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Gestión del Patrimonio Cultural Subacuático

UNESCO has, for the second time, awarded special recognition to the National Museum of Underwater Archaeology for its work in the protection, conservation, research and dissemination of Spanish underwater cultural heritage.

  • The decision was taken at the 8th Assembly of States Parties to the 2001 Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage held in Paris on 8 June 2021.

  • The first such recognition was given to the Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes Archaeological Project in 2018.

For the second time, the National Museum of Underwater Archaeology (ARQUA) has also been included on UNESCO's list of Best Practices of Underwater Cultural Heritage, an international distinction that recognises the initiatives undertaken by member countries to promote the protection, dissemination and awareness of society in this field.

The Museum is the headquarters of the permanent Observatory of the National Plan for the Protection of Underwater Archaeological Heritage. It is also the institution responsible for publicising this plan, promoting its conservation, and consequently, its enhancement for public use and enjoyment.

With these purposes and philosophy, the Museum follows the principles of the UNESCO Convention that Spain ratified in 2005, and which are included in the Green Book of the National Plan for the Protection of Spanish Underwater Cultural Heritage.

The activities of the last few years that have contributed to this recognition by UNESCO are listed below.

The Museum’s archaeological collections

The Museum's collections have been built up from the mid-1970s to the present day.

The museum's collections comprise objects found underwater from the Phoenician period - including the Phoenician shipwrecks of Mazarrón 1, Mazarrón 2 and Bajo de a Campana - to the 19th century, including the materials recovered from the frigate Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes.

The Museum's collection is made up of around 623,058 cultural objects, of which around 50% can be found on DOMUS, with 5% of the total collection being accessible online.

Artefact restoration

Since 1993, the Museum has been involved in numerous different restoration projects on artefacts of underwater origin, both organic and inorganic. However in three such projects, the Museum has been confronted with global problems that have been solved with remarkable success. These are pioneering preservation and restoration projects that have put the Museum at the cutting edge in these areas.

Bajo de la Campana (1980-2021). In recent years, the Museum has been working on a project to restore a collection of 53 elephant tusks with Phoenician inscriptions dating from the seventh and sixth centuries BCE. So far, three elephant tusks have undergone a plastination process to ensure their preservation.

Mazarrón (1993-2021). Recovery, restoration and preservation of the Phoenician ship Mazarrón 1, and protection of the ship Mazarrón 2. Vessel 1 was recovered from the sea in June 1995. It underwent years of treatments at the Museum, and has been on display behind glass there since 2008.

Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes (2012-2021). In December 2012, almost 600,000 coins from the frigate Mercedes arrived at the Museum. In November 2013, stabilization, individual inventory, documentation and restoration work began.

Latest work in Underwater Cultural Heritage

In Spain

Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes. 2015, 2016 and 2017 campaigns.

Buendía reservoir (Cuenca). 2015 Campaign. The "Underwater prospecting project for a possible submerged hermitage in the Buendía reservoir" was carried out in 2015 under the direction of the Museum's archaeologists. First, an underwater survey was carried out to locate, recognise and identify the site, followed by documentation and topography of the openings, interior space and engraved decorative elements. Several hermitages similar to the underwater site were also documented, which contributed to a comparative assessment of the state of preservation of the underwater and terrestrial hermitages.

Project “CARTASub”: Underwater Archaeological Chart of Spain. 2018 Campaign. The project aims to continue the ambitious project that was started in 1997-1999 with the latest advanced remote sensing technologies used during the three Mercedes campaigns. The aim is to cover the Spanish coastline in approximately 10-13 years. Data collection was carried out on board the oceanographic vessel "Ángeles Alvariño" from the Spanish Institute of Oceanography. The working area was located in the Region of Murcia, between Cartagena and Cabo de Palos, prospecting an area of 115,917 km2.

In Europe

Portugal. Participation proposal for the Azores Wrecks Project (2014-2017). This collaboration was proposed by the Além-Mar History Centre (CHAM) at Lisbon New University. Collaboration in the preservation of organic objects of underwater provenance was also proposed.

European project BLUEMED, for the enhancement and protection of underwater cultural heritage (2015-2019). This project involves the coordination of Underwater Museums, Diving Parks and Knowledge Awareness Centres to highlight the value of Underwater Cultural Heritage and to promote the development of responsible tourism along the coasts and islands of the Mediterranean. It is led by the Regional Development Fund of the Region of Thessaly (Greece) and involves eight other partners active in Greece, Italy, Croatia, Cyprus and Spain.

