Marine archaeology: global standards for protection and professional practice

Posted on September 20, 2017


For those of you who prefer your archaeology seaside- a session we filmed at the CIfA conference:

Session Details

Organisers: Victoria Cooper, Royal HaskoningDHV; Katy Bell, University of Winchester; Alison James,
Historic England


Provision for protection and management of the marine historic environment varies widely on a global scale. There are just 55 state parties to the UNESCO Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage, compared to 192 countries which adhere to the World Heritage Convention. Does this lack of consistency have a negative effect upon professional practice worldwide? Or is increasing professionalism in marine archaeology driving a more positive move towards global standards for activities affecting our underwater cultural heritage? Can traditionally held concepts of salvage and treasure hunting continue to exist in a world with increasing awareness of the social and cultural value of offshore archaeology? This session examines how this variation affects the practice of marine archaeology in different countries, from funding and research opportunities to offshore consenting and the protection and management of the marine historic environment.

Global standards for marine archaeological work: utopian dream or close to reality? Dr Chris Underwood, President ICOMOS-ICUCH

Since the emergence of marine archaeology, better standards of work have been advocated. Archaeologists have raised concerns about projects where too often discoveries resulted in indiscriminate excavation, no resultant publication, consequential loss of information, poor or no conservation, and dispersed collections. Regrettably the potential for these same outcomes remains the same today. However, the techniques, methodologies, and mechanisms for improving the potential for producing good standards of work have been developed, refined, and published. International standards have been stated and achieved, even if those who established the standards are sometimes unaware of their impact.
There are more obvious examples such as the growing influence of the 2001 UNESCO Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage. Many believed it would not come into force, but as of today 55 states have ratified, including influential states such as France and Spain, with the Netherlands and more recently Australia having declared their positive intentions. Other states including the UK have chosen to manage their marine archaeology according to the Convention’s rules. In support of the Convention, UNESCO’s Foundation Courses on the Management of UCH and its supportive manuals, whose authorship is international, help to improve standards among countries in the early stages of developing management processes.
By the end of 2017 the manuals will be available in English, Spanish and French. There are other influences on standards, some home-grown, such as the peer-reviewed International Journal of Nautical Archaeology, now in its 46th production year, and the Nautical Archaeology Society’s Education Programme. The examples mentioned above all have influence to varying degree, so while it remains hard to state with surety that global standards exist, it is easier to say that international standards are improving through a variety of factors, which will be discussed in this paper.

Protecting accessible marine tourism sites: the case of Scapa Flow Mark Littlewood, ORCA Marine Archaeology Institute

Scapa Flow is one of a number of marine anchorages that possesses a rich palimpsest of twentieth-century shipwrecks. Since the signing of the Armistice on 11 November 1918 the interned ships of the High Seas Fleet were viewed within the perspective of the military knowledge that they could impart to the Allied powers, a factor that played a key role in the scuttling of the fleet. Following their scuttling, the German High Seas Fleet and also the lesser-known block ships that protected Scapa Flow during the First and Second World Wars became a source of direct revenue, as they were then subject to partial or full salvage activities.

This paper will examine how attitudes to these wrecks have changed over the years and how the development of marine tourism has both benefited the preservation and investigation of these wrecks, but also posed new challenges. More particularly this paper will compare the palimpsest of Scapa Flow to other similar sites around the world that have undergone salvage activities. Are the wrecks of Scapa Flow perceived differently than other massed wreck sites around the world? Are they seen as more accessible and more well known, and are the levels of protection for Scapa Flow, both existing and proposed, necessary or adequate?
The paper will go on to highlight the level of further investigation and dissemination required to protect and make accessible such
maritime sites and how the experience protecting wreck sites in Scapa Flow could be applied worldwide.

Professional practice in community archaeology under UNESCO Kevin Stratford, MAST

MAST, a UNESCO accredited body, was granted significant funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund to undertake a community-led maritime archaeology project researching a number of First and Second World War shipwrecks off the Northumberland coast. The project consisted of two groups of local volunteers. One was one trained in archival research and tasked with researching the shipwrecks and associated local maritime history of the time. The second was a local dive club, whose members who were trained in MAST’s Basic Archaeological Diver course in order to complete non-intrusive surveys of the shipwrecks. This HLFfunded programme of research into local maritime history and archaeology marks a welcome and growing trend of providing public funding and research opportunities in the voluntary maritime sector. This can only serve to increase awareness of the social and cultural significance of our maritime past. This paper will look at developing these positive themes.

