UNESCO Underwater Cultural Heritage

The UNESCO webpage on Underwater Cultural Heritage gives several examples of submerged port structures:

  1. Hedeby, Germany, hosting remains of a Viking trading port destroyed in 1050 A.D.;
  2. Remains of the ancient Ports of Ostia near Rome and Portus Iulius in the Bay of Naples, Italy;
  3. The remains of a massive Byzantine port in Istanbul (Yenikapi) dating back to the 4th century A.D. featuring the oldest settlement in the city, the earliest city wall and at least 22 shipwrecks, including the first Byzantine galley ever found;
  4. Well-preserved remains of a small Roman port in a bay on the island of Brioni, Croatia;
  5. The remains of the port of Caesarea, Israel, which was founded by King Herod in 22 B.C. (now an underwater park for scuba divers);
  6. Remains of the Phoenician naval base of Carthage dating from 814 B.C., near Tunis, Tunisia;
  7. The remains of the Phoenician port of Tyre, Lebanon.

General Principles of the 2001 UNESCO Convention

  1. “Underwater Cultural Heritage” means all traces of human existence having a cultural, historical or archaeological character which have been partially or totally under water, periodically or continuously, for at least 100 years (Article 1).
  2. The preservation in situ of underwater cultural heritage (i.e. the current location on the seabed) is considered as the first option before allowing or engaging in any activities directed at this heritage (Article 2, paragraph 5). Such activities may however be authorized for the purpose of making a significant contribution to the protection or knowledge of underwater cultural heritage (Rule 1 of the Annex). The preference given to in situ preservation as the first option stresses the importance of and the respect for the historical context of the cultural object and its scientific significance and recognizes that such heritage is under normal circumstances preserved underwater owing to the low deterioration rate and lack of oxygen and therefore not necessarily per se in danger.
  3. States Parties shall preserve underwater cultural heritage for the benefit of humanity, and take action individually or jointly therefore (Article 2, paragraph 3 and 4). The 2001 Convention does not directly regulate the delicate issue of ownership of the concerned cultural property between the various states concerned (generally flag states and coastal states); it does however establish clear provisions for the States concerned and for international cooperation schemes.
  4. The principle that underwater cultural heritage shall not be commercially exploited (Article 2, paragraph 7) for trade or speculation or irretrievably dispersed is not to be understood as preventing professional archaeology, or the deposition of heritage recovered in the course of a research project in conformity with the Convention (Rule 2 of the Annex) or preventing salvage activities or actions by finders as long as the requirements under Article 4 of the Convention are fulfilled.
  5. Indeed an important compromise between protection and operational needs has been achieved in the 2001 Convention, in particular under Article 4, as any activity relating to underwater cultural heritage to which the Convention applies shall not be subject to the law of salvage or law of finds , unless it is authorized by the competent authorities, is in full conformity with the Convention and ensures that any recovery of the underwater cultural heritage achieves its maximum protection.