Maritime and Underwater Cultural Heritage in Peru – By Carlos E. Ausejo

August 16, 2011

The Peruvian Centre for Maritime and Underwater Archaeology (CPAMS) was started at the end of 2010 and is currently made up of four founding members and an associate researcher. We intend to form a multidisciplinary team although at present we are still only archaeologists. The aim of the CPAMS is to promote scientific archaeological research in underwater maritime environments, rivers and lakes, their interaction areas on land as well as the impact that the maritime landscape has on society’s development over time. We seek to disseminate information on, protect, preserve, and conserve our natural and archaeological heritage that is distributed over the 2250km of the Pacific coastline, rivers, coastal and highland lakes and make it valued, by way of organizing educational programs for archaeologists as well as workshops on social development and awareness.

The importance of maritime and underwater archaeology in Peru lies in the extraordinary state of preservation of the materials which allows access to information not previously recorded (in the case of pre-Hispanic findings) as well as by contrasting findings with written sources. (Colonial and Republican era)

Regulations and Legislation:

In Peru, the protection of Underwater Cultural Heritage is guaranteed by the General Law for Cultural Heritage, Law No. 28296 and its regulation (in Chapter 7) and the first article of the archaeological research regulation.

According to these documents, underwater cultural heritage is defined as the following:

“All objects that have the importance, value and meaning referred to in Titles II and III in the first section of the Act, which are submerged under water, whether they be at sea within Peruvian territory, lake and coastal areas, and other aquatic national territory, partly or wholly, periodically or continuously, for at least 50 years … ”

Although the guidelines generally protect underwater cultural heritage, from the point of view of the regulations, there is no effective form of control. Similarly, there is no mention or consideration of other factors that affect their protection and which are mentioned as follows:

  • There is no mention in the regulation of how to deal with underwater projects.
  • The delimitation of these sites is not regulated.
  • The Ministry of Culture does not have staff qualified in this area.
  • The definition of heritage could be confusing in the sense that it includes pre-Hispanic, colonial and republican eras.
  • The institutions related to maritime and underwater issues do not know the rules and their scope. These institutions are the National Port Authority, companies involved in the construction sector in marine and coastal areas and offshore oil companies, underwater mining companies, companies who operate in the dredging of ports, construction and reservoir management, use of lagoons, pools for aquaculture and shellfish farms, among others.
  • Conflict of interests with the Navy related to underwater findings in the case of ship discovery.

Finally, it is important to note that Peru is not a signatory of the UNESCO Convention on Underwater Cultural Heritage Protection, and in that sense it would be desirable to incorporate the Annex of the Convention as a technical margin for underwater projects in the newly created Ministry of culture and the new regulations which are being established.

Balance and Perspectives in Peru

Maritime and underwater archaeology are currently a very new area. Up until 2006, the only existing investigations had been carried out by amateurs, treasure seekers and enthusiastic divers. There were diverse findings using this system; the Goleta Covadonga to the north of Lima, in Chancay; the Navio San Martín off the shores of Lima, at the beach by the name of La Herradura; a ship which probably dates back to the seventeenth century near the port of Matarani; to mention only a few. All, however, have suffered from the improper recovery of objects, affecting the integrity of the site and the archaeological context. Only recently have projects been carried out by archaeologists; in 2006, the first formal underwater archeology project was carried out in the Caleta Paraíso– San Lorenzo Island, which where the objective was to locate and identify, successfully, a floating dock sunk in the area on 9 October 1860. The project was conducted by archaeologists from the former National Institute of Culture (INC) supported by a group of divers who were enthusiastic about the protection of underwater heritage, who formed the IDPCS (Institute for the Protection of Underwater Cultural Heritage). Later, in 2007, the first underwater archaeological CRM project was made where the South Pier of the port is currently situated. Last year the investment in port infrastructure increased, and thus the need for CRM archaeological evaluation or monitoring projects like that carried out at South Pier.

In the academic field, the disadvantages for the execution of research projects related to underwater issues are mainly economic. The logistical requirements and equipment necessary involve having SCUBA teams, boats, specialized equipment, air cargo, and so on. These are costly in our country.

A final drawback both for the academic and commercial field is the lack of qualified personnel; there are very few archaeologists who are certified divers and even fewer who have received some training in underwater archaeological techniques. There are no professionals trained in preservation or restoration of materials that have been submerged.


The possibilities for research are interesting and important in order to obtain an understanding of our past and its relationship to the sea, rivers, lakes and water in general, as a life generating element in pre – Hispanic societies. As follows, we will explain some issues which are relevant to the development of our country:

