Site management (Rule 25)


Site management and preservation are related. Just as one should not remove underwater cultural heritage without considering its preservation, the same considerations apply to the site and to the in situ remains. As a general rule, every site deserves its own management plan, even if many countries, especially developing ones, do not yet dispose of such plans for their submerged cultural sites.

An adequate management programme and a long-term management plan can be of great assistance to reduce the risks for underwater cultural heritage, including deterioration, looting, or even destruction. They are important tools in optimizing the enjoyment of the heritage concerned, for the greatest number possible, in setting the conditions for access, information, consolidation, and maintenance. Thus, they enable the realization of the benefits and obligations for society.

General policies that deploy a management plan for all sites according to significance are rare. However, once an action directed at underwater cultural heritage is undertaken, especially when it is intrusive, consideration should be given to establishing a programme on how to manage the changes that occur. Rule 10 therefore lists both a conservation programme and a site management and maintenance policy for the whole duration of the project as one of the aspects to be integrated in the project design. Rule 24 elaborates conservation issues and Rule 25 further elaborates the necessity to develop a programme of management of the site during and in the aftermath of the phases of intervention.

Management generally consists of deploying and co-ordinating resources most effectively and efficiently in order to accomplish a range of objectives and ultimately the protection of a given archaeological site. To that end, a written plan is devised describing the overall guidelines within which all activity directed at the heritage in situ is organized to ensure that agreed project objectives are achieved in a timely manner with due consideration for potentially conflicting interests. According to Rule 25 a management programme must provide for the protection and management in situ of heritage, during and after fieldwork. The management plan also includes considerations on public information, site stabilization, monitoring, and protection against interference.


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Site management during fieldwork

In the context of an activity directed at a heritage site, public information, site stabilization, monitoring and protection against interference are specifically highlighted as relevant, but are also at risk of being neglected during the course of activities.

  • Site stabilization

This is a major aspect that risks being neglected in the course of activities that originate in investigative enthusiasm. It therefore needs to be addressed in the management plan. Not all archaeological interventions aim at full excavation. But even if this is the case, the site will not be cleared without delay and it needs to be stabilized. Archaeology is a meticulous process which progresses step by step. During the research process and as soon as the site is disturbed, it is much more vulnerable to erosion and destruction. Measures for site stabilization can imply sandbagging or covering of areas not under excavation. However, it can also be limited to the covering of the actual excavation area overnight or between shifts, in order to ensure that currents will not unguardedly wash away the sediment under excavation. The site stabilization programme should take account of weather and notoriously capricious sea conditions. Otherwise equipment or archaeological deposits may be lost if a storm comes up inadvertently.

  • Monitoring

Monitoring of a site’s condition during the period of intervention is the logical condition for adequate measures to counter erosion and damage. Monitoring involves the periodic observation, collection and analysis of information on the site’s condition, in order to detect signs of both short and long-term changes. Monitoring of a site over longer periods of time is an important element in a management plan. It allows understanding the processes affecting the site (including biological surveys on the impact of micro and macro organisms) and it thereby facilitates the design of protection measures. Monitoring schemes are particularly important for instable sites and sites of great significance. They are implemented following a bench-mark or reference investigation of the site with regards to its composition, distribution and biology, seabed, current and water characteristics, and extend to factors such as human interference.

  • Protection against interference

This aspect should be considered for the long-term as well as in the course of fieldwork. A site that is under excavation is particularly vulnerable to interference. In preventing the interference of others, secrecy is not an option. It is hardly possible to secretly operate at the same underwater spot for any length of time. This will attract attention, even in the open sea. At sea, any continued presence on a spot without explication is suspect. Moreover, buoys and shot lines are the obvious corollaries of any underwater operation and as such, they attract attention and interference if unexplained.
Through proper public information, the prolonged and repeated presence of a team can be well-explained and as a consequence, interference is prevented. That is to say, unconscious and unintentional interference will be avoided, whereas intentional interference is of course another matter. Public information also creates consciousness about the site and the valuable work, and people can become involved in keeping a protective watch. Consequently, the on site presence of unidentified individuals in the absence of the project-team will attract suspicion from official radar posts, patrol vessels, local fishermen, and professional or recreational seafarers, who will be proud to defend their heritage. All these stakeholders should be encouraged to act as allies in protection, and to report if anything suspicious or out of the ordinary occurs, just like they would in the event of an accident or a fire. Nevertheless, it may be necessary to keep watch and ensure that the interruptions of onsite presence for night rest and rest days are as short as possible. Holidays can mean a rest day for a team, but will generally also release many others from their duties, creating extra time and opportunity for intentional or partially intentional mischief.

