Cooperation with amateur archaeologists

The involvement of volunteers and amateur archaeologists has been an important part of the Rooswijk project. Courses are given, but we also dive together with sports divers and amateur archaeologists on the wreck site. For us 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 archeology 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 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.

Inspection by Kent police and the MMO on board of Terschelling

For the Rooswijk, the licensee is Ken Welling who discovered the wreck in the late 1990s. Ken dives regularly on the site and is full of stories and knowledge which he shares with the archaeologists. This knowledge has been very useful both before and during the excavation and his assistance has been gratefully received. During the project Ken has visited the Ramsgate conservation facility a number of times to see the progress and help us with his extensive knowledge.

Like many projects in the UK there is large focus on diving with both amateur archaeologists and volunteer divers. It is possible with the appropriate planning and risk assessments for professional divers to dive alongside or on the same project as suitably qualified recreational divers. With amateur archaeologists 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.

Briefing the SCUBA project dive team

On some projects the collaboration with professionals and amateurs 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 consists of Dutch and British professional divers and archaeologists. To ensure amateur archaeologists and 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 consists of a mixture of professional SCUBA divers and amateur archaeologists from the Netherlands and the UK.

The dive bubble

All of the divers have been very enthusiastic about the project and interested in the site, both the Dutch and the British divers see it as a positive initiative. Can we do this in the Netherlands too? The short answer is unfortunately right now: no.

A system of protected wrecks with managed access for recreational divers may also be something for us. We are going to figure this out. Whilst there is an Approved Code of Practice (ACoP) for Scientific and Archaeological Diving in England and a system of risk assessments to bring in amateurs and volunteers (subject to qualifications), in the Netherlands, the (interpretation of) the Arbowet  is an obstacle for cooperation. Even during the (commonly known) LWAOW / RCE basic training of maritime archaeology, professional archaeologists are not allowed to enter the water when amateur archaeologists go underwater to put theory into practice. This seems like n unworkable and especially undesirable situation because the management of maritime heritage benefits from good cooperation. The renewed focus on maritime archaeology in the Netherlands can help to alter these barriers outside the archaeological domain.