There are various ways of becoming an underwater archaeologist. When studying archaeology, you can opt to specialise in maritime archaeology. There is no full training in underwater archaeology in the Netherlands, so you will need to go abroad for that. It is however possible to take specific courses, do an internship, gain fieldwork experience or choose a maritime subject for your final dissertation.
Besides coming to grips with the theory, practical experience is also very important. Not only because it is only really possible to learn how to investigate a shipwreck by actually doing it, but also to find out whether you are comfortable working underwater. Poor visibility, cold temperatures, occasional strong currents and limited communication make it quite a challenge to map a site properly and address all the archaeological questions.
It is not easy to gain underwater experience in the Netherlands. There are few underwater projects and so fewer internship opportunities. To fill this gap, field schools are held every year.
Finally, under health and safety legislation and diving regulations, anyone who works underwater must be a professional diver. All in all, this has led to a shortage of underwater archaeologists; indeed there are only ten qualified underwater archaeologists working in the Netherlands.
If you are still interested, read about Thijs Coenen’s experiences. He has trained in Norway to become a professional diver. Or you can read the blog series 'Studying abroad' to read about Robert and Nicole's experiences in Denmark studying 'Maritime Archaeology' at the University of Southern Denmark.
Diving training in Norway
To become a professional diver, you need to complete training that is not currently available in the Netherlands. It is however possible to train in Scotland, Norway or England. This requires quite an investment on the part of the aspiring diver, and perhaps also the archaeological consultancy. Read Thijs Coenen’s report below, sent after four weeks of training in Norway.
There are currently 47 men and one woman from all over the world here in Norway training as divers. The course begins with a series of swimming tests. Then there is a theory part, which takes three weeks, and includes physics, dive planning, medical theory and much more. Trainees also receive detailed instructions on how to handle heavy equipment under water, including underwater welding gear and sledgehammers. After the theory part, everyone is divided into smaller groups. This is your diving group for the rest of the course. The school has eight different diving stations, where you dive in different ways, such as with a wet bell or a closed bell (used in the offshore industry).
Every two weeks you go to a different station with your group, to learn another diving technique or working method. The practical part of the course builds up gradually, with a lot of focus on safety and the basic principles of diving, so it is also suitable for inexperienced divers. During these first few days we have at any rate learned how to get an unconscious diver safely to the surface!