 x 5, 35 mm

7.2.2 Exposure/Record Number

This number is assigned at the time that the picture is taken. For convenience, the procedures for traditional film photography and digital photography are described separately. Film Photography

For traditional film photography, the results of the exposure are unknown and therefore it is impossible to anticipate that a particular exposure will receive a permanent Image Catalogue Number. Exposure numbers are assigned sequentially for each roll of film by type. The exposure number signifies the advance of the film in the camera, not the frame number printed on the film by the manufacturer.

In Field Notebooks and other field records, the exposure number is used to reference the photographs, since the permanent catalogue will not normally be available at the time of the recording event. The exposure number consists of three groups separated by hyphens: the first group is the year (yyyy, e.g., 2004), followed by R (for “roll”) followed by the roll number (in sequence for the type of film); the second group is the Image Type Code (Section 7.2.1); the third group is the number of the exposure made on the roll.


2004R1-M-7 is the seventh exposure made on the first roll of 35 mm black-and-white film used in 2004. Digital Photography

For digital images, the automatic numbering system of the camera may be used. It is recommended that the image number sequence for each camera be set to zero for each new project. If more than one digital camera is used in a given project, there is potential for duplicate or overlapping image record numbers. There are a number of solutions to this problem.

  • Download the images as soon after the recording event as possible, and place the images in a folder appropriately labelled so as to distinguish them from images taken by other digital cameras.
  • Use multiple data storage media/memory cards (e.g., four CompactFlash Cards) for each digital camera, and physically apply a label to each completed storage medium, in such a manner as to distinguish it from those used by other cameras for the same project. If this approach is used, it is recommended that the recorder’s Staff Field Number or full name, and the date (yyyy-mm-dd) be included along with the storage medium sequence number. Acronyms describing the particular storage medium can be used, and should be identified in the field notes (e.g., “Flash Card” = “FC”)
  • At the end of each day, cull, download and assign Image Catalogue Numbers to all images generated by all cameras in a given day. This procedure would require compiling and coordinating all image files, folders and associated forms, and is best suited for one designated individual (e.g., a Field Records Clerk, or the Principal Investigator).

P000050.tiff is the fiftieth image record number automatically generated by the digital camera, in “.tiff” format

FC01-200P (2004-06-11) is the first Flash Card (image data storage medium/memory card) used by Staff Field Number 200P (Jane Smith) in 2004

As shown above, digital images will have an associated file name extension when downloaded, which usually comprises three or four characters (e.g., .tiff, .jpg). The photographer determines the image file type during the initial digital camera set-up. The file name extension is a critical element in digital file management and data filtering. As a result, its original format at the time of the recording event should always be retained as part of the image archive.


The Image Catalogue Number is assigned to the photograph at the time that it is entered into the permanent image catalogue. It consists of two groups separated by a hyphen: the first group is the Site Number; the second consists of the Image Type Code preceded by a number which is assigned in sequence for that image type and site as the photograph is catalogued, regardless of year or season.


1H-430M is the four hundred and thirtieth catalogued 35 mm black-and-white photograph from Fort St. Joseph NHSC, Ontario.

Image labelling procedures (i.e., writing/printing key data onto a slide/transparency, negative, or print) vary slightly for each Parks Canada Service Centre. For current protocols, consult the Collections Manager at the appropriate Service Centre. Several best practices are generic enough to be widely applied.

  1. The Image Catalogue Number is written with archival quality ink on stable data storage media.
  2. A link between the physical or digital record(s) and the associated Image Catalogue Number must always be assured.
  3. Legibility must always be assured.


An example of an Image Catalogue Form, as well as a Form Guide, is provided in Appendix B. Though the use of the Image Catalogue Form is optional, the data fields shown in the form and explained in the Form Guide are mandatory, and represent minimum data standards for Parks Canada image recording. As a result, the use of the Image Catalogue Form is recommended as a best practice.

The Image Catalogue Form organizes data for each still image as it is taken, correlates this record with the permanent Image Catalogue Number and prepares each of these records for data entry into an Archaeological Database. Relational databases can merge, cross-reference and output image data in a variety of ways to suit the needs of a given project or Service Centre’s archaeological records management system.

There are two areas for data entries on the Image Catalogue Form. The entries at the top serve to index the form itself. The entries in the columns serve to index the individual images. Each roll of film (or memory card/image data storage medium) used requires the completion of a separate form, or a series of paginated forms if all the data cannot be entered on one form. Every exposure, by which is meant every full advance of film or record, requires an entry on at least one separate line of the form. A sequence of three bracketing exposures, for example, requires three separate entries on the form. Where data of an exposure or record is duplicated in the following exposure, ditto marks can be used.

7.4.1 Image Selection Process

Not all exposures or records need to be catalogued, and it would normally be highly redundant to catalogue every exposure/record. The selection for cataloguing will be based on information content, anticipated research, management, publication and presentation requirements or, in the case of bracketed exposures, the best exposure.

7.4.2 Duplicate Images

It is sometimes required to take two or more image records of the same subject to generate duplicate original images (e.g., for “bracketing” exposures). In this case, exposures/records would be separate items on the Image Catalogue Form, but could either be assigned the same Image Catalogue Number, with the extra image(s) labelled “duplicate”, or be catalogued separately and ascribed a unique Image Catalogue Number. The Principal Investigator should consult with the Collections Manager of the appropriate Parks Canada Service Centre to determine the latest standard.

7.4.3 Studio Images of Catalogued Archaeological Objects

The Image Catalogue Form can be used to catalogue studio images of catalogued archaeological objects. Fill in all the data fields normally, ignoring the “Direction” field. In the subject field, list on a separate line the following information for each archaeological object in the image:

  • the archaeological Object Catalogue Number;
  • the name of the person that requested the image (after the final archaeological object entry for each image).


  1. Specific field formats are outlined in the Image Catalogue Form (Appendix B).
Mandatory Data
  1. Specific data field requirements for images are outlined in the Image Catalogue Form (Appendix B). In the Form Guide, mandatory fields are indicated with an asterisk (*).
Image Preservation Standards

Recommendations for long-term preservation of digital images are provided in Appendix H, which summarises key recommendations from a current Parks Canada Digital Multimedia Asset Management initiative. The standards, both in Canada and abroad, are constantly evolving. Despite these rapid changes, the image standards outlined in Appendix H should be considered as a best practice. The standards will be updated periodically as required.

Image Metadata

Metadata is very important for the search and retrieval of multimedia content across an organization. Given the regional disposition of the Parks Canada Agency, metadata of the digital assets will be extremely important in order to search and retrieve content located in various content repositories across the country (Parks Canada 2003a.) Every effort should be made to keep current with latest Parks Canada metadata requirements.

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