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Help & guidance Guides to Good Practice

Marine remote sensing in archaeology

Kieron Niven, with contributions from Tony Austin, Jonathan Bateman, Stuart Jeffrey, Jen Mitcham, Archaeology Data Service / Digital Antiquity, Guides to Good Practice

“Currently there is no clear system for the preparation, deposition and curation of maritime archaeological archives. There is a lack of clarity over the roles and responsibilities of the archaeologists, archivists, curators, heritage managers and the various museum, archive and government bodies involved. As more sites are discovered with increased development and greater awareness of the marine historic environment, this problem will only become more acute.”
From Slipping Through the Net: Maritime Archaeological Archives in Policy and Practice (Ransley & Satchell 2007).

Within the last five years a significant number of major studies have been undertaken looking at the marine historic environment and maritime archaeology and archives. The quote above comes from the 2007 report ‘Slipping Through The Net: Maritime Archives In Policy And Practice’ produced by the UK’s Institute for Archaeologists (IfA) Maritime Affairs Group and succinctly highlights the current situation with maritime archives in the UK. It is worth noting that this situation does not seem to be confined to purely archaeological marine data[1]. The IfA report has led on to one of the most significant projects in the UK, and most relevant to this specific guide, the recent (2009) ‘Securing a Future for Maritime Archaeological Archives’[2] project carried out by the Hampshire and Wight Trust for Maritime Archaeology and the Institute of Field Archaeologists with support from the Archaeology Data Service and funding form English Heritage, Historic Scotland, the Royal Commission for the Ancient and Historic Monuments of Scotland and the Society of Museum Archaeologists. The project has produced three reports which have aimed to assess the current provisions for collecting and archiving maritime archaeological archives (including digital data) and to provide details of the types of archives being created, the current capacity for storing these and the current regulatory, curatorial and consenting processes involved in archive deposition. Some of the major conclusions of the project were that high numbers of digital archives were being created from marine projects (particularly through research and by archaeological contractors) and that much of this data remained unarchived and unavailable.

Marine data has also been highlighted in the Big Data project report (see above) as often generating large datasets (e.g. bathymetric data) which are comparatively costly to archive whilst also being difficult to disseminate. While this provides a barrier to preserving such data on one hand, on the other it highlights the importance of ensuring that this data is preserved, well documented and shared as it is equally difficult and costly to recreate (if recreating it is even an option).

In addition to assessing the current situation in the UK for maritime and marine data, a number of other projects and reports have recently been commissioned to look at addressing these current problems and developing strategies to ensure that maritime and marine research is effectively planned and prioritised and that the resulting data is accessible. English Heritage’s ‘Maritime and Marine Historic Environment Research Framework’ for England [3] and Historic Scotland’s (n.d) Towards a Strategy for Scotland’s Marine Historic Environment are two such examples.