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In response partly to the evaluation of legislation on archaeology, in 2012 the Maritime Programme decided to compile sets of maps for a number of pilot areas in the Netherlands.

One of the implications of the implementation of the Malta Convention in Dutch law has been to place primary responsibility for dealing with archaeological remains with local authorities. The Monuments and Historic Buildings Act (section 38a) and the Spatial Planning Decree (known by the acronym BRO) stipulate that when a zoning plan is adopted, archaeological values known to be present or likely to be present in the ground must be taken into account.

The evaluation of legislation on archaeology performed in 2011 also took stock of policy on spatial planning, including policy regarding aquatic sediments. It became clear that arrangements for dealing with archaeological remains underwater were not as advanced as those for archaeological remains on land. This was illustrated by the fact that water bodies are often not included in predictive archaeological maps, and are not therefore found on policy maps, in zoning plans and in management ordinances. Existing zoning plans for water bodies were also found to be outdated, but there was no heritage ordinance to bridge the gap. As a result, developments do not always take account of the heritage under water or in former aquatic sediments, meaning that traces of our maritime past can disappear without ever being seen.

Various factors have led to this state of affairs. It is partly down to the simple fact that people are unaware that there can be archaeological remains in aquatic sediments. People rarely think about the fact that entire historic or even prehistoric landscapes can remain preserved under water, along with the archaeological evidence of how people used the landscape. The use of water itself, for transport, fishing etc., also leaves archaeological remains behind on the bottom. Though people are aware that shipwrecks are found under water, they do not necessarily think of the other remains associated with them, such as quays and embankments, or slipways.

Another factor is the major role traditionally played by the different water management bodies – the water authority, the district water control board (Hoogheemraadschap) and the national public works agency Rijkswaterstaat – which means that roles and responsibilities are not always clearly defined in practice. As a result, local authorities sometimes assume that they have no role in the management of archaeological remains under water. However, water managers are directly responsible for water quality and flood prevention, while the local authority is responsible for ensuring archaeological remains are dealt with properly. This applies to all bodies of water in the local authority area, whether large national waters or small watercourses like streams and canals.

In view of these factors, it was decided that projects should be launched as part of the programme in two areas of the Netherlands, to bring together the information available and make it accessible. Two areas that are very different in geomorphological terms were chosen. One of them was the Markermeer-IJmeer lakes, part of the former Zuyder Zee region. Major developments are planned for the Markermeer in the longer term, as part of a structural plan for the Amsterdam-Almere-Markermeer region, known by the acronym RRAAM. Furthermore, sand is being extracted on a growing scale in this areas.

More or less the same process was completed for the other pilot project area, the Western Waddenzee, but the end results are not strictly comparable. The Waddenzee area, unlike the Markermeer-IJmeer, is still a highly dynamic area. Here, the main concern was to reveal how the Waddenzee came about, how the sea currents have changed and are still changing, and what actual or potential impact this has on archaeological remains in the bed of the lake.

The two projects were completed in October 2014 and the reports have been published. The sections on the projects below include the assessment and conclusions. You can download the reports there.

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