The need for regulation (Rule 6)
Rule 6 requires that any activity impacting underwater cultural heritage be properly recorded. Conditions and observations that are left unrecorded will never be part of the activity documentation, let alone part of the wider record of archaeological observations that can inform other research. Also, if left unrecorded there will be no account of the impact and damage caused to the site, however well-intentioned the activity. Unless recorded, what has been destroyed will not be available for future study. To this end, activities directed at underwater cultural heritage must be subject to strict regulation.
As such, Rule 6 reiterates what much national legislation states concerning the authorization of interventions at archaeological sites. Authorization is indispensable for all actions that are necessary to further protection, knowledge and enhancement; moreover, it is limited to organizations with qualified and competent staff, who are fully familiar with the wider context of research questions, in which the significance of the site and the proposed intervention are embedded. Only such staff is geared to guarantee the best possible standards of recording and documentation.
Competence and qualification, and the details of recording, reporting and documentation are dealt with in Chapters VII, IX and XII respectively. Rule 6 emphasizes that all these aspects must be regulated and thereby formulates an obligation for the competent authority, defined by Article 22 of the Convention. The competent authority is requested to verify that strict regulations apply in view of ensuring the quality of archaeological work and in view of documentation and preservation of the results obtained throughout the activity.
Regulation for quality control
Archaeology is a cumulative discipline. This means that results from very different endeavours build up to form a consistent body of information. Conventions that facilitate comparison of data gathered under different circumstances have developed for the description, illustration and drawing of phenomena. Such conventions have developed into professional standards. The competent authority is responsible for ensuring that strict and equal standards are adhered to. In many instances, the standards evolve from combinations of government directives and professional guidelines, which are referred to in permits and authorizations.
Rule 6 simply indicates that proper recording of cultural, historical and archaeological information can only be ensured if it is regulated.
Detailed regulations and comprehensive systems of quality control have been developed in different contexts. International comparison shows, however, that much consensus exists. The most detailed regulations do perhaps apply in those instances where archaeological interventions are tendered out to service providers, especially in systems where in the context of development-led archaeology, the developer acts as client. Very detailed regulations do then apply in order to check competition and balance the market. In other systems, internal directives may suffice. Nevertheless, it is striking how much conformity there actually is in guidelines that govern fieldwork execution.
In authorizing activities directed at underwater cultural heritage, the Competent Authority:
- sets the standards,
- demands competent and qualified staff, and
- regulates the standards of documentation.