Ireland Proposal for collaboration with the Irish Underwater Archaeological Unit in the exploration of the wrecks of the 1588 Spanish Armada (2016). This would be carried out through the signing of an M.O.U. between the two countries in which permanent collaboration is agreed on all matters relating to the 1588 Spanish Armada: communication and exchange of documentary and archaeological information, joint participation in excavations, congresses and publications, etc.

European WreckSpy-Lab project (2016). European project proposal within the framework of the "EASME Programme" under the slogan "Blue Labs: innovative solutions for maritime challenges". The WreckSpy-Lab proposal, coordinated by the Naval and Maritime Technology Centre of the Region of Murcia, seeks low-cost solutions for the surveillance of underwater cultural heritage sites and assets. The Museum signed up to join the WreckSpy-Lab Advisory Board in May 2016.

In the Americas

United States. Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) (2010). The United States and Spain, through NOAA and the Ministry of Culture, signed a five-year Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for cooperation in the management, research, protection, preservation and preservation of underwater cultural heritage resources and sites. One of the projects launched was to study Spanish shipwrecks in US waters, starting with research in the General Archive of the Indies.

Panama. Proposals for establishing co-operation between Spain and Panama in the field of underwater cultural heritage (2014-2016). (1) Training course in underwater archaeology with professors from the National Museum of Underwater Archaeology; (2) Training placements for several Panamanian technicians at the Museum's laboratories; (3) Creation of a Panamanian Centre for Research in Underwater Archaeology.

Brazil (2014-2016). Possible collaboration project with GRUPEP Archaeology of the Universidade da Sul (UNISUL) to study the remains of the 16th-century Spanish vessel located in the waters of Florianópolis; this could be the Nao Proveedora, shipwrecked on 7 January 1583 in those waters.

Mexico. Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) (2014-2020). Collaboration agreement for the identification, management, research, protection and preservation of Spanish underwater cultural heritage resources and sites. In 2020 and 2021, Museum technicians were scheduled to participate in the joint survey campaign of Nuestra Señora del Juncal, a ship sunk in 1631 in the waters of the Gulf of Mexico, as well as in the second and third survey campaigns of the three ships of Hernán Cortés, located in the bay of Villas Ricas. The pandemic has prevented this from occurring yet.

Colombia. San José Galleon (2015). Establishing contacts for collaboration in the San José Galleon research project.

Peru. Collaboration agreement on the preservation, research and dissemination of historical and cultural heritage (2015).

Organisation of international congresses

5th International Congress on Underwater Archaeology. IKUWA-V (October 2014). This congress was attended by almost 300 individuals, including authors, members of the Scientific Committee and other attendees. Participants came from more than 30 countries across five continents (Germany, Sweden, Denmark, France, Portugal, Croatia, Cyprus, United States, Canada, Mexico, Uruguay, Australia, Japan, Egypt, and more); 107 papers and 68 posters were presented.

1st Conference on Technology Applied to Archaeology. TECNOARQVA (December 2017). Organised by the National Museum of Underwater Archaeology, the Ministry of Culture and Nerea Archaeology. The conference brought together international specialists to hold a pioneering discussion about the relationship between archaeology and the latest technological innovations. Researchers specialising in archaeology, robotics, oceanography and engineering discussed methods for protecting underwater sites, including challenges such as looting and the future of the sector.

1st International Conference "The Spanish Armada of 1588 and the English Counter-Armada of 1589. The naval conflict between Spain and England: 1580-1607)” (April 2019). The Scientific Committee brought together national and international experts in the field. Its aim was to review the interdisciplinary research conducted over the last 30 years on Anglo-Spanish naval conflict between 1580 and 1607. In addition, the Congress aimed to stimulate new research into the subjects under discussion. 53 papers were received from researchers from eight countries (Spain, Ireland, Great Britain, Portugal, Italy, Croatia, the United States and Peru).

Participation in international congresses

21st DEGUWA (Dresden, Germany) (March 2016). Lecture on the 2015 Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes campaign by the Director of the Museum, Iván Negueruela.

6th International Congress on Underwater Archaeology (Fremantle, Australia) (2017). Three lectures were given: on the 2017 Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes campaign; on the 2015 Buendía reservoir campaign; and on the restoration of ivory via plastination.

Spanish Armada International Conference (Sligo, Ireland) (September 2017). Lecture on the 2017 Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes campaign given by the Director of the Museum, Iván Negueruela.

23rd DEGUWA (Tübingen, Germany) (March 2018). Lecture on the 2017 Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes campaign given by the Director of the Museum, Iván Negueruela.

