Tag Archives: Australian Cultural Heritage Management

Shipwreck Significance: past, present and future

Jane Mitchell

I’ve been working with Heritage Victoria to evaluate the significance statements of the shipwrecks located in Victorian state waters. If you missed the first installment you can read about it here.

Australia is currently considering ratifying the 2001 UNESCO Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage. The Convention and its accompanying Annex have at its core an approach towards in-situ preservation and non-invasive survey methods. Considering ratification will require changes to legislation and perhaps a reassessment of current methodologies and techniques, I thought it a good time to look at where we’ve come from and where the future might lie for shipwreck significance.

The Commonwealth Historic Shipwrecks Act was passed into law in 1976, with every wreck treated on a case-by-case basis (Ryan 1977:24-25). This, in effect, required an assessment of significance in order to justify a wreck’s inclusion on the Register, however the Act was in force before an established, and published, set of assessment criteria was developed.

The first suggested set of criteria was put forward in 1977. A wreck could be considered for protection if it:

  1. was significant to the discovery, exploration and early settlement of Australia
  2. was relevant to the early development of Australia
  3. was relevant to a person or event of historical importance
  4. contained relics of historical or cultural significance
  5. was representative of a particular design or development
  6. was a naval wreck (other than one that had been scrapped or that had no particular interest) (Ryan 1977:25).

These criteria were very descriptive of the types of shipwrecks Australia was concerned with at the time, including the Dutch wrecks off the coast of Western Australia, and the then more recent wreck of HMAS Voyager, sunk close to Jervis Bay.

In 1985, blanket protection with a rolling date of 75 years was introduced to the Historic Shipwreck Act (1976). An inherent characteristic of blanket protection is a level of significance to a wreck or relic without the requirement to demonstrate it. It was expected that this amendment would give practitioners more time to manage the wreck resource, rather then having to spend time justifying its protection (Cassidy 1991:5).  After the 1993 historic shipwreck amnesty, blanket provision was applied to the states and the number of protected shipwrecks jumped from 156 to over 5000 overnight (Jeffery 2006: 127). It could be argued that underwater heritage managers responsible for these shipwrecks have been playing catch-up ever since.

AIMA’s Guidelines for the Management of Australia’s Shipwrecks was published in 1994 and is, to date, the only national publication outlining significance criteria for the assessment of shipwrecks:

  1. Historic
  2. Technical
  3. Social
  4. Archaeological
  5. Scientific
  6. Interpretative
  7. Rare
  8. Representative

Interestingly, the analysis of the Victorian Wreck Register has revealed only one shipwreck that has a statement of significance and evaluation criteria assessed according to the AIMA Guidelines. A detailed conservation plan for the brig, Columbine (VHR S134), was produced in 2009 and can be found on the Heritage Victoria website (Steyne 2009). Both the Statement and the qualifying criteria were uploaded to the Victorian Wreck Register.

S136 (1)_Columbine_Jul 03_015

In 2001, the Plenary Session of the General Conference adopted the UNESCO Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage (UNESCO 2010:2). The Convention set out principles for protecting underwater cultural heritage and provided rules for treatment and research.

UNESCO Manual governing management activities for Underwater Cultural Heritage

UNESCO Manual governing management activities for Underwater Cultural Heritage

Rule 14 of the UNESCO Annex outlines the requirement for assessments of site significance in the preliminary stages of any archaeological project, describing these assessments as a very important step in the process (Maarleveld 2013:85).

UNESCO’s criteria for determining the significance of a site, are:

  1. Archaeological significance
  2. Historical significance
  3. Research significance
  4. Aesthetic significance
  5. Social or spiritual significance and remembrance value
  6. Visibility and experience value
  7. Economical significance

Additional comparative criteria are used to evaluate the degree of significance of a site in comparison with other sites in an area:

  1. Provenance
  2. Period
  3. Representativeness and group value
  4. Rarity/uniqueness
  5. Condition/completeness/fragility
  6. Documentation
  7. Interpretive potential
  8. Accessibility  (Maarleveld 2013:84).

