Underwater spaces, particularly vulnerable, conceal and protect under their surface an invaluable but little-known heritage. The underwater remains preserve the traces of the populations that have crossed them since prehistory.

The purpose of underwater archaeology is to detect, protect and study these underwater assets and to advance knowledge. Any operation must be authorised and can thus benefit from State financial support.


Presentation of the device

What is underwater cultural heritage?

The term “underwater cultural heritage” refers to traces of human existence that have been submerged for at least 100 years. These traces have a cultural, historical or archaeological character and can be submerged in whole or in part, periodically or permanently.

Underwater archaeological operations are the subject of one or more scientific research programs:

  • the purpose of the survey, which is to detect the presence of elements and to take a sample to assess the archaeological potential before initiating a excavation)
  • excavation of a marine cultural property
  • removal or removal of marine cultural property
  • prospecting using specialized equipment to establish the location of a marine cultural property

The heritage code (article L532-7) provides that: "No person may carry out prospecting with the aid of specialized equipment for establishing the location of a maritime cultural object, or carry out excavations or surveys without first having obtained the administrative authorisation issued on the basis of the applicant’s qualification and the nature and manner of the search. '

Request for Research Authorization

Anyone wishing to carry out archaeological research in the maritime public domain must apply for authorization to the DRASSM and declare their intention to carry out an underwater archaeological operation. 

The authorization issued by the CMRAS indicates the location of the search, its surface area and its duration. It also lays down the scientific requirements to be complied with.

This request covers registration with a PCR, a request for programmed excavation, sounding, diachronic prospecting, thematic prospecting, prospecting with specialized equipment, metal detector, identification of maritime cultural property, movement of BCM, documentary study.

Criminal offences and penalties

The Heritage Code (Articles L544-5 to L544-11) provides that any person who breaches the reporting obligations provided for in the second paragraph ofarticle L. 532-3 or at thearticle L. 532-4  is punished by a 3.750 € fine.

Is punished by the same punishment the fact that any person has made a false declaration to the public authority as to the location and composition of the deposit on which the declared object was discovered.

The fact, for any person, of having carried out prospections, surveys, withdrawals or digs on maritime cultural property or of having carried out a displacement of such property or a sampling thereof in contravention of the provisions of the first paragraph ofarticle L. 532-3 or of the Articles L. 532-7 and L. 532-8 is punished by a fine of €7,500.

Objectives of the approach

Old boats and ships, stranded, shipwrecked, sites and places of life now submerged are the testimony of the occupation of the territory of Men. Underwater cultural heritage has been a witness to our shared memory for several millennia. The protection and preservation of underwater cultural heritage, as historical remains, allows a better knowledge of culture, history and science. The research allows us to enrich, inventory, study and highlight the archaeological heritage immersed in all marine waters, thus transmitting knowledge to future generations.

The main purpose of authorizations for underwater archaeological research is therefore the study and transmission of maritime cultural property.

Am I concerned by this approach?


Examples of projects previously supported

A question?

If you have any questions about authorizing research in underwater archaeology, please contact:

Department of Underwater Archaeological Research (DRASSM)
04 91 14 28 00
147 Estaque beach 13016 Marseille

The filing of applications will open soon.