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SC Institute for Archeology and Anthropology

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Exclusive Licenses

The MRD may issue an Exclusive Licenses for the disturbance or excavation of submerged property, if it is in the best interests of the state.

Provisions in the SC Underwater Antiquities Act of 1991 allow for the recovery of submerged archaeological or paleontological materials from state-owned bottomlands beyond the scope of the Hobby License. An Exclusive License is usually required to undertake a major undertaking that is comprised of two sub-licenses: an Intensive Survey License and a Data Recovery License. Proposed projects that may impact an archaeological resource follow a two-step licensing process to determine the feasibility and scope of the project. The Intensive Survey License is issued first with the purpose of refining and delineating, with limited excavation, the project area.  A Data Recovery License is issued to conduct more extensive operations, including artifact recovery. Both of these licenses require oversight by an underwater archaeologist meeting Secretary of the Interior Standards and Guidelines for Archeology and Historic Preservation. License applications are reviewed in context of a project providing scientific and educational benefits serving to increase our knowledge of the maritime heritage of South Carolina. For specific details regarding each license read Section 54-7-690 and subsequent sections. Contact James Spirek for additional information regarding the license process. For those projects focusing on the recovery of paleontological materials, the MRD consults with the South Carolina State Museum concerning the issuance and management of an Exclusive License.

An Intensive Survey License, which may be issued for up the 90 days, permits the licensee to carry out intensive survey of a specific area which 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. Renewal of both types of licenses may be requested by the licensee.

The act provides that a public hearing may be required, and that the Institute must consider certain criteria to determine whether to issue an exclusive license. These include:

  1.      the degree of scientific importance, and public educational potential; 
  2.      the date the application was received; 
  3.      the degree and scope of planning by the applicant; 
  4.      the degree of training and experience of the applicant and the underwater archaeologist; 
  5.      the thoroughness of the application; 
  6.      the necessary equipment possessed by the applicant; 
  7.      the public benefit versus the degree of harm to the state's property.

It also provides for a representative of the Institute or Museum to visit the proposed location with the applicant to verify information.

The South Carolina Underwater Antiquities Act differentiates between commercial and non-commercial applicants for exclusive licenses, and provides that issuance of an exclusive license can be delayed until certain conditions are met. If a license is not issued, the Institute must issue a written notice of denial. If aggrieved by the decision an applicant may request a reconsideration hearing within 30 days of denial.

Each exclusive license issued by the Institute must contain certain provisions including:

  1.      the duration of the license; 
  2.      the boundaries of the area; 
  3.      the applicant’s scope of work; 
  4.      a list of key personnel; 
  5.      a plan by the applicant to restore the submerged lands following completion of the licensed activity; 
  6.      that prior written consent by the Institute is required for all changes in the license (e.g. financial support, personnel, equipment, sub-contracting of work), the recovery of large artifacts (e.g. cannons, anchors etc.) and complete fossil specimens, and for the use of grossly destructive devices (e.g. air-lifts, prop-wash, explosives etc.); 
  7.      that the licensee and a field archæologist or field paleontologist are continually present on site at all times when the licensed activity is taking place. The licensee is responsible for costs associated with the field archæologist or paleontologist; 
  8.      that the licensee must maintain logs and records and file a report to the Institute; 
  9.      that the licensee is wholly responsible for work done on the site; 
  10.     only one exclusive license may be issued per person at one time; 
  11.    that the licensee is responsible for costs associated with storage, transportation, and stabilization of artifacts and fossils, and after a division, all costs associated with conserving the licensee's share of recovered property; 
  12.    that the licensee must not impede navigation; 
  13.    that the licensee must remove all waste from the site; 
  14.    that the licensee may be required to show his license at any time upon request; 
  15.    that the license may require monitoring of the licensed activity. If so, the state is responsible for costs associated with the monitoring activity; 
  16.    that the Institute may suspend operations under a license, or revoke a license, at any time for just cause.

With respect to a non-commercial Data Recovery license, the State may retain the state's title to recovered submerged property, or enter into a disposition agreement with the licensee. With respect to a commercial Data Recovery license the State shall enter into a disposition agreement, giving fair treatment to the licensee, and providing that the licensee receive at least fifty percent of the recovered submerged property. The act further provides that if the finder of a shipwreck, is other than the commercial licensee, the finder must receive twenty-five percent of the licensee's share.

Further, the act provides penalties for violations, contains provisions regarding the discovery of human remains, and provides that the Institute shall maintain an educational program and ensure that at least one staff member is qualified in underwater archeology. The act also stipulates that all license fees be used only to implement the act.


Intensive Survey License (3-month) $50.00 $100.00
Data Recovery License (up to 1-year) $500.00 $1000.00

Additional details concerning the issuance of these licenses can be found in the full text of SOUTH CAROLINA UNDERWATER ANTIQUITIES ACT OF 1991.   Contact State Underwater Archaeologist James Spirek for more information on Exclusive Licenses or how to apply for an Exclusive License.  

Download Intensive Survey Application

Download Data Recovery License Application

SC Institute for Archeology and Anthropology

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