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SC Institute for Archeology and Anthropology

  • Recovered shipwreck

Maritime Research

The Maritime Research Division studies and manages the 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 interaction.

Responsibilities of 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.


In coordination with the Information Management Division, we maintain a database of over 500 underwater archaeological sites that include shipwrecks, abandoned vessels, prehistoric or historic scatter sites, boat landings, shipyards and other structures and sites for research and compliance purposes. 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.

Underwater Antiquities Act

The Division administers the South Carolina Underwater Antiquities Act of 1991 (amended 2001), which regulates the recovery of artifacts and paleontological materials on submerged state lands.  The 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.   In consultation with the South Carolina State Museum, the custodian of paleontological materials, the MRD issues licenses to individuals or companies if it is in the best interests of the state, and may enter into agreements with licensees concerning the disposition of recovered artifactual and paleontological property.

The MRD issues two types of licenses:

A Hobby License required for persons wishing to conduct temporary, intermittent, recreational, small scale, non-commercial search and recovery of submerged property.  To learn more about this program and to obtain a license application please visit the Hobby License webpage.

An Exclusive LIcense required for those individuals embarking on the commercial  recovery of artifacts and paleontological materials.  The license is divided into two sub-licenses--an Intensive Survey license, which may be issued for up to 90 days, is issued for the purpose of refining and delineating  the project area, and among other preliminary investigations, that the applicant believes may contain submerged property.  Followed by a Data Recovery license, issued for up to one year, which permits the licensee to conduct excavation and data recovery on submerged property, For more information about the Exclusive License.

Review & Compliance

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 to alert developers and Federal, State, and Local agencies to 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 and on-going projects include the Port Royal Sound Survey, the United States Naval Shipwreck 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 in 1526. Other activities include extensive archival research to develop historical contexts for shipwrecks and other underwater archaeological sites, structures, and objects in State waters. Visit the Project and Publications webpages about past and current research projects and activities

Public Interaction

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. 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 webpage.

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