In Situ Protection

In situ protection means the preservation of underwater cultural heritage in its original location.

The 2001 Convention recommends to consider first to protect ancient shipwrecks or submerged archaeological sites in situ before considering recovery. This does not mean a rejection of land-based museums, public access or archaeological excavations. It is a recommendation of a first choice to leave archaeological sites authentic and as undamaged as possible.

This approach is a result of the large-scale recoveries of the Mary Rose and the Vasa shipwrecks, as well as of many other large shipwrecks or their cargoes.

While the Mary Rose and the Vasa were successes, due to the construction of appropriate museums, others were not. Treatment of water-logged elements is relatively expensive and time consuming, and a risk of deterioration remains. Museum buildings often lack room and conditions to accommodate large size wooden or metallic objects recovered from wrecks or submerged ruins. The authenticity of a site, its context and its integrity also do not persist when objects are recovered from it. The special significance of heritage as testimony of a historic event as well as the attraction of the underwater environment can only be fully preserved by opting for in situ conservation.

Nevertheless, in situ preservation is not always the best choice. A recovery can be authorized for the purpose of making a significant contribution to protection or knowledge or enhancement of underwater cultural heritage.

This can for instance be the case when

  • the underwater cultural heritage remains are threatened by any natural or human factors (i.e. urban and port developments, pillage, environmental conditions, etc.).
  • scientifical research can get results that contribute significantly to the knowledge of the history of humanity.
  • study, research and dissemination enhance the awareness and consideration of a region towards the protection of its underwater cultural heritage. 

Learn more on in situ protection and the UNESCO approach to it.

See underwater heritage in situ.

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