The Netherlands signed the Valletta Convention (Malta) in 1992, marking the start of major changes in Dutch archaeology, followed by a wholesale reform of the archaeology system in this country. Prior to 2001 only central government, local authorities and academic institutions were permitted to perform archaeological excavations. From the late 1990s, market forces came into play, and in 2001 temporary rules were introduced allowing commercial agencies to conduct and report on excavation research under certain conditions. Since then, archaeological research in the Netherlands has become part of an open market system, and competition, market forces and self-regulation have become commonplace in archaeology. Agencies and public institutions with an excavation licence (issued under section 45 of the Monuments and Historic Buildings Act 1988) may tender for archaeological research contracts.
Various research methods are used in the Netherlands. In most cases, a desk study is performed first, exploring existing sources (e.g. maps, the literature) to obtain an insight into the landscape and archaeological features in the area of interest. The desk study results in a specified prediction of the likely presence and nature of archaeological sites in the area. The next step, an archaeological field survey (IVO), assesses this prediction, locating and assessing the value of any archaeological sites present. Various methods of investigation may be used during the survey, including surface prospection, borehole surveys, trial trench surveys and geophysical research. An excavation will be performed if a site warrants preservation but cannot be preserved in the ground (in situ). Another option is to conduct an archaeological watching brief during non-archaeological activities. This option might be necessary if a field survey cannot be performed, perhaps because of existing structures or hard surfacing.
The data presented in the indicators for this topic are taken from Archis, the Netherlands’ online archaeological information system. Administered by the Cultural Heritage Agency (RCE), it has been operational since 1992. The system provides a repository of archaeological data for the archaeology profession and for public authorities. It contains information on observations, finds, investigations, complexes and archaeological monuments reported by investigators. It must be assumed that some archaeological investigations were never reported, particularly in the early years. It was not until 2001 that reporting of archaeological investigations received a boost, with the introduction of the Dutch Archaeology Quality Standard (KNA), which stipulates that notification of all archaeological investigations must be given in Archis before work commences.