In dealing with any underwater site, it is important not to take any rash action or draw blunt conclusions. This is true for any previously unknown archaeological site, whether or not it is under water. It is important to stand back, reflect and systematically verify which action ’directed’ at this particular site would be the most appropriate and realistic, and would be most beneficial for the site’s protection, and its role as memory of humankind. The Rules therefore require a project design for any activity as well as a phase of preliminary work to inform this design. Rule 10 touches on this issue, which is then dealt with more explicitly in Rule 14 and Rule 15.
A site should be evaluated for what it is (Rule 14) and then compared to what is already known from history, archaeology, geology and environmental sciences through background studies (Rule 15).
Whereas Rule 14 concentrates on the preliminary work that relates to field evaluation, Rule 15 concentrates on the background studies known as ‘desk-based assessment’. Both are intricately related. The background studies feed into the evaluation of significance and scientific potential. The evaluation of the site per se should be completed by placing its characteristics and promises in the context of what is already known and whatever gaps are perceived in the knowledge that results from previous studies. The two processes should each follow their own logic and then be integrated in the conclusion of the preliminary work. This can result in a text that is similar to the synopsis on the back cover of a book, combining characteristics, promises, uncertain relations, issues that might go wrong and unsolved questions.
The arguments of this chapter are:
- Site assessment - Rule 14
- Background studies - Rule 15
- Side bar: the inventory of underwater cultural heritage