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SC Institute for Archeology and Anthropology

South Carolina Underwater Antiquities Act


(Article 5, Chapter 7, Title 54, Code of Laws of South Carolina, 1976)

Summary Updated Feb. 2014

It is the intent of the South Carolina Underwater Antiquities Act of 1991 to preserve and encourage the scientific and recreational values inherent in submerged archaeological historic properties and paleontological properties for the benefit of the people of the State.

The act declares as property of the state, all submerged archæological historic property, which has remained unclaimed for fifty years or more, and paleontological property (both cited hereafter as 'property') located on or recovered from submerged lands over which the State has sovereign control. The South Carolina Institute of Archæology and Anthropology (Institute) is the custodian of archæological materials. The South Carolina Museum Commission (Museum) is the custodian of paleontological materials. The Department of Administration is the custodian of all other things of value.

The act provides that persons desiring to remove, displace, or destroy submerged archæological historic property or paleontological property must first obtain a license from the Institute. 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. A license is not required to inspect, study, explore, photograph, measure or otherwise use and enjoy such property as long as the activity does not involve: excavation, substantive injury or disturbance of the site or its environment, endanger other persons or property, or violate other laws. Neither the Institute nor the Museum is required to obtain licenses.

A Hobby License is required for persons wishing to conduct temporary, intermittent, recreational, small scale, non-commercial search and recovery of submerged property. It is a state-wide license. Recovery of submerged property must be by hand and must not involve mechanical devices or excavation. Hobby divers may recover a reasonable number of artifacts and fossils from submerged lands over which the state has sovereign control, but may recover only ten artifacts a day from a shipwreck site. The licensee must report his/her finds to the Institute (for artifacts), or the Museum (for fossils) on a quarterly basis.  Within 60 days of receipt of each report, the Institute or Museum must release title to all finds to the licensee.

The act provides that the Institute may issue Exclusive Licenses for the disturbance or excavation of submerged property, if it is in the best interests of the state, and the applicant has completed application which includes specific research plans. 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 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.


Hobby License (6-month) $5.00 $10.00
Hobby License (2-year) $18.00 $36.00
Intensive Survey License (3-month) $50.00 $100.00
Data Recovery License (up to 1-year) $500.00 $1000.00

SC Institute for Archeology and Anthropology

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