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Shipwrecks are fascinating windows into maritime days of yore. A wreck and its remains can provide clues to the type and construction of vessels that were operating off the coast, offer a glimpse of seafaring history, and leave people wondering about the fate of the ship and its crew. However, these resources are also vulnerable—their resting places can inadvertently be disturbed, artifacts can be plundered by souvenir collectors and treasure seekers, or the resources can be mistakenly destroyed or lost through neglect. To ensure that historical and archaeological properties are not lost, the Massachusetts Board of Underwater Archaeological Resources (BUAR), administratively supported by the Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management (CZM), helps to discover, report, preserve, and protect the Commonwealth's underwater archaeology and cultural heritage. This CZ-Tip provides information about the role of BUAR and what you can do to help in the quest to discover and preserve maritime artifacts and archaeological findings.
The Regulatory Lowdown on Underwater Archeology - Under the Massachusetts Underwater Archeological Resources Regulations—312 CMR 2.00 (PDF, 188 KB), BUAR is the regulatory authority responsible for protecting underwater archaeological resources within both coastal and inland waters of the state. Part of BUAR's effort focuses on encouraging the discovery and reporting, as well as the preservation and protection, of archaeological sites and objects. The regulations provide specific procedures and requirements (such as through permits and exemptions) for sport divers, archaeologists, historians, and others when discovering, investigating, or recovering these resources. Archaeological resources are generally defined as artifacts, shipwrecks, submerged Native American sites, wharves, aircraft, and other findings that have remained unclaimed for over 100 years or are judged by the Board to be of historic value.
Given that many archaeological discoveries are made by casual observers on a beach, BUAR developed the Shoreline Heritage Identification Partnerships Strategy (SHIPS) to engage and train the public in the discovery phase of archaeology. According to SHIPS reporting and recording guidelines, when you stumble upon what looks to be a maritime treasure on the beach, follow these steps:
For those who venture beyond the shores, shipwrecks are also a recreational divers haven—not just for observing these underwater maritime treasures first hand, but also for witnessing the bounty of fish and other marine creatures that use them as habitat. If you want to dive deeper into maritime and natural history, see these links for additional recreational diving information and permit requirements.
Photographs: Provided by Victor Mastone, BUAR