Establishing archaeological sites in LCSH

ANSS Subject and Bibliographic Access Committee

Question/Answer on Cataloging Issues – July 2019

Question: How does one establish an archaeological site in the Library of Congress Subject Headings thesaurus?

By Isabel Quintana, Harvard Library, Harvard University

In my work, I come across materials that discuss the results of archaeological excavations. In terms of subject access, I use the Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH) thesaurus, and the rules for the implementation of LCSH described in the Subject Headings Manual, 1st edition, a resource that is available online via Cataloger’s Desktop. This resource has a set of instructions for providing subject access to materials that discuss the archaeology of particular places. The instruction for “Archaeological works,” which is numbered H 1225 in the manual, states that a cataloger should assign the heading for the site as the first subject heading. The instructions listed here are all from this manual, and particularly from instruction H 1225.

Many archaeological sites are already established, since there are books already written about the site. For example, here is a short list of archaeological sites that are already established:

Almeida Site (Brazil)
Aztec Ruins National Monument (N.M.)
Casas Grandes Site (Mexico)
Çatal Mound (Turkey)
Indian Crossing Site (Chicopee, Mass.)
Lady Rapids Site (Ont.)
Stonehenge World Heritage Site (England)
Teotihuacán Site (San Juan Teotihuacán, Mexico)
Texcal Cave (Mexico)

Since there are many sites already established, a cataloger would look first in LCSH. If however one had the first book on a new site, it might not yet be established. A cataloger may then use the following rules to establish the site in LCSH.

First, we have to figure out the correct name for the site. We consult at least three reference sources. However, the instructions are clear that “for those archaeological sites that are obscure and unlikely to be found in any standard reference sources, select the site name on the basis of the work being cataloged.” In my work I’ve had many occasions where the site was located in a small foreign country; or I was cataloging a poster about a site; or the site was excavated by students as part of a project. Still we are required to search at least 3 reference sources, so I try to find further information about the site.

For most geographic locations, catalogers search the following databases: Geographic Names Information System ( for domestic names; and GEOnet Names Server ( for international names. Geographic Names Information System can be valuable as it lists many national heritage sites. However GEOnet Names Server usually does not contain archaeological sites. Therefore, we look at other sources such a published gazetteers on archaeological sites.

Once we have the name of the site, we then add the word “Site” to the name unless there is already a term in the heading that suggest an archaeological site. In the examples above, the words “ruins” and “mound” are sufficient to connote an archaeological site. Therefore, we don’t add the word “Site” to the name.

Then we would add a geographic qualifier. We qualify the name of the site with the country or state where it is located, unless it is located in a city, in which case we list both the city and the country or state. There are guidelines for when to use a country or a state. These guidelines are listed in the Subject Headings Manual as well. For example, for the United States and Canada we always use the state or province instead of the country as the qualifier.

Next we would add cross-references from any other form of name that we have on our work, or that we discovered while searching reference sources. For example, here is a site with a cross-reference to another form of name that was found in the same book.

151  Stone Jail Site (Boston, Mass.)
451  Puddingstone Prison (Boston, Mass.)
551  Massachusetts $x Antiquities

The title of this book is The Stone Jail Site (SWC-31, Roxbury, Massachusetts). The title page clearly lists the site at the “Stone Jail Site,” but on page iv it states “Puddingstone Prison” as an alternate name for the site. Roxbury is a part of Boston, which is why the qualifier is (Boston, Mass.)

The instructions also tell us to always include a broader term which is the larger jurisdiction (i.e. country or state) subdivided by “Antiquities.” This broader term collocates all archaeological sites in LCSH. Therefore, when searching in LCSH if you choose a country or state and subdivide it with Antiquities, you will get a list of all the archaeological sites that are already established for that country or state. For example, if I search for Wisconsin—Antiquities in LCSH here is the current list of archaeological sites that I will find there:

Aztalan Mounds (Wis.)
Chesrow Site (Wis.)
Deadman Slough Site (Wis.)
Filler Site (Wis.)
OT Site (Wis.)
Rock Island Site (Wis.)
Statz Site (Wis.)
Tremaine Site (Wis.)
Willowy Blonde Site (Wis.)

Those are the basic rules for establishing sites, but there are some exceptions. If the site is a cemetery we add the word “site” to the cemetery’s name. For example, San Germano Site (Italy) is an Etruscan necropolis located in Italy.

If the site currently functions as a farm or plantation, we add a broader term for those enterprises as well. So, we would add “Farms” subdivided by place, or “Plantations” subdivided by place. Therefore, if you search LCSH for Farms—Indiana, you will find a list of all farms which are already established for Indiana. The same holds true for Plantations subdivided by a place.

If the site is a cave or mound that has already been named, we use the name of the cave or mound without adding the word “site” to the name. For example, Texcal Cave (Mexico) is an excavated cave. In these cases, we also add a broader term for “Mounds” or “Caves” subdivided by place. So, the subject heading ends up like this:

151  Texcal Cave (Mexico)
451  Cueva del Texcal (Mexico)
550  Caves $z Mexico
551  Mexico $x Antiquities

In this example, Texcal Cave is the official name of the cave. “Cueva del Texcal” is listed as a cross-reference and the last two terms are broader terms.

Finally, if the site was the remains of an extinct city it is established under different rules altogether. Since extinct cities may have different forms of names over time, we rely even more on standard encyclopedias, and gazetteers. Also, extinct cities can be discussed as a living city, instead of as an archaeological site. So, they need to be treated differently depending on the scope of the book in hand.  This posting doesn’t cover the instructions for extinct cities.

When a cataloger has a work that describes an archaeological site, we provide a number of subject headings in addition to a heading for the site name. We may also include subject headings for the people located at the site, for specific tools they used, for specific time periods, etc. Yet the subject heading for the distinct archaeological site can be very helpful to patrons to locate materials on unique excavations. Furthermore, the cross-references structure of the LCSH thesaurus can help our patrons find a particular site, even when it is known by several names.

It’s always a pleasure to work on archaeological materials, because it’s such a thrill to see the works created by our ancestors. Hopefully, a cataloger’s work to create these subject headings will help our patrons find these resources more readily.