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             Underwater Cultural Heritage           

Underwater cultural heritage consists of all traces of human existence having a cultural, historical, or archaeological character partially or completely submerged under water, periodically or continuously for at least 100 years. This includes sites, structures, buildings, artifacts and human remains, together with their archaeological and natural context; vessels, aircraft, other vehicles or any part thereof, their cargo or other contents, together with their archaeological and natural context; and objects of prehistoric character. 




2001 UNESCO Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage 
Archaeological Resources Protection Act  
Antiquities Act of 1906  
UN Convention on the Law of the Sea

Adopted 1982, entered into force 1994. Sets forth a comprehensive legal framework for the use and protection of the sea, the seabed and subsoil, and the marine environment. Also established guidelines with respect to a states’ navigational rights, maritime zones and boundaries, and economic jurisdiction. Provided the level of jurisdiction that States have over archaeological objects depending on the geographical location.

Sunken Military Craft Act 
State Laws 

Abandoned Shipwreck Act of 1987

Maritime Law of Salvage


New International Law to Protect Underwater Cultural Heritage By Ole Varmer. Legal Counsel, NOAA, Washington, D.C. (2008)

Eden Sarid, International Underwater Cultural Heritage Governance: Past Doubts and Current Challenges, 35 Berkeley J. Int'l L. 219 (2017)

Brooke Wright, Keepers, Weepers, or No Finders at All: The Effect of International Trends on the Exercise of U.S. Jurisdiction and Substantive Law in the Salvage of Historic Wrecks, 33 Tul. Mar. L.J. 285 (2008).

Leila Amineddoleh, The Politicizing of Cultural Heritage, 45 N.C.J. Int'l L. 333 (2020).

Lawrence J. Kahn, Sunken Treasures: Conflicts Between Historic Preservation Law and the Maritime Law of Finds, 7 Tul. Envtl. L.J. 595 (1994).

M.M. Lossier, The Conflict between Sovereign Immunity and the Cargo of Sunken Colonial Vessels


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