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Archaeological monuments

The Netherlands has some 1500 national scheduled archaeological monuments. These are archaeological sites of national importance, on land or under water. There are also some 13,000 other known archaeological sites in the Netherlands.

Hunebed near Rolde, DrentheHunebed near Rolde, Drenthe

The monuments are visible remains, such as hunebedden (megalithic chamber tombs), terps (dwelling mounds), shipwrecks and barrows. But there is also a large amount of historically important material still concealed in the soil and the seabed. The government is keen to protect the country’s buried history. The best way to do so is often simply to leave it buried.

Anyone who wants to excavate earth must therefore be aware of possible archaeological remains. When drawing up zoning plans and issuing building and demolition permits, local authorities must take account of buried archaeological materials. In certain areas, construction may not take place until there has been a preliminary archaeological investigation.

  • Malta Convention
  • Planning archaeology
  • Central government
  • Provincial authorities
  • Archaeological research and excavations
  • Quality of archaeological research
  • Costs of archaeological research
  • Archis archaeological information system

Malta convention

Construction projects threaten archaeological sites and features throughout Europe. To help protect our archaeological heritage, 47 European countries agreed the Malta Convention. The convention provides for:

  • the protection of archaeological sites buried in the soil or seabed
  • the incorporation of the archaeological heritage into spatial planning
  • the funding of archaeological research (the developer pays)

The Netherlands signed the convention in 1992 and incorporated its provisions into the Monuments and Historic Buildings Act and the Archaeological Heritage Management Act.

Local authorities are generally responsible for implementing policy on archaeology, but sometimes this role is reserved for central government or the provincial authorities. Central government is responsible in the case of national scheduled monuments and historic buildings.

Archaeological heritage management has undergone radical change since the early 1990s.

  • Archaeology has been decentralised. Local and provincial authorities are responsible for ensuring that archaeological interests are taken into account in spatial planning.
  • Commercial consultancies, local authorities and universities now perform research, including in the field.
  • The role of the Agency is now to provide arm’s length services. We work on the basis of the ‘Malta motto’, preserving the sources of Europe’s collective memory and academic research.


Planning archaeology

In September 2007 the Malta Convention was formally implemented in the Netherlands when parliament approved a new Archaeological Heritage Management Act (Wet op de archeologische monumentenzorg, or Wamz). This new act followed the Malta Convention in that it stipulated that archaeological heritage management should be an integral part of the spatial planning process, and that the ‘disturber’ would be held accountable for the costs. The Wamz is not based on European regulations, nor does it include any quantitative guidelines.

The link between archaeological heritage management and spatial planning has resulted in a largely decentralized field, while the liberalization of excavation licences has encouraged the establishment of private excavation companies. To comply with the principle ‘the disturber pays’ the Dutch government has introduced a system of funding that is project-based.

The Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture and Science commissioned an evaluation of the Act in 2011. The main research question was to be whether or not the Wet op de archeologische monumentenzorg (Wamz) and its associated secondary legislation Besluit archeologische monumentenzorg (Bamz) were effectively and efficiently improving the protection of archaeological heritage.

The Wet op de archeologische monumentenzorg has indeed improved the protection of the soil archive, mainly because spatial planning procedures increasingly take archaeology into account. Many new policy instruments for spatial planning are currently being developed, and it is important to ensure that once these new regulations have taken effect archaeology will remain a prominent element in the spatial planning process. The present report will address the effectiveness of the archaeology sector, point out any problems or deficiencies, and will conclude with some recommendations to increase the protection of archaeological heritage.


Central government

The Cultural Heritage Agency performs the government’s tasks in relation to archaeology:

  • assessing and issuing excavation permits
  • providing research recommendations
  • collecting and providing information on archaeology
  • updating the Indicative Map of Archaeological Values, which shows the probability of encountering buried archaeological remains in each area

Finally, the Agency represents archaeological interests in major government construction schemes, such as the high-speed rail link and the Betuwe freight line.


Provincial authorities

Provincial authorities can designate ‘archaeological alert areas’. Local authorities in the area are then give a deadline by which they must adopt a zoning plan that takes account of actual and potential sites of archaeological interest.

The provincial authorities also have a repository for archaeological finds, where they are stored and made available for research. The provincial authority can also grant permission for a local authority to establish its own repository.

Central government only has a depot for maritime archaeological finds.


Archaeological research and excavations

Local authorities draw up a zoning plan which defines where preliminary archaeological research must be conducted before construction projects can go ahead. In the past, most archaeological investigations were performed by universities, local authorities and the Cultural Heritage Agency. Since the protection of archaeological sites is becoming more and more important, the number of preliminary investigations and excavations is also on the rise. The government therefore opened up the market for research and investigation to private companies.


Quality of archaeological research

To guarantee the quality of research, the archaeology profession has drafted the Dutch Archaeology Quality Standard (KNA). The KNA manual sets out the standards and guidelines applying to archaeological work. There are two KNAs:

  • the terrestrial KNA
  • the underwater KNA

Archeologists in the Netherlands are bound to follow the rules set down in the Quality Norm Dutch Archeology. In early 2005 the State Inspection for Archeology, in cooperation with the College for Archeological Quality has published an English translation of the KNA. This publication is based on version 2.1 of the KNA, not the current version, and is therefore for your orientation only.


Costs of archaeological research

The party disturbing the soil, such as the body commissioning a construction project, is responsible for the costs of the archaeological research. However, if the costs are disproportionately high, the local authority may contribute. If the costs to the local authority turn out to be disproportionately high, the government can provide financial support, at the discretion of the Minister of Education, Culture and Science.


Archis archaeological information system

Anyone who finds an archaeological object or feature is obliged to report it, generally to the provincial repository.

If the local authority has its own municipal archaeologist, and a repository approved by the provincial authority, the find may be reported there.

Provincial and local authorities then enter the find in the government’s archaeological information system Archis, which contains details of:

  • the location and nature of the findspot (e.g. settlement, burial site);
  • the objects and soil features found there
  • the date
  • the status of the site (statutory protection)
  • the parts that have been investigated by archaeologists

Archis covers the entire country and is administered by the Cultural Heritage Agency. It consists of a database containing all kinds of information on 75,000 archaeological findspots and 13,000 sites dating from prehistory to the modern period.

The Archaeological Monuments Map and the Indicative Map of Archaeological Values can be downloaded from the Agency’s website.