Contingency planning (Rule 21)

Due to all the variables associated with an archaeological project, it is quite likely that a project will face some unforeseen circumstances that could result in its interruption or delay. Technical equipment that malfunctions or that is not delivered in time is a classic example. Underwater projects tend also to be extremely weather dependent and the weather may not be as predicted, for an extended period of time. During fieldwork, the excavators could, for example, come across unexpected materials that require conservation treatments that are not available on-site. This could result in the interruption of fieldwork, on-site conservation, finds processing, etc. However, the sooner such circumstances are realised and assessed, the easier it is to get the project back on schedule.

Most circumstances that impact the course of a project can be predicted and planned for to a certain extent, but others cannot. Contingency planning is about taking account of many risks that are likely to be incurred.



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Project monitoring


To ensure that the timetable is adhered to and to detect any interruption that might occur in the project schedule, it is essential to carry out regular assessments for all project activities and tasks based on the original project plan and timetable. Therefore, detailed records of the time spent on project tasks should be kept by all team members and reported to the project director. It is also necessary to monitor the progress of each phase of a project. This will ensure that the project objectives are achieved within the planned time and budget. It also enables the identification of any deviation that might occur in each phase, which could affect the project as a whole. Monitoring a project’s progress should be a continuous process that is carried out regularly throughout the duration. However, there are key milestones that provide major evaluation points, such as before and after fieldwork.
If the assessment and monitoring process reveals an interruption or deviation in project activities or timescale, the reasons must be established. Also, the necessary rectification procedures have to be carried out. This could include modifying the project design, altering project activities or adjusting the timetable to incorporate any unexpected delays. However, in all cases, any changes or modifications in the project plan should be circulated to all members concerned and consultation with the competent authorities may be necessary.

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Contingency planning for interruption and delays



The most common error in planning is to assume that there will be no errors in the implementation.

A realistic project timetable takes into consideration possible delays and interruptions in the project plan. This allows for the original plan to be adapted in order to accommodate all changes. As a result, contingency planning requires prediction and early detection of activities that are more likely to face interruptions during a project. These activities might then be given a more flexible timetable or more resources might be allocated towards them to compensate for the possible disruption.

For example, it could be that some team members might not be familiar with new techniques or equipment used in fieldwork. Accordingly, a contingency fieldwork plan should be made to compensate for the disturbance and delays resulting from training the team members in those techniques. This might include rescheduling some of the activities or reallocating some of the team members to different tasks.

As the main priority in any archaeological project is safeguarding the site and the data it contains, the priority in case of sudden or unexpected interruption in the project plan lies with the preservation and stabilization of the archaeological material, both the excavated and in-situ materials. For example, if an unexpected cut in the project budget occurs during fieldwork, resulting in a funding shortage that does not allow for the completion of the originally-planned fieldwork and post-fieldwork activities, the contingency plan should include the termination of fieldwork and redirection of the remaining funds to the conservation of the already-excavated material and to other post-fieldwork activities such as analyses, data processing and reporting. Close and continuous review of the project plan and activities helps in the identification of any unexpected disruptions and hence the quick creation of a contingency plan that takes into account the new circumstances and ensures the well-being of underwater cultural heritage.

Planning for an archaeological project is a multifaceted endeavour that requires consideration of the particularities and specifics of each project. It should also allow for the project to be modified, improved, extended and, if necessary, handed over without difficulty to other researchers at any point during the project’s duration.


  • Use a timetable to plan
  • Use the timetable to monitor progress
  • Use a graphic format
  • Develop the timetable together with team and partners
  • Make sure that everyone understands the timetable
    • Plan for contingencies


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