Contingency planning (Rule 19)

Numerous incidents can be incurred during an archaeological project. Appropriate planning needs to facilitate appropriate action when they happen. Contingency plans (also referred to as back-up plans, worst-case scenarios or plan B) are emergency strategies devised beforehand to explore and prepare for any eventuality, thus addressing risks, accidents and incidents that might occur. They are required to help projects to survive serious incidents and recover in minimum time with minimum cost. They consist of strategies and a plan of appropriate actions to deal with specific deviations from the original plan, which was based on assumptions at the start of the project.

In fact, archaeological projects that include excavations are always based on ranges of assumptions. After all, they pursue research into the unknown. However, as in any science, the operations can still be planned in a controllable way, by making sure that one proceeds step-by-step and that from the very outset one allows for several scenarios. A find layer may contain material that calls for specialist attention. Documentation may be more demanding if features are hard to interpret. The site may continue deeper than foreseen. These, however, are the normal aspects of an archaeological operation, and if one part turns out to be more time-consuming than expected, another part may take less time. Also, the project design may prioritize certain activities, with others remaining optional.


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A special consideration for on-water and underwater activities in archaeology, is their extreme dependence on adequate and well-functioning equipment, and on even marginal changes in the environment. Sea state, weather, extreme tides, shifting current patterns and shifting sands are what determine progress. Furthermore, changes in underwater visibility will obviously affect documentation by visual or photographic means. All these can be planned for to a certain extent. After all, preliminary study will show what kind of weather pattern one can expect according to the time of year. Specific actions within the project will be more dependent on dead calm than others, although all will profit from it.

If conditions are variable, the plan –and even more importantly, the team– should be extremely flexible to make the best of a spell of favourable conditions. One can recover from the extra effort when the weather breaks. If conditions are more stable, one can be slightly more relaxed on running the extra mile. Equipment-wise, redundancy does not seem to exist. Backups that can be deployed at short notice, when a compressor, a pump, a generator, or an outboard motor fails, are essential. Nevertheless, there will always be weak links and unforeseen setbacks that may build up in a way to threaten the project. Besides the purely archaeological contingencies and the logistics of making sure that all pieces of equipment arrive before they are needed and that specialist operators are available at the right moment, there are other aspects that need to be part of the risk-assessment in view of funding.

There can for instance be

  • extreme weather conditions;
  • changes in the legal context (a permit is withheld, a contract is not signed etc.);
  • failure of expensive equipment or an anticipated research vessel;
  • accidents (emergency situations for the staff etc.); and
  • problems of funding (sudden end to funding or a delay in receiving the foreseen subsidies etc).

A risk profile should be drafted for all archaeological operations based on the evaluation of external and internal risk factors, including emergency responses and alternative operations. Furthermore, one should consider contracting an insurance that, depending on the project, can cover the whole project or some particular risks that could be incurred, despite planning for their avoidance. Diving accidents are such a risk and a severe one.

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Interruption of funding


Contingency plans shall cover all eventualities, but particular attention should be paid to unanticipated cuts in funding. Rule 19 addresses this and concentrates on the effects such an interruption will have on the underwater cultural heritage in question. If the project is purely non-intrusive, the on-site effects may be minor. Nevertheless, also in that instance, care should be taken to make sure that the documentation will be secured, as it is essential for preliminary studies relating to the future management and enjoyment of the heritage in question. If, on the other hand, the project contains intrusive steps, like excavation, the effects of interrupted funding can be considerable, including the destruction of the site or increased vulnerability to degradation and erosion, which are not offset by project results or creation. It is therefore that the project design should include a contingency plan to make sure that even in the event of an interruption in funding, the project can still be wound up properly, and that the site and the supporting documentation can be secured in a responsible way.

  • Planning in phases

    A major means of making sure that the site is not disproportionally endangered is to plan in phases. Even when the long-term vision is full exposure, it is recommended to divide the archaeological project from the outset in distinct sections. The works should be separated in phases with clearly assigned individual budgets and sources of funding (for instance: Phase 1: Exploring; Phase 2: Planning; Phase 3: Intervention and first aid conservation; Phase 4: Conservation and Reporting; Phase 5: Documentation and Archiving). Taking a phased approach allows for reconsideration on the basis of the then available information. It may also improve decision-making on the site’s future. One could also decide to consider each phase that fits into the wider scheme as a separate project. No archaeological work must begin before funding for the completion has been secured and received. A clear timetable with deadlines for the receipt of funding and the start of project sections should be devised. Strict adherence to this schedule guarantees that no phase in progress is exposed to risks of sudden interruption. In case a lack of funding for a subsequent phase occurs, the archaeological work is only interrupted after the completion of the current phase and the project could be left at this stage without putting the vestiges at risk.

  • Diversification of sources

It may be helpful to obtain funds from diverse sources to limit the risks of funding interruptions and their consequences. Multi-source financing may in the long-term contribute to ensuring the completion of the project in its planned volume, in all phases, and limit consequences of unpredictable situations.

Alternative sources of funding, to cover emergency situations, need to be already identified while planning the project financing. These provisions have to be kept up-to-date throughout the project. Some countries offer special procedures and government grants to help in emergency situations.

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