Archaeology is a source of history, not just a humble auxiliary discipline. Archaeological data are historical documents in their own right, not mere illustrations to written texts. Just as much as any other historian, an archaeologist studies and tries to reconstitute the process that has created the human world in which we live —— and us ourselves in so far as we are each creatures of our age and social environment. Archaeological data are all changes in the material world resulting from human action or, more succinctly, the fossilized results of human behavior. The sum total of these constitutes what may be called the archaeological record. This record exhibits certain peculiarities and deficiencies the consequences of which produce a rather superficial contrast between archaeological history and the more familiar kind based upon written records.
Not all human behavior fossilizes. The words I utter and you hear as vibrations in the air are certainly human changes in the material world and may be of great historical significance. Yet they leave no sort of trace in the archaeological records unless they are captured by a dictaphone or written down by a clerk. The movement of troops on the battlefield may "change the course of history," but this is equally ephemeral from the archaeologist's standpoint. What is perhaps worse, most organic materials are perishable. Everything made of wood, hide, wool, linen, grass, hair, and similar materials will decay and vanish in dust in a few years or centuries, save under very exceptional conditions. In a relatively brief period the archaeological record is reduced to mere scraps of stone, bone, glass, metal, and earthenware. Still modern archaeology, by applying appropriate techniques and comparative methods, aided by a few lucky finds from peat-bogs, deserts, and frozen soils, is able to fill up a good deal of the gap.
From Boston to Los Angeles, from New York City to Chicago to Dallas, museums are either planning, building, or wrapping up wholesale expansion programs. These programs already have radically altered facades and floor plans or are expected to do so in the not-too-distant future.
In New York City alone, six major institutions have spread up and out into the air space and neighborhoods around them or are preparing to do so.
The reasons for this confluence of activity are complex, but one factor is a consideration everywhere -- space. With collections expanding, with the needs and functions of museums changing, empty space has become a very precious commodity.
Probably nowhere in the country is this more true than at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which has needed additional space for decades and which received its last significant facelift ten years ago. Because of the space crunch, the Art Museum has become increasingly cautious in considering acquisitions and donations of art, in some cases passing up opportunities to strengthen its collections.
Deaccessing -- or selling off -- works of art has taken on new importance because of the museum's space problems. And increasingly, curators have been forced to juggle gallery space, rotating one masterpiece into public view while another is sent to storage.
Despite the clear need for additional gallery and storage space, however, "the museum has no plan, no plan to break out of its envelope in the next fifteen years," according to Philadelphia Museum of Art's president.