Underwater Archaeology

Frequently Asked Questions

Underwater Archaeology

For more information on specific topics, please visit our Underwater Archaeology FAQ, and Master Site File FAQ. If you have additional questions that are not answered here or need further assistance, please contact the Bureau of Archaeological Research.

Q: What is Underwater Archaeology in Florida?
A: Underwater archaeology anywhere is simply archaeology done underwater. In general, archaeology gathers data from artifacts and remains left behind by people. Archaeologists then try to connect that data to past behaviors. Ultimately, archaeology helps us understand how past peoples and cultures lived. Examples of archaeological sites discovered in Florida waters include:

Q: I'm a diver who is interested in discovering treasure. I was told that I need to get a Treasure Hunting Permit. Is this where I get one?
A: No. Treasure hunting in Florida has been popularized to the point where many people think that every shipwreck in Florida waters has treasure or provides clues to where treasure may be located. This just isn't true. Florida shipwrecks range in time and use, from the Colonial Era through the Early American and Civil War periods to the modern era. A shipwreck's true "treasure" is derived through public participation and interpretation.

Some companies have applied for and received Exploration and Recovery Permits as administered by Rule 1A-31 of the Florida Administrative Code. The State of Florida will issue an Exploration or Recovery Permit after the applicant has met the stringent archaeological requirements.

Q: What should I do when I find an underwater archaeological site?
A: The best thing to do when you find a site is to not disturb it. As the "discoverer" of a site, you should make some important decisions that will help to determine the site's future. This includes giving us a call or sending us an email reporting the discovery. We can help you in determining what you have found, and whether it has already been reported, recorded, or investigated.

Bureau of Archaeological Research
Division of Historical Resources
B. Calvin Jones Center for Archaeology
1001 DeSoto Park Drive
Tallahassee, FL 32301
(850) 245-6340
e-mail us

Historic cannon and anchors are often spotted in Florida waters. Many of these have been documented and either left in place or replaced with replicas to preserve Florida’s archaeological sites and great dive locations. Florida law prohibits the excavation or removal of artifacts, but encourages anyone who notices something to photograph it and contact us. If it is a new discovery, we will proceed with recording the artifact, and often with your help.

Q: How do I get involved in Underwater Archaeology in Florida?
A: The best way to get involved in underwater archaeology as a hobby is to seek out local archaeological and historical societies. You may want to join a local chapter of the Florida Anthropological Society and become part of the growing network of amateurs throughout the state. The Florida Public Archaeology Network is a good resource for those wanting to get involved. Also, you could visit a number of Florida’s Shipwreck Preserves and Trails.

Q: Are training courses available?
A: In Florida, University of West Florida offers regular undergraduate courses in Underwater Archaeology. UWF also offers a Master’s degree in maritime archaeology. Field schools are offered to train students on Florida sites; they last several weeks, and one must be enrolled either as a regular or special student. Master's degrees generally are necessary to obtain a job in underwater archaeology and many employers require a Ph.D.; graduate degrees in underwater archaeology may be pursued at Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas and East Carolina University in Greenville, North Carolina. Universities in England, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Israel, and Australia also offer graduate programs in underwater archaeology.

Occasionally, the Bureau of Archaeological Research offers underwater archaeological training in response to requests from various sport diving groups and associations. Also, training courses are part of the process in the nomination of new Florida Shipwreck Preserves. A great way to get some training is to nominate a shipwreck for Florida Preserve status and get your fellow local divers involved to learn what it takes to maintain and preserve a shipwreck in you own waters.

Underwater Archaeology in Florida is usually open for public participation. Give us a call or send us an email stating your interest to somehow or someway get involved. There might be a current project already underway in your area. We can help you find out!

Twice yearly the Bureau of Archaeological Research and the Florida Public Archaeology Network sponsor a seminar that teaches diving educators the importance of protecting our submerged maritime heritage. The Heritage Awareness Diving Seminar (HADS) is open to the public and usually held in May and September.

Q: Once I get a degree, where will I find employment?
A: Underwater archaeologists find employment in a variety of venues, maybe state government, generally within the section that is responsible for the state's historical and cultural resources. Others find jobs in the Federal government within agencies such as the National Park Service the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement, NOAA, and the National Marine Sanctuaries. Universities and colleges employ many archaeologists, both underwater and terrestrial, to teach and to perform research. Museums, particularly those with a maritime emphasis, often have underwater archaeologists on staff to research sites, curate collections, design exhibits, interpret the findings, and educate the public. Firms that specialize in contract archaeology often employ those with underwater skills to conduct research and surveys of proposed construction areas.

Q: Do fossils fall under the same regulations as artifacts?
A: In order to protect and preserve fossils and paleontology sites, the State of Florida has declared that all vertebrate fossils found on state-owned lands belong to the state with title vested in the Florida Museum of Natural History. The Museum administers a permitting program intended to regulate the buying, selling, or trading of vertebrate fossils found on state-owned land, or the systematic and continued collection from a paleontological site. Application for a permit can be made to: Florida Program of Vertebrate Paleontology, Florida Museum of Natural History, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL, 32611. A permit is not required for happenstance or casual retrieval of vertebrate fossils, or for the collection of invertebrate fossils (such as shellfish, coral, and sponges) and fossil shark teeth.

Q: Is metal detecting prohibited on state property?
A: Metal detecting on State land is generally prohibited with few exceptions. Many public beaches allow metal detecting between the high tide line and the toe of the dune. Beaches that are part of State and Federal Parks, Preserves, Sanctuaries, and military installations will have specific rules governing metal detecting; always consult with the park or property manager.

Q: I'm a diver who is interested in collecting artifacts from the rivers; is this legal?
A: State public lands include the submerged river bottom. The removal of artifacts from State lands is prohibited by Chapter 267.13 punishable with fines and either a first degree misdemeanor or third degree felony, depending on the circumstances. If you have discovered a site while diving in Florida’s rivers, contact our office and we can provide you with information regarding the site or, with your help, record a new site.