Working together with volunteers in maritime archaeology

The involvement of volunteers has been an important part of the Rooswijk project. Both sports divers and voluntary archaeologists have dived several times on the wreck site. This is an enrichment of the research, and for the many enthusiastic British and Dutch divers a dream come true. This cooperation is possible because of how maritime archaeology and the diving procedures are organised in England.

The Rooswijk is a designated wreck, this is a wreck protected by law under the Protection of Wrecks Act 1973 (PWA). This protection is afforded to those wrecks sites where there is considered to be significant archaeological, historical or artistic importance. Whilst access to these sites is restricted, it is possible to become a licensee, or named diver and gain access. The licensing system is administered by Historic England (HE) on behalf of the Department of Culture Media and Sport (DCMS). The license will have a number of stipulations that specify what can and cannot be done on the site, this can include survey and photography all the way to archaeological excavation. Where the license includes the recovery of material or the excavation of the site a project design will need to be submitted to, and approved by, Historic England. Conditions are imposed on the license which will include the submission of an annual report. It is often the case that the licensee will be the finder of the site or someone with a long term involvement, however, anyone can apply to become a licensee although the application may not be accepted. For the Rooswijk, the licensee is Ken Welling who discovered the wreck in the late 1990s. With volunteers being able to participate in the projects they are engaged and enthused and often continue to work on other projects and undertake their own research.

Guidance of professional divers

On some projects the collaboration with professionals and volunteers is not always directly possible, the Rooswijk is a good example of this. The diving is all undertaken using Surface Supplied Equipment (SSE) which is not something that recreational divers are trained in; therefore the primary team consisted of Dutch and British professional divers and archaeologists. To ensure volunteer divers were able to participate in the project, the Nautical Archaeological Society (NAS) were commissioned to organize opportunities. This included three days of visits to the wreck to see it during the excavation process and a ten day SCUBA project to investigate some of the outlying Rooswijk sites to further understand the sites history. The SCUBA project team consisted of a mixture of professional SCUBA divers and amateur archaeologists from the Netherlands and the UK.