In cases of urgency (Rule 13)

Rescue excavation at Vranjic (settlement from prehistory to modern times), Croatia. In ancient times Vranjiic was situated in Ager salonitanus i.e. the territory of Salona, the ancient capital of the Roman province Dalmatia. Once called Little Venice, its image was heavily damaged by industrial progress during the second half of the 20 th century. Some important underwater archaeological finds disappeared under the modern coastal structures and reappeared after nearly one century, during the reconstruction of the western and southern bank. The medieval structures, made of Roman architectural remains provided a lot of material that indirectly confirmed the existence of the nearby Early Christian basilica and the Roman necropolis. A Greek inscription from the 4 th century BC, found by accident, raised a lot of interest as it seems to be directly associated to the period of Greek colonization of Eastern Adriatic. The most important and unexpected discovery is represented by the potent Bronze age layer, testifying to an important settlement that was totally submerged and therefore completely unknown. Diving and working conditions didn’t permit archaeologists to work systematically on the underwater research, making the excavation and the elaboration of documentation extremely difficult. In order to identify all the cultural layers it was necessary to create 5 m high vertical profiles on the less critical points, where the danger of collapsing was reduced to a minimum. This kind of approach was needed because of the importance of the site and, in the same time, pointed out all the limitations and disadvantages of rescue excavations.

Natural disasters, illegal activities or chance discoveries during authorized activities that are not directed at underwater cultural heritage can expose sites and make them suddenly vulnerable to decay or destruction. Rule 13Think first, act secondRule 10

The recurrent nature of ‘cases of urgency or chance discoveries’ is a good reason to develop general strategies including action plans for specific kinds of contingencies. With such a strategy, one can have ‘action’ or ‘project’ designs in place even before the occurrence. The same is true in relationship to discoveries in the context of planning and development. If anticipated, such discoveries are an asset rather than an impediment. Research strategies can target such heritage under stress in preference to sites that can be preserved ‘in situ’.


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In case of emergencies:

  • Rule 13 provides for flexibility
  • It specifically addresses
    • site stabilisation
    • conservation measures
    • activities of short duration
  • Think first, act second
  • Check the aspects listed in Rule 10
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When emergencies recur:

  • Develop a strategy for emergencies, including
    • action plans
    • model project designs
  • Develop a strategy for discovery in planning and development
  • Target sites under development in research strategies
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Examples of emergencies and associated response options


Responses to cases of urgency can vary. Two examples of emergencies and associated response options may be given:

  • Storm damage:  most underwater sites are relatively immune to storm damage. In many cases this is part of the normal process by which sites are formed. However, in cases where unusual damage is suspected, immediate responses may include:
    • An immediate visual inspection by divers, cameras or remote sensing equipment to accurately record and assess the existence or extent of damage. This documentation may be all that is necessary but should be followed up with a written report and archival storage of the documentation;
    • If there has been damage to a site, an assessment needs to be made about how the site can be stabilized. Mitigation through a covering of sand bags or of sand over artificial grass, netting or wire mesh may help to re-stabilize the site.
  • Scouring damage can result from a change in the direction of currents, dredging or illegal artefact recovery. If scouring is the result of: 
    • a natural event, the exposure can be of short duration. It may be an opportunity to record the current condition of the site. No further action may be necessary. It may also be a recurrent phenomenon, or expose the site permanently.
    • dredging or illegal activities. It is very likely to permanently expose the site. An initial assessment should identify the nature of the material exposed and whether there is archaeological material that needs to be rescued. A qualified materials conservator should then be a part of the team. Any recovered material should be kept in a moist environment. A project plan should be developed immediately to identify and establish arrangements for subsequent conservation and storage.

These are just two examples of recurring events that may occasion urgent intervention. Competent authorities may identify other circumstances that call for sudden action. 

 It is for instance not unusual for highly informative pieces of wreckage or other cultural heritage to wash ashore on dynamic beaches. This is the result of the processes described above, but these pieces usually originate from previously unknown sites. Having a strategy in place on how to deal with such pieces and how to decide what can be disposed of and what should be documented and kept, will assist in decision-making. Action may, however, have to be engaged in a fully unprepared manner.

It should nonetheless be remembered that these cases of non-compliance with the prerogative of project design should be limited to periods of short duration, in particular emergencies with regards to site stabilization and safeguarding of information. Moreover, such activities need to be approved and authorized by the appropriate authorities.



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