Documentation programme (Rules 26 and 27)

The documentation programme is part of the project design. It sets out the strategy for thorough documentation throughout the project and needs to be drafted before any intervention takes place. It explains the scientific rationale behind the research effort; defines the scope of the investigation; identifies the methods, techniques, and procedures to be used; provides a schedule for progress reports and site reports; and permits comparison of the proposed research with the results. It equally specifies the selection of methods and techniques of study and provides a comparative framework for evaluating and deciding the relative efficiency of alternatives. Last but not least, it specifies how the information is made available to others, to other professionals and the public.


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Standards of archaeological documentation


The documentation programme must follow the acknowledged standards of archaeological documentation. Moreover, it should be tailored to the specific project objectives. All observations that are relevant for the site’s interpretation or future management should be documented and archived. The following guidelines apply:

  • the goals of the documentation shall correspond to the goals of the project specified in the project design and to the needs identified for the relevant historic or prehistoric contexts;
  • the selection of methods of documentation shall be coherent with the information sought;
  • the possible results of documentation shall be assessed against the objectives and this analysis shall be integrated into the planning process;
  • the results of documentation shall be reported and disseminated to the public and necessary measures shall be taken accordingly; and
  • the documentation shall be conducted under the supervision of qualified professionals in the disciplines appropriate to the data that are to be recovered. When non-professionals are involved in documenting activities (for instance volunteers), provisions should be made for training and supervision by qualified professionals.

The documentation programme must take specific data needs into account, as well as the time and funds available to secure the data and the relative cost efficiency of various strategies. However, in any intrusive action, it is better to economize on the action as such than on its documentation, since documentation is all that remains and since documentation can never be repeated if what is to be documented has been destroyed.

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Progress reports


Rule 26 specifically requires progress reports of activities directed at underwater cultural heritage. This means progress reports of all stages of archaeological projects. It includes planning, survey, identification, evaluation, excavation and treatment, as appropriate. Progress reports provide the basis for evaluation of the project’s development, they inform the project’s sponsors and they help the project-director to fine-tune strategies, and, if necessary, to adapt the project design. Status or progress reports shall always include a description of the current phase of activities, methodology, results, and preliminary assessment of the archaeological materials recovered thus far. They shall also include reports on any accidents and major problems encountered during the course of the excavation. Progress reports are also a basis to keep the public informed and involved. In terms of documentation, the progress report stands halfway between the primary data collected and the final report, or perhaps it stands a bit on the sideline, as the final report needs to build on the primary data as well.

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The breadth of archaeological documentation


Archaeological investigations are seldom able to collect and record all possible data. It is therefore essential to determine in advance the point at which further data recovery and documentation will fail to improve the usefulness of the archaeological information to be recovered.

Conversely, the research design should also be flexible enough to allow for examination of unanticipated, but important research opportunities that arise during the investigation. Moreover, it is important to guarantee responsiveness to the concerns of possible stakeholders (local groups, environmental protection groups, religious entities, etc.) since an archaeological intervention usually involves site disturbance and it is essential to address concerns or wishes of stakeholders appropriately with documentation.

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The process of archaeological documentation


The documentation process of an underwater cultural site starts as soon as an object of archaeological nature is found. In terms of inventory and management, it will continually accumulate from that point onwards, but it will not necessarily include a comprehensive record of the site. That is to say, it should be comprehensive to the level of what is known. More documentation will ensue from background research for the development of a management plan, for impact studies of other developments or when an archaeological intervention is planned, such as an assessment of the site for which a project design is prepared.

However, the situation is different as soon as a survey is actually undertaken. The first thing it should do is comprehensively document the site as it appears, without any interference. It is in relationship to that overview that further decisions for management or intervention are to be taken. It is on the basis of that overview that information on the site can understandably be communicated. This is the message that Rule 27 wants to convey. The rule is very clear on the fact that the original position of items that are moved or removed should be documented in relation to the site-plan or overview. Furthermore, it mentions the importance of field notes, plans, drawings, sections, and photographs or recording in other media.

All phases of planning, implementation and evaluation should be documented and evaluated to assess significance and effectiveness. The importance of well-documenting all project information is accordingly emphasized.

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