  • Informing the public

The public should be informed about an investigation. This should not be postponed until results have become clear. Public information needs to be addressed from the very beginning and during every activity, pointing to the (potential) significance of the site, the character of the work to be carried out, the vulnerability of the remains, and the whereabouts of recovered artefacts. This is a matter of the public having the right to know and of justifying the effort and funding invested in an activity. After all, it is vital for protecting the site and the activities. Public support and consideration can for instance ensure that speed of navigation is reduced in the area or that pillaging is prevented. In total contrast, silence results in indifference. Moreover, silence about activities invites suspicion, especially when artefacts are recovered. The lack of publicly accessible information, as well as missing contact with local sailors, politicians and authorities, consequently alienates these stakeholder groups from archaeology, as does the exclusion of local divers from participation and the lack of technical publications. Unless archaeologists invest in educating the public, the media and politicians they will not gain their support. Treasure hunting could then seem more appealing and politicians could refrain from supporting the cause of archaeologists against the long-term interest of the population.

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Site management upon termination of fieldwork


Site management shall also provide for protection and management upon termination of fieldwork. The activities during fieldwork described above - informing the public, monitoring and site stabilization - are certainly still relevant upon termination of fieldwork.

In addition, properly winding up a project directed at underwater cultural heritage is a major concern of site management once the fieldwork has been completed. In any project directed at a site, the fieldwork should be properly terminated: no excavation trenches should remain open; no debris should be left behind. A management plan should ensure that the site and any remains that are left in situ are as stable as possible. This is less an issue in operations where excavation of underwater cultural heritage is undertaken in advance of a development project and if the site is completely cleared. However, even in development-led fieldwork, a site may not be cleared of everything, let alone its meaning. The development project may still be in a phase of planning, and the heritage investigated may be an inspiration for the way this planning is finalized. Even in such cases, the archaeological work should therefore be properly finished and it should be ensured that the site is stable and protected, so that it can best ‘survive’ the development project.
Simple technical and practical measures are a necessary condition for any long-term protection and management. Dependent on the significance of what remains in situ or on the significance attributed to the location, the site can also be recommended for a specific protection scheme, for controlled access, or for wider exposure in the media. The management plan that was part of the project then develops into a programme with long-term sustainability as its aim.

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Site management programmes

A site management programme is a tool to structure long-term concern for a site. It should define the reason for concern and the purpose of engagement.

Research and enjoyment by the public at large constitute the principal purposes. A management programme should then elaborate the way in which these purposes are best served while keeping the site authentic. Authenticity is best experienced in situ and it is one of the reasons why the UNESCO Convention and its Annex put emphasis on protection in situ. An authentic site is a joy forever, as a monument for those associating themselves with its history, or its environment, as well as for the local economics of recreational and touristic visits. It is also a joy for researchers, who inform other users, but who also may want to extend and critically assess common knowledge by means of excavation, a process that is both destructive and innovatively creative.

Active management cannot do without research, monitoring and protection. Usually, the three will be combined. Unless a site is threatened to the degree that full excavation is the only option, a site will usually be investigated several times over a longer period of time. Investigation and monitoring can then be combined with other forms of access.

When elaborating a management programme, many factors have to be taken into consideration, for example, the site’s characteristics and needs, as well as the impact of activities and the natural resources, which may share the same context as the archaeological remains. Underwater archaeologists should ensure that guidelines are respected. How to deal with actions which might have an effect on the archaeological remains (underwater and in the nearby terrestrial areas, if applicable) is to be equally addressed in the management programme. The relevant conventions, national laws, recommendations and guidelines should similarly be consulted in compiling a management programme.

In the creation of a management programme, many different groups and entities may participate or contribute, for example:

  • the official agencies in charge of protecting the national cultural heritage (on land and under water);
  • the official agencies in charge of protecting the environment and natural resources;
  • the official agencies responsible for safe navigation;
  • universities and research institutions;
  • groups and stakeholders that identify with underwater cultural heritage;
  • groups and stakeholders that are likely to profit from the proper management of the underwater cultural heritage; and
  • groups and stakeholders that are likely to affect underwater cultural heritage and its management, through their regular activities.

Not all of these stakeholder groups may have a positive attitude towards the heritage from the start, but they all have a stake and an interest that should be taken seriously. By taking an inclusive approach, involving all these parties in the formulation of a management programme, all interests can be considered and integrated and the chances of forgetting any relevant aspects are drastically diminished. Evidently, several goals can and should be combined in a management plan in such a way as to take other interests into account. These interests may have to give way to the interest of protection, but in other instances they may come first. Monitoring at set intervals is the way to check whether the management plan works. It can be done by direct or indirect information gathering. An integral approach is thus a way to ensure that the plan will be supported by all stakeholders in its implementation.

The site management plan

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