Protection, Preservation, and Access – Have your say!

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Thursday, July 4, 2013

Chris Underwood is a Researcher at the National Institute of Anthropology, Buenos Aires, Argentina. Here he presents his research on issues of heritage protection, preservation, and access, and seeks for your contribution through the completion of a survey.

Archaeologists, whether professional or amateur, or recreational divers, who enjoy access to underwater cultural heritage (UCH) sites continue to discuss the issues that surround what is implied by protection, preservation, and access. Is there broad consensus on the issues?

One of the current issues relates to the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009,  new legislation that is  having an impact on the way we investigate UCH sites around the coast of the UK (e.g. the possible administration fees payable for licences  for work conducted on sites). In addition, there is an on-going debate among archaeologists, and within the NAS, on practical aspects such as the use of lifting bags; some argue that when faced with the need to rescue archaeological material under imminent threat of loss or destruction it is important to be able to use them without first applying for a licence, whilst others suggest that a general exemption would allow the uncontrolled recovery of cultural material and therefore would prefer an exemption to be limited to  their use on objects that have only been submerged for a relatively short period of time. As the debate continues on this and other such practical issues, some may think that the goodwill between archaeologists and divers is being rapidly eroded, even though they are all in the same boat. Some may also fear that there may be a return to the old entrenched positions, which would only badly affect the management, research and enjoyment of UCH.

Furthermore, the debate over the preservation in situ of the UCH has been affecting everyone, who is involved in the study of underwater archaeological remains. This principle is considered a fundamentally important component to heritage management in the UNESCO Convention for the Protection of the UCH (2001). Article 2 Objectives and General Principles, which reads “…the preservation in situ of underwater cultural heritage shall be considered as the first option before allowing or engaging in any activities directed at this heritage”. By some this has been interpreted to mean that UNESCO sees this as the only option; this isn’t the case, but this perception remains popular. Finally, access to the UCH also remains an issue. Public access is also a fundamental component of the 2001 UNESCO Convention: “…convinced of the public’s right to enjoy the educational and recreational benefits of responsible non-intrusive access to in situ underwater cultural heritage, and of the value of public education to contribute to awareness, appreciation and protection of that heritage”. However, although access to designated sites in the UK is a growing activity, in other places there is still a debate about open access to sites.

I would like to invite the NAS members to have their say about these important issues by completing a survey that forms part of a research project that aims at a  better understanding of stakeholders’ opinions and involvement in the study of UCH.  

If you would like to complete the survey please copy-and-paste this URL into your web browser: