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Part II Substantive Aspects, Ch.13 Underwater Cultural Heritage

Patrick J. O’Keefe

From: The Oxford Handbook of International Cultural Heritage Law

Edited By: Francesco Francioni, Ana Filipa Vrdoljak

From: Oxford Public International Law (http://opil.ouplaw.com). (c) Oxford University Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved.date: 19 January 2021


This chapter focuses on underwater cultural heritage. This form of heritage is important because it constitutes what has been called a ‘time capsule’—meaning everything on a site may well be as it was when it disappeared beneath the water’s surface. It may be the wreck of a ship, the remains of a town, or a prehistoric settlement where land has subsided. There is general agreement that what remains is important to humanity. As such, protection and preservation of the underwater cultural heritage is a significant objective of the international legal system. The UNESCO Convention of 2001 is illustrative of this. However, the Convention exists within the international political and legal framework. In negotiating it, States were constrained by what they felt this framework required. Many were prepared to be generous in how they interpreted those requirements—others not so. The result is a complex agreement requiring care in implementation.

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