Informing the public (Rule 35)

Activities directed at the underwater cultural heritage can take very different forms. They can include meticulous survey or extensive excavation, but they can also have consolidation or better access as their objective. Whatever the reason, once all the research, planning, logistics, survey, excavation, conservation, analysis, curation, management plan, and reporting is finished, the project still is not complete until the results have been shared with a wide audience.

Rule 35 mandates that projects must provide for public education and dissemination of results. Suggestions for fulfilling this:

  1. Make sure at least one member of the project team has experience in public archaeology and sharing of information. 
  2. Assign responsibility for producing public outreach and education programmes to the project’s public archaeologist in order to make certain this requirement is not overlooked.
  3. Ensure adequate funding is included in the project budget for the development and production of public-oriented materials.
  4. Remember to include all groups of the public, not just sport divers.
  5. Consider innovative methods for public education; there is no one right way to engage the public!


Show all / Hide all

fold faq

Reasons for informing the public

Futility of research

All archaeological research is futile if results are not shared. Archaeologists need to disseminate new information among the research and academic community to further the scientific aims of identifying cultural change and understanding past human behaviour. However, it is at least as important to share information with the public at large. Archaeology has the unique ability to inform our understanding of ordinary people of the past, rather than favouring kings and generals who are often the focus of historical narratives. This connection to the public of the past is a means to engage the public of today.

The public's interest

The public’s interest in the past is illustrated by the popularity of television shows, movies, books, and other publications that focus on archaeology and history. The production of well-researched and well-presented data for a general audience is a powerful tool for making sure the public gets accurate, interesting information, rather than the over-simplified or over-inflated, and sometimes erroneous “facts” generated by the media and by organizations with more interest in profit than preservation. Effective public education also ensures the longevity of archaeology by generating support for it.

The right to information 

In many cases, the public has rights to archaeological information. For example, when sites are located on public lands or when public taxes are used to fund archaeological investigations, people are entitled to know what is happening, how their money is being spent, and what the results of their investment are. Public programming utilizing quality productions that address archaeology works two ways. On the one hand it illuminates the value of the work being performed. On the other hand, however, it also shows the need for archaeological research in general to prevent the destruction of cultural heritage sites and consequent loss of heritage information.

On a conceptual level, the idea that everyone has a fundamental right to know their past is a compelling argument for sharing archaeological information with the public. In some archaeological circles – as with other ivory tower scientists – there has been a tendency to hoard information or to think of the public as somehow incapable of understanding archaeological principles. This is not just elitist, but short-sighted as well. Rather, a broader public understanding of the importance of archaeology and of the information archaeological research provides can serve to further the goals of protection, preservation, and conservation of non-renewable cultural heritage sites.

Not every specialist team-member may be an equally good communicator, while still being valuable for the team or its research. This may be so, but it is no excuse for not communicating. It is therefore wise to compensate with other team-members who have more affinity with public archaeology.

Heritage tourism

In addition to the above, heritage tourism is one of the fastest-growing segments of the tourism industry and visitors appreciate the opportunity to experience first-hand authentic sites and artefacts as a way to connect to their past. Promotion of public access to archaeological sites is part of UNESCO’s Guidelines (see Rule 7), and is related to the idea that the heritage has a unique value for humanity. Furthermore, heritage tourism provides real and significant economic benefits for the local community. Often, one of the first ways potential visitors learn of sites to visit is through popular presentations about projects and discoveries. This interest then leads to tourism and additional learning.

fold faq

Advantages of sharing information


Educating the public about the goals of archaeology and about the results of archaeological research has multiple advantages, especially where the underwater cultural heritage is concerned. Because of years of misinformation from the media and propaganda produced by commercial shipwreck salvagers, much of the public does not understand the difference between scientific archaeology and treasure hunting. Divers who would never dream of chipping a brick out of a historic building to take home do not see anything wrong with chipping a porthole out of a historic shipwreck. There seems to be a misunderstanding in the minds of many people that heritage sites on the bottom of the ocean are eligible for looting. Although much legislation has been directed toward combating the looting of underwater cultural heritage sites, perhaps the best way to change public opinion is through effective education.

Education leads to appreciation, which leads to protection.

People appreciate and value what they know about and understand; actually visiting a site provides an even stronger sense of connection. Additionally, fostering appreciation for one heritage site generally has the result of encouraging appreciation for other sites.

Ultimately, sites are discovered and protected, or looted and destroyed, at the local level and in the context of surrounding communities’ attitudes toward their past. Archaeologists have a unique opportunity, and, it may be argued, a responsibility, to provide local people and others with the information and ability to become an integral part of investigating and protecting their own cultural heritage, on land or under water.

fold faq

General considerations on how to inform the public


Project designs and budgets should take into account public outreach goals and the materials and products needed to reach those goals.

