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Legislative history in Spain

Legislative history regarding the protection of underwater cultural heritage dates back to the mid-18th century. Although it was common, since the 16th century, to search for the remains of Spanish shipwrecks (in order to recover the cargo), it was not until 1752 when the first legislative milestone occurred, spurred by the construction of the military arsenal in Cartagena. The need to protect discovered archaeological remains led the Marquis de la Ensenada to champion the approval of the Royal Order of 8 April 1752 for the protection and conservation of antiquities found during construction work in ports, and stating that such items should be sent to the Royal Academy of History.

The Marquis de la Ensenada championed the Royal Order of 8 April, which highlighted the concern shown for archaeological discoveries. It set out that if, during work on the docks, any archaeological object or fragment appeared, it should be sent to the Court to be studied.

The following notable legislative milestones , which took into account the need to preserve and protect archaeological heritage, took place in the 20th century. The first notable event was the publication of the Archaeological Excavations Act of 1911, and implemented by Regulation in 1912. Next, in 1933, a true milestone for the protection of Spanish cultural heritage was enacted: the Law on National Artistic Heritage. Concern for the protection of archaeological heritage was manifested by the creation of the General Commission for Excavations in 1940, under the Department of Fine Arts. This was expanded in 1947 by the Ministry of the Navy publication of the ministerial order regarding "underwater archaeological finds", whose aim was to bring together the efforts of both the General Commission for Excavations and the Navy.

Later in the 20th century, Decree 2055/1969, which regulated the exercise of underwater activities, set out that any diver who found submerged objects of possible archaeological value was obliged to notify the authorities. It stated that any materials found had to be handed over to the Local Office of the Ministry of Education and Science. The following year, the Board for Underwater Archaeological Excavations was created and established via Decree 3196/1970. The main missions of this body were to promote, study, advise, coordinate, unify and ensure the safety of all underwater archaeological activities taking place in the waters of ports, harbours, inlets and territorial sea in the maritime province of Cartagena.