  • Shipwrecks constitute an unavoidable issue; there has been nearly 500 years of navigation off our coasts, as well as evidence of pre-Hispanic navigation that could be submerged off our coasts and islands. There are a series of shipwrecks, which can be both identified and recorded though not located, and there are some for which there is no reference other than discovering it.
  • The islands have played an important role throughout our history, and they present an archaeological record that stretches from pre- Hispanic periods up until the contemporary time. The evidence that could be discovered in the waters off our coasts would allow us a better understanding of the role played by these islands in our history. After creating the natural reserve of the Sistema Nacional de Puntas e Islas Guaneras, it is essential to incorporate the archaeological component, especially the underwater area, considering that the underwater area makes up almost 90% of it.
  • Highland lakes constitute an excellent area for conservation of cultural material given the cold environmental conditions and their isolated situation. In this way, lakes such as the Mullucocha in Huarochiri, strongly related to sanctuaries and pre-Hispanic beliefs, could contain cultural material that has never before been recorded. The findings in the Lagunas del Sol y de la Luna on Mount Toluca in Mexico and Titicaca Lake in Peru support this theory.
  • The coves and ports from colonial and republican times, as well as those that were used for smuggling, constitute a useful source of information when contrasted with historical records. Despite the fact that they have been recorded, they have not been fully identified.
  • Dams and reservoirs are very particular, especially in terms of evaluation of the archaeological sites that were not rescued or even registered. They are the perfect place to evaluate the effect on different types of archaeological sites.
  • Climatic changes in recent decades accompanied by a steady increase in sea levels pose a risk to cultural heritage found on the coastal strip, especially near the inter-tidal zone. This problem challenges us to plan long-term loss of cultural heritage as well as to manage its future through a state policy.
  • In recent years the issue of the population of the continent can be discovered through new underwater evidence. The low water level that allowed the passage of man to this continent and that is now covered raises the possibility of exploring our coastline in search of paleo – underwater landscapes which potentially contain likely sites of early settlement.
  • Educational projects in maritime and underwater archeology designed for seafarers and divers in general in order to raise awareness about the protection of underwater cultural heritage

The points mentioned above constitute the main themes for investigation related to maritime and underwater subjects. Each of them however can branch off into different specific or related themes.


Maritime and Underwater Archaeology in Peru is at a moment where the impact on underwater heritage of treasure hunters, scrap dealers, construction and expansion of coastal port infrastructure and other activities on underwater heritage can still be minimized. In this sense it is necessary to stress the importance of the training of professionals in the field and the establishment of multidisciplinary teams, especially due to the characteristics of the natural habitat in which the elements are submerged.

From the regulatory point of view and without altering the regulation of archaeological research, the Annex of the convention on underwater cultural heritage as a methodological guideline for the implementation of underwater archaeological projects in all its forms could be incorporated. It should also clarify the procedures for the declaration and delimitation of underwater sites, and those that are partially submerged.

Despite the shortcomings and drawbacks currently faced, we are optimistic about its development as a discipline and its contribution to the understanding of our past pre-Hispanic, colonial and republican history.


After obtaining his BA in Archaeology in Peru, Carlos E. Ausejo worked on several archaeological projects located throughout the country. These experiences made him realize that although ancient civilizations of the Andes had a profound respect for water resources, archaeologists knew very little of them partly because of the specialized training required to conduct underwater projects. In 2006, after obtaining his diver certification, Carlos participated in the first underwater project in Peru ever sponsored by the Peruvian government. Soon after, he started working in other underwater projects and spreading the interest in underwater cultural resources among other archaeologists, continuing his training as a diver and offering others training opportunities as well. Carlos’ interest in underwater research led him to UCL and their MA program in Maritime Archaeology. In 2010, Carlos founded the Center for Peruvian Maritime and Underwater Archaeology-CPAMS to promote underwater research in Peru. He continues to work as an archaeologist in both land and sea.

* The opinions expressed by guest bloggers do not necessarily reflect those of the MUA, its staff, or its partner organizations.



  1. Hello, I’m a peruvian currently studying anthropology in Montreal. I am also a working divemaster and currently involved in underwater archaeology projects here in Canada. Just wanted to know how could I get involved with your organisation. Thanks!

  2. Bonjour,
    Nous sommes basé en Guadeloupe et nous faisons de la formation de base en archéologie sous-marine. Si nous pouvons vous aider dans votre action cela sera avec plaisir.
    Connectez vous sur notre site -Prepasub.com
    Bernard Vicens (Directeur) prepasub.971@orange.fr

  3. Dear Sir/Madam

    Australia has a proud record of activities promoting the protection of the underwater cultural heritage.

    I seek your support for the Australasian Institute for Maritime Archaeology’s campaign to progress Australian ratification of the UNESCO Convention for the protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage.

    The themes for the Institute’s annual conference scheduled for October 2013 are to be focussed on encouraging the Australian Government to ratify the Convention. To this end the conference organisers will be displaying in promotional material the logos of organisations sympathetic to the aims of the Convention.

    We have a copy of your logo, but we seek your approval for us to use it as an indication of your support for our ratification objective.

    Details of the Convention, already ratified by over 40 States, can be found at http://www.unesco.org/new/en/culture/themes/underwater-cultural-heritage/.

    I look forward to hearing from you by the end of January.

    Yours sincerely

    Graeme Henderson AM, CitWA
    AIMA Conference Organising Committee

  4. I am a recent MA grad of UCF looking for involvement in underwater archaeology and would love to participate in this Peru underwater project. Please contact me at haxiumen@gmail.com and let me know how I can get involved, or at least allow me to send you my cv to have on file. I have done archaeological work in Peru, about an hour outside of Lima at the site of Buena Vista.

  5. Thanks for sharing such a nice opinion, post is fastidious,
    thats why i have read it entirely

  6. Zaɦle was burned in 1777 and 1791, and it was burned and plundered іn 1860.

    “The list of people below are all members of the 27 club, having been musicians that died at the age of twenty seven. She drums for Lisa Beck’s West African dance class.

  7. Hello! Have you noticed the unusual mountain lake just south of Vilcabamba, Peru? If you use Google Earth to examine it closely you will notice what looks like structures in the water. I am wondering if it could be the lost city of Vilcabamba. What do you think?

  8. This is a topic thjat is near to my heart… Thank you!
    Where are your clntact details though?

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