  • Team qualifications

A team member who is responsible for public outreach and education, along with archaeological responsibilities, is a necessary component of the project and should be considered as part of Rule 10 (f): composition of team and qualifications.

Many  university archaeology programmes now offer courses in public archaeology and internships where students can practice strategies for public outreach and education. Alternatively, archaeologists often find themselves performing public archaeology due to necessity, gaining familiarity with public outreach through on-the-job training. The field of public archaeology is a growing part of the science, with ever more professionals focusing on outreach, education, and public interpretation of sites as primary research and career directions. A team member with prior experience, ideas for viable public programs, and the capacity to manage a project’s outreach plan will prove invaluable. This team member can also help to fulfil Rule 10 (p): programme for publication, which should include public synthesis of results.

  • Funding and partnerships

Funding for public programmes should be considered, including sufficient funds for development of programmes, printing of outreach materials and interpretive literature, and creation of exhibits and displays. In some cases, once an initial printing of literature, such as brochures or underwater guides, is complete, a local organization may be able to take over successive printings. Partnerships with local museums or libraries are an excellent means of producing exhibits, which have the advantage of one-time outlay of funds to build. If the team is successful in creating local excitement and support for the project, in-kind donations of materials may be sought, from cement to create underwater markers, to the use of boats and donated chemicals for conservation.

fold faq

Targeting specific groups

The “public” is composed of people of all ages and backgrounds, which enables archaeologists to pursue many avenues of education and outreach.

  • Children

School children may be too young to dive and visit the site, but they are eager to learn about seafaring and shipwrecks. Activity books, colouring books, posters, hands-on activities, travelling educational trunks, and presentations directed at a young audience are all viable options. Today’s children are tomorrow’s citizens who will be responsible for developing and implementing public policies and legislation regarding historic and archaeological site preservation. A positive learning experience focusing on archaeology at a young age will have far-reaching consequences.

Lesson plans for teachers and educators will help ensure that young people receive factual information about archaeology and underwater cultural heritage. Archaeologists can work with local teachers to develop lesson plans featuring the project, including topics such as the scientific method, survey strategies, issues of working in an underwater environment, site identification and history, conservation and the chemistry of waterlogged artefacts. Curricula can be produced that will fit into existing classroom procedures when working with teachers who are familiar with educational standards for the area, state, or country. Because of archaeology’s appeal and inter-disciplinary nature, and especially the allure of shipwrecks and sunken sites, lessons that are engaging and entertaining, as well as informative and educational, can be developed.

  • Sport divers

Because of their existing interest in the underwater world, sport divers are a prime target for outreach. In most cases, the local diving community will be well aware of the underwater cultural heritage in their area and will be extremely interested in the research. Through the incorporation of information on cultural resources into the existing and effective education about submerged natural resources, divers can be taught to recognize the underwater cultural heritage as part of the marine environment and deserving of the same respect and preservation. Moreover, engaging divers at an early stage of the project and making sure to keep them informed will help prevent misinformation, unpleasant confrontations, and hard feelings, and will help promote cooperation, stewardship, and protection. Divers often become valuable volunteer members of the research team, offering hours of labour, important local information, and a powerful advocacy voice among their peers for underwater historic preservation. Furthermore, diving organizations are an effective option for long-term site monitoring and management according to Rule 25; by encouraging a local dive club to “adopt” the shipwreck-site, archaeologists and heritage managers (who may be based elsewhere or will leave the area at the end of the project) can be assured the site will be watched over and cared for.

  • Local communities

In many cases, the public can, and should, be involved in the archaeological process from the beginning. This applies in particular to local communities. It is vital for local inhabitants to be implicated in the study and protection of their underwater cultural heritage. This engagement with local people, for whom the underwater cultural heritage has a real and immediate connection, is crucial for long-term protection. The local inhabitants see the site on a regular basis and can effectively monitor activities at the site, such as diving and fishing. By engaging them in initial research and in continuing investigations, a sense of stewardship for the underwater cultural heritage can be fostered, which ultimately will help ensure protection. The individuals who participate in the research can then become ambassadors for archaeology, by sharing information with their community and providing examples of how everyday people can be directly involved with researching local history and heritage.

Community organizations provide wonderful opportunities for outreach because they are directly tied to the local identity, stay current with local events and news, and often need speakers and programmes for their meetings. Historical and genealogical societies, libraries, museums, educational agencies, environmental clubs, and civic groups are generally eager to hear about archaeological research in their area. In addition, speaking to one group often generates contacts for others and the team’s public archaeologist may well find him or herself on the local speaking circuit.

Further out at sea, the same role and the same sense of ownership will apply to discoverers of sites and to traditional and new users of the sea, from fishermen of distant ports to offshore operators. Even if these groups have a different way of being locally embedded, they have very strong feelings about maritime heritage and the space in which they operate. Even though it may be a challenge to engage them, it will prove to be worthwhile.

Back to top