These criteria incorporate and build on the criteria outlined in AIMA’s Guidelines. Whether or not, Australia ratifies the 2001 UNESCO Convention, UNESCO’s assessment criteria could be well utilised within Australian underwater cultural heritage management. It must always be remembered that assessing the significance of heritage is an exercise in understanding an item’s value to the community and thereby the best means of managing it (Pearson and Sullivan 1995:17).

Clarence Protected Zone © Jane Mitchell.

Clarence Protected Zone © Jane Mitchell.

There are over 6000 wrecks recorded in the Australian National Shipwreck Database (ANSDB). All states and territories in Australia assess the significance of their shipwreck resources slightly differently, according to different criteria and methodologies. In light of the possible ratification of the UNESCO convention, perhaps now is the time to revisit a national approach to significance assessments for Australia’s underwater cultural heritage. The development of a unified national approach to significance assessments of shipwrecks and other underwater archaeological sites would benefit the national wreck resource and assist in interpretation and management across all the states and territories of Australia.

I’ve rewritten the significance statement for HMVS Lonsdale. You can see the significance criteria and new statement here.

References

Cassidy, W. 1991 Historic shipwrecks and blanket declaration. Bulletin of the Australian Institute for Maritime Archaeology, 15(2): 4—6.

Jeffery, B. 2006 Historic Shipwrecks Legislation. In M Staniforth and M Nash (eds) Maritime Archaeology: Australian Approaches, pp 123-135. New York:Springer – Plenum series in underwater archaeology.

Maarleveld, T.J, U. Guerin and B. Egger (eds) 2013 Manual for Activities directed at Underwater Cultural Heritage. Guidelines to the Annex of the UNESCO 2001 Convention. Paris:UNESCO.

Pearson, M. and S. Sullivan 1995 Looking After Heritage Places: The Basics of Heritage Planning for Managers, Landowners and Administrators. Melbourne: Melbourne University Publishing Ltd.

Ryan, P. 1977 Legislation on Historic Wreck. Papers from the First Southern Hemisphere Conference on Maritime Archaeology, pp 23-27. Newport: Australian Sports Publication.

Special Projects Advisory Committee and Australian Cultural Development Office and Australian Institute for Maritime Archaeology 1994 Guidelines for the Management of Australia’s Shipwrecks, Australian Institute for Maritime Archaeology and the Australian Cultural Development Office, Canberra.

Steyne, H. 2009 The Brig, Columbine, Ocean Grove, Victoria. Conservation Management Plan. Melbourne:Heritage Victoria.

UNESCO 2010, The History of the 2001 Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage, Retrieved on 18 September 2013 from <http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0018/001894/189450E.pdf&gt;

Database that could rival that of the starship Enterprise

Blog 4
Adrian Fenech

The database I patched together from the large number of rock shelters that exist in the Pilbara region, Western Australia, has a great deal of potential for future research on these sites. This is because the database contains nearly 600 sites and potential archaeological deposits (PADs) with quite a bit of information available for each. There are always going to be limitations, though, because the database does not include every rock shelter and PAD in the Pilbara.
If nothing else, Australian Cultural Heritage Management (ACHM) could use the database I created and expand on it with more data fields and rock shelters and create their own large scale database. Some data fields that the archaeologists at ACHM said they would like in a database are information on which mining tenement each rock shelter falls within and if there are any hazards or difficulties in physically accessing the rock shelters. This would assist the work with rock shelters in the Pilbara dramatically, because archaeologists would have additional information easily available during their research. Hopefully the database I have created will have features added to it and its data expanded by future researchers so it can reach its full potential for assisting rock shelter and PAD research in the Pilbara.

I have found some interesting results now that I have come to the end of the data analysis in regards to rock shelter sites and PADs in the Pilbara. The aspect (direction rock shelter opening faces) of rock shelter sites and PADs was most often east, at 22.8% and 17.4% respectively. Rock shelter sites and PADs are also within 100m2 in area at 82.4% and 89.5% respectively. The aspect and area analyses of rock shelter sites and PADs helps to indicate how common rock shelters with these features and physical dimensions are in the Pilbara.