Matching objectives with methodology and techniques (Rule 16)

© J. Henderson
Divers measuring a cist grave at Pavlopetri site, Greece. Archaeologists surveying Pavlopetri, which is supposed to be the world's oldest submerged town, have found ceramics dating back to the Final Neolithic. Their discovery suggests that Pavlopetri was occupied some 5,000 years ago. The Pavlopetri site is unique in that it has almost the complete town plan, the main streets and domestic buildings, courtyards, rock-cut tombs and what appear to be religious buildings, clearly visible on the seabed. The Pavlopetri Underwater Archaeology Project aims to establish exactly when the site was occupied, what it was used for and through a systematic study of the geomorphology of the area, how the town became submerged. As a Mycenaean town, the site offers potential new insights into the workings of Mycenaean society. Pavlopetri has added importance as it was a maritime settlement from which the inhabitants coordinated local and long distance trade. These remarkable findings have been made public by the Greek government after the start of a 5 year collaborative project involving the Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities of the Hellenic Ministry of Culture and The University of Nottingham. During the fieldwork session in summer 2010, the team carried out a detailed digital underwater survey and study of the structural remains, which until this year were thought to belong to the Mycenaean period — around 1,600 to 1,000 BC. The survey surpassed all their expectations. Possibly one of the most important discoveries has been the identification of what could be a megaron — a large rectangular great hall — from the Early Bronze Age period. Their investigations revealed another 9,000 m² of new buildings as well as ceramics that suggest the site was occupied throughout the Bronze Age — from at least 2,800 BC to 1,100 BC.

An underwater archaeological site is an extremely fragile historical record that is a repository of information about developments in human history. The potential historical information it contains varies enormously. The objects a site contains may have been designed to be used outside, on or under water. They were submerged accidentally or on purpose. They range from religious and ritual deposits, bridges, dockyards, lighthouses, dykes and ports, settlements, towns and necropolises to fishing installations, naval, merchant and fishing vessels, and other anthropogenic evidence. Locations may vary as well, from seashore, to lake or river, and from an aquifer of a few centimetres to depths of thousands of metres below the surface of the sea.

All these aspects greatly influence the project objective, methodology and techniques and need to be taken into account during their design.  Therefore, no action should be taken without the prior identification and validation of specific goals appropriate to the site and a methodology that matches those goals and the technical challenges involved.


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Threats to sites


 Underwater archaeological heritage is exposed to the following threats, among others:

  • Physical-mechanical: Erosion and abrasion by currents, tidal movements or changes in water circulation; erosion/mechanical deterioration due to dredging, fishing, anchoring. 
  • Biological: Marine borers (especially Teredo navalis or shipworm), fungi and bacteria, for the most part dependent on the presence of oxygen. 
  • Chemical: Oxidation reactions of organic material and corrosion of metals. 
  • Human: Treasure hunting, souvenir collecting, fishing, dredging, infrastructural or development works, pollution, ship movements, archaeology, oil drilling and pipeline laying.
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Project objectives

The ‘objectives’ describe the purpose of a project or major research questions that it will address. These could include questions about:

  • What the site could reveal about advances in technology of a particular society - such as in shipbuilding, mining, fishing or  other technologies;
  • How information from one site could compare with information from another site (underwater or on land or from recorded history);
  • How trade was conducted by the people associated with the site;
  • hat the site could reveal about migration, exploration, social advances or the disappearance of a cultural group, the time in history when the site was formed, used or abandoned;
  • Other technological achievements or cultural developments.

Research is not the only possible objective of a project. For a management intervention there can be a range of reasons, for example, to stabilize the site or to facilitate access because the site is considered a tourist attraction for recreational divers.

Without exception, the objectives should fit into a more encompassing vision for research or conservation that is realized through a range of projects. Such a vision can have many open ends, but the design of a single project should not be open-ended.

A log frame matrix or similar scheme can be very helpful in strategically organizing objectives, activities and outcomes with a view to the short, medium- and long-term.
Project objectives must be in line with the principles stated under Rules 1 to 8. Most importantly, action on underwater cultural heritage is justifiable only if undertaken to protect it, to obtain detailed and reliable scientific information or to share its enjoyment with the public.

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