The need for regulation (Rule 6)

© Department of Underwater Archaeology of Croatia
Wreck of the SMS Szent Istvan, an Austro-Hungarian warship, found near Premuda, Croatia. World War I and II shipwrecks have come under the protection of the Ministry of Culture of Croatia over the past fifteen years. While they do not fall into the category of underwater archaeology in the classic sense, these shipwrecks have been protected as cultural objects because of their historical significance and the opportunities for their promotion in tourism and culture. Besides being blue graves, they are monuments of technical heritage and the technological development of their time. Interventions at protected sites must be authorized by the national authorities. This authorisation process is indispensable for all actions that are necessary to further protection, knowledge and enhancement. In authorising activities directed at underwater cultural heritage, the competent authority sets the standards for archaeological interventions, demands for competent and qualified staff, and regulates the standards of documentation. The Szent Istvan is interesting as a subject of study to researchers from all of countries that emerged from the fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and has been the subject of several international research campaigns. With its length of 153 m, the battleship Szent Istvan, of the Tegethof class, is numbered among the largest warships sunk in the Adriatic Sea. It was built in Rijeka in 1914 and was, along with two other vessels of the same class, the Tegethof and the Viribus Unitis, the pride of the Austro-Hungarian Navy in World War I. Equally impressive are its twelve 305 mm cannons. It was sunk on 10 June 1918, by Italian torpedo boats. Indicative of the measure of this military success is the fact that the day was declared Italian Navy Day. The ship turned 180 degrees while sinking and lies now at a depth of 68 m with its keel pointing to the surface.


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.


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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.


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