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College of Arts & Sciences
SC Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology


Bow of Confederate submarine H.L. Hunley recovered in 2000 off Charleston Harbor.

Maritime Research

The Maritime Research Division, under the direction of the State Underwater Archaeologist, is responsible for the management of our immense archaeological heritage found beneath the rivers and coastal waters of South Carolina.

The mission statement of the Maritime Research Division (MRD) is to preserve and protect South Carolina's maritime archaeological heritage through research, management, and public education and outreach.

Responsibilities the MRD include:

  • Create and maintain a research database of state underwater archaeology sites.
  • Oversee and implement the South Carolina Underwater Antiquities Act of 1991 (amended 2001).
  • Act in concert with the State Historic Preservation Office to ensure adequacy of underwater archaeological research and reports carried on in State waters by public or private organizations, individuals or other entities.
  • Conduct or cause to be conducted underwater archaeological field and/or laboratory investigations at prehistoric and historic sites in the best interests of the State. 
  • Provide opportunities for public interaction through education and outreach initiatives.

The Division maintains a database of underwater archaeological sites that include shipwrecks, abandoned vessels, prehistoric or historic scatter sites, boat landings, shipyards and other features, for research and compliance purposes in coordination with the Information Management Division. These sites have been reported and submitted by sport divers, contracting firms, SCIAA archaeologists, and other entities and individuals. The database is housed in the State Archaeological Site Files maintained at SCIAA.

The Division administers the South Carolina Underwater Antiquities Act of 1991 (amended 2001), which regulates the use of submerged state lands on which cultural resources are located. This is done through licensing and monitoring those activities that may adversely impact sites. The South Carolina Public Notice and Review System is actively supported by the Division and is used to alert developers and State and Federal agencies to the known and possible presence of submerged cultural resources in project areas.

The Division acts in an advisory role to the State Historic Preservation Office concerning those projects having the potential to impact underwater archaeological sites in state navigable rivers and coastal waters. Additionally the Division participates in the Public Notice and Review System and is used to alert developers and State and Federal agencies to the known and possible presence of submerged cultural resources in project areas.

The staff of the MRD conducts ongoing research into the maritime archaeological heritage of the state through regional remote sensing surveys, site-specific investigations, and small craft research. Recent projects include the Port Royal Sound Survey, the United States Naval Wreck Survey, investigations of the Civil War Charleston Harbor Naval Battlefield, survey and recording of vessels and other archaeological features in the Black River, and a survey in the Winyah Bay region to locate historic shipwrecks and a 16th century Spanish shipwreck, lost near the Bay in 1526. Other activities include extensive archival research to develop historical contexts for shipwrecks and other underwater archaeological sites and features in State waters.

Licensing

The South Carolina Underwater Antiquities Act provides that persons desiring to remove, displace, or destroy submerged archaeological property or paleontological property must first obtain a license from the South Carolina Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology. The MRD of the Institute grants licenses to individuals if it is in the best interests of the state, and may enter into agreements with licensees concerning the disposition of recovered property.

The MRD issues three types of licenses:

A Hobby Diver License is required for persons wishing to conduct temporary, intermittent, recreational, small scale, non-commercial search and recovery of submerged property.  To read more about this program, please visit the Hobby Diver License webpages.

An Intensive Survey license, which may be issued for up the 90 days, is issued before a Data Recovery license with the purpose of refining and delineating, with limited excavation, the project area that the applicant believes may contain submerged property. 

A Data Recovery license, which may be issued for up to one year, permits the licensee to conduct excavation and data recovery on submerged property, if the applicant has submitted positive results of an intensive survey.
For more information on the Intensive Survey and Data Recovery licenses, please visit the Legislation & Management webpages.

Education and Outreach

The MRD prides itself on its education and outreach initiatives.  Providing the public with an opportunity to learn about and be involved in underwater archaeology in South Carolina is an important part of the MRD mission. The Division actively engages in outreach and education programs to increase the capacity of licensed divers and other interested citizens to provide meaningful archaeological information for research and management purposes. Based out of our Charleston field office, Division staff offer programs to the public on South Carolina's maritime archaeological heritage including field training courses, volunteering opportunities, public presentations and artifact workshops for divers, dive clubs and shops, schools, and interested community groups. For more information on our education and outreach programs, please visit our Education and Outreach webpages.

 Please visit the Maritime Research Division website for more information.