Ensuring the enjoyment of the public
The growing trend of requiring the presence of a qualified archaeologist and a competent project team has not been greeted with universal enthusiasm. It may mean the end to interventions by purely commercial enterprises, with so-called experience in ‘investigating’ underwater heritage, and has been met with accusations that archaeologists are being given exclusive rights to own and control a public asset.
There is no such exclusive right for archaeologists and it is important to stress that underwater heritage remains a public asset. It belongs to the people of the world and should be managed and investigated in a manner that is consistent with this status, taking into account its fragile and non-renewable nature, and for the benefit of everyone.
Many past interventions in underwater heritage sites have benefitted only the commercial enterprises involved, at the expense of both the archaeological record and the public. This needs to change. However, requiring the presence of an archaeologist is not to say that non-professionals may not participate in projects. It should nonetheless be a qualified and competent professional who sets the research agenda and controls and directs any project.
Directing and controlling underwater heritage investigations is a demanding and onerous responsibility for archaeologists. It carries with it heavy responsibilities.
- ensure that whatever work is undertaken results in minimum ‘damage’ to underwater cultural heritage, while maximising public return in the form of increased knowledge and understanding of the past; and
- ensure public access, where appropriate.