NHHC Underwater Archaeology: Return Program for Navy's Sunken and Terrestrial Military Craft
NHHC Underwater Archaeology (UA) Branch’s mission is to preserve and present an accurate history of the U.S. Navy through the study and preservation of its submerged cultural resources by managing, interpreting, researching, and conserving the Navy’s collection of sunken and terrestrial military craft. Ranging from the Revolutionary War to the Nuclear Age, and including aircraft as well as ships, these craft and their contents represent a fragile and non-renewable collection that not only hold historical importance, but potentially also serve as war graves, or pose environmental or public safety hazards. Thus, Navy’s overall policy towards these wreck sites is to support their in-situ preservation.
These sites, as well as any foreign military craft in the U.S. waters, remain property of their respective government regardless of their location or passage of time and are granted further protection from unauthorized disturbance under the Sunken Military Craft Act (SMCA). NHHC does recognize that disturbance and/or artifact recovery may be justified or become necessary. Thus, NHHC has implemented a permitting and enforcement program to foster responsible research on these craft by external parties.
For more information on the SMCA, please visit Permitting Policy and Cultural Resource Management.
Since the Navy’s sunken and terrestrial military craft and any associated contents remain government property; any artifacts recovered without authorization through NHHC may constitute a violation of the SMCA and will need to be returned to the NHHC Underwater Archaeology Branch. Artifacts returned to NHHC UA will be placed under the management of NHHC Archaeology & Conservation Lab (ACL), which serves as the Navy’s center of expertise on the conservation and curation of submerged artifacts. NHHC ACL provides public access to the collection for research and analysis. Additionally, it manages an artifact loan program, which allows for Navy-owned artifacts from wreck sites to be curated and displayed at qualified facilities nationally and internationally for the purpose of public education and academic research.
For more information regarding how to return artifact(s) recovered from Navy wreck sites to NHHC Underwater Archaeology Branch, please e-mail NHHCUnderwaterArchaeology@navy.mil.