24th DEGUWA (Bodrum, Turkey) (March 2019). Lecture on the 2017 Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes campaign given by the Director of the Museum, Iván Negueruela.

3rd Warsaw Seminar on Underwater Archaeology (Warsaw, Poland) (January 2019). Attended by the Director of the Museum.

UNESCO International Conference on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage (Brest, France) (June 2019). Attended by the Director of the Museum.

1st Informational Meeting on the protection of Skerki Banks (June 2019). Attended by the Director of the Museum.

2nd International Seminar on the "Operational Fight against the Illicit Trafficking of Cultural Property" (September 2019). Organised by the Guardia Civil (State Police). Police from 10 countries participated. The Director of the Museum participated.

Participation in Spanish congresses

Sea Classrooms. Underwater and Hyperbaric Medicine courses (2014-2019). Organised by the University of Murcia as part of the activities of the International University of the Sea at Campus Mare Nostrum. There will be a talk on the unique features of diving for underwater archaeological activities, as well as a guided tour of the Museum's permanent exhibition by Rocío Castillo and Iván Negueruela.

1st Underwater Exploration Day. Prof. Jorge Juan of the Ferrol Campus of the University of A Coruña (2017). Rocío Castillo took part.

Cartagena City Congress (2017). The Museum collaborated as the venue for one of the conferences organised by the City Council, and a lecture was given by the Director.

2nd Underwater Exploration Day. Prof. Jorge Juan of the Ferrol Campus of the University of A Coruña (2018). The Director of the Museum, Iván Negueruela, participated.

PHICARIA, 7th International Mediterranean Meeting. "The recovery of submerged archaeological heritage: problems and proposals" (March 2018). Milagros Buendía and Juan Luis Sierra took part.

3rd Conference on Preservation and Restoration. "When work becomes a privilege". Valencia Museum of Prehistory (April 2018). Milagros Buendía and Juan Luis Sierra took part.

Specialist course for the International Doctoral School in Sea Studies (EIDEMAR), University of Cadiz. "Archaeometry applied to the study of shipwrecks: theoretical and methodological foundations and lines of research" (October 2018). Milagros Buendía took part.

Training activities for international professionals

Course on Underwater Cultural Heritage with AECID-FIIAP in Ecuador (December 2015). Rocío Castillo and Juan Luis Sierra took part.

Course on Underwater Cultural Heritage Management in Panama (2016). The director of the course was Iván Negueruela, who organised the course with the Museum's technicians in collaboration with INAC and officials from the Spanish Embassy in Panama.

Course on the Protection of Underwater Cultural Heritage in Guatemala (May 2018). Organised by the AECID in collaboration with the Directorate General of Fine Arts. Rocío Castillo, Juan Luis Sierra and the Director of the Museum, Iván Negueruela, all took part.

Practicum for the Underwater Cultural Heritage Protection Course in Guatemala (October 2018). Held at the Museum's headquarters and at ARQVATEC's facilities. Fifteen students from 10 countries (Costa Rica, Colombia, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, Peru and Spain) participated.

Training activities for Spanish professionals

Courses with the Civil Guard on the "Protection of Underwater Cultural Heritage" (2014-2019). In the theory section, topics such as national and regional legislation, the actions of the Environmental Prosecutor's Office and the investigation of crimes against underwater cultural heritage carried out by the Civil Guard were covered. These lectures were complemented by a practical section held at the ARQVATEC laboratories and at the Museum's headquarters.

Courses with the Navy on the "Protection of Underwater Cultural Heritage" (2015-2020). This involved collaboration between the Ministries of Culture and Defence. Members from 10 units took part, including the Naval History and Culture Unit, Headquarters of the Maritime Action Force, Legal Department, Logistics Division, Diving Centre of the Navy and Diving Units of Ferrol, Canary Islands, Cadiz, and more.

Course on preservation and Restoration of Underwater Cultural Heritage organised by the IPCE. Nájera (Logroño) (2015). It was attended by several Museum technicians and the Director, Iván Negueruela.

1st CEI-MAR Introductory Course on Underwater Archaeology. Melilla (2016). Rocío Castillo took part.

Postgraduate degree in "Documentation and Preservation of Underwater Cultural Heritage" at the Department of Prehistory and Archaeology of the University of Valencia (2016). It was attended by the Director of the Museum and four technicians from the areas of Preservation/Restoration, Documentation and Archaeology.

FormARTE grants from the Ministry of Culture and internships for bachelor's and master's degree students.

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