Recording and analysing in 3D Grant Bettinson, Bournemouth University

The Swash Channel Wreck is the remains of a very large, high-status north-west European armed merchant ship of Dutch construction, c.1630. Bournemouth University undertook a rescue excavation of the site funded by Historic England, culminating in the raising of an array of structural elements and the rudder.
Again funded by Historic England, the assemblage underwent the most extensive documentation of a timber assemblage from an underwater site in the UK. The process utilised 3D documentation techniques developed on other projects that are now becoming dominant in timber recording across maritime archaeology. The talk is a walkthrough and discussion of the techniques and findings of the project, demonstrating how much can be gained from the application of these techniques. It examines how the increasing use of these techniques is demonstrating positive communication across maritime archaeology, developing a high global standard in post-excavation recording and how the data can be utilised to develop an understanding of the value of ships timbers by making them accessible in the modern world.

Squaring sovereign jurisdiction of underwater cultural heritage protection in shared ocean spaces: a North Sea case study Josh B Martin, University of Exeter

A principal objective of the UNESCO Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage (UCH) was to address the ‘legal vacuum’ left by the UN Law of the Sea Convention when regulating the protection of UCH on the continental shelf. The resulting convention, however, still leaves much uncertainty as to how we should be addressing UCH protection beyond our narrow territorial waters. Many still disagree over their jurisdictional rights in this ocean space or, worse yet, feel at liberty to make decisions that severely impact UCH in this zone unilaterally and without regard for the views of the wider international community. Looking at the North Sea as a case study, this paper investigates the lack of coordination and cooperation between the numerous agents and actors who impact upon UCH in this zone.
The author is presently undertaking a PhD that examines implementation gaps in the international law protecting UCH beyond territorial waters. The present paper argues that UCH must be treated as a ‘common concern of humankind’ and thus needs to be managed through better cooperation and an enhanced understanding of these common interests. Such cooperation between regional neighbours ensures more efficient allocation of expertise and resources, and avoids self-interested decisionmaking, which in turn drives up the protection and public enjoyment of UCH. It investigates whether implicated regional actors and agencies are thus ensuring effective protection of UCH in the North Sea in a manner that regards the common interests of regional neighbours and in a manner that, furthermore, efficiently coordinates collective resources and expertise.

Underwater cultural heritage protection in the UK: the failure to commit to the future Toby Gane, Wessex Archaeology

The UK has the fifth largest economy in the world and yet very little government investment is made to support the historic environment, and that investment is getting smaller. For the marine environment there are some stark figures. Protection of the 50,000 sqm in Historic England’s terrestrial remit requires a listing team of around 80 and a planning team of around 320. Compare this to the roughly 21,000 sqm of English territorial waters. There are two on the listing team and three on the planning team. The remit of this team also stops at the 12-mile limit, as apparently the regulator does not consider archaeology of any consequence to exist beyond 12 miles from shore.
Government policy documents like Our seas – a shared resource: High level marine objectives will fill the reader with hope. Phrases like ‘There will be appropriate protection for, and access to, our marine heritage assets’ are comforting. Objectives like ‘People appreciate the diversity of the marine environment, its seascapes, its natural and cultural heritage and its resources and act responsibly’ give the impression that the emphasis is on protecting the UK’s rich maritime assets.
The reality is considerably different: acts of parliament actively reward salvage intervention, even on historic sites; backroom deals are conducted with thinly disguised salvors; sovereign immune war graves are picked apart with impunity and scant resources given to the advisory body for marine matters. The unwillingness of the UK government to become signatories to the UNESCO Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage makes the prognosis for tangible protection look bleak. When compared to other developed nations, many significantly poorer, we are failing the marine historic environment. This paper looks at the reasons why this is the case, the actions other nations take and what might need to happen to prevent further widespread loss.

Posted in: Uncategorized