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Archaeology Publication

Underwater Archaeology in India

InArchCenter ID:- IACBN008

Underwater Archaeology Wing (UAW)

India has 7,516 km long coastline, 1197 islands and 155,889 sq. km of territorial waters and 2,013,410 sq. km exclusive economic zone. The vast water area of the country is rich in underwater cultural heritage. The importance of underwater archaeology was realized as early as in the VI five-year plan.

Beginning of underwater archaeology in India can be traced back to 1981. Offshore explorations in the country have generated a lot of popularity to this discipline. Establishment of the Underwater Archaeology Wing (UAW) in the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) in 2001 marked a major step towards the development of the subject.

Since its inception, the UAW is actively engaged in conducting underwater archaeological studies in the Arabian Sea and Bay of Bengal. The UAW is engaged in –

  • Documentation of underwater sites and ancient shipwrecks.

  • Training of professional archaeologists, young researchers and students.

  • Conduct of seminars to discuss various aspects and to bring awareness.

  • Protection of underwater cultural heritage.

  • UAW collaborates with other government organizations for the study and protection of underwater cultural heritage. Collaboration with India Navy (IN) has been a success. Protection of underwater cultural heritage and regulation of underwater activities aimed towards the cultural heritage is one of the main concerns of the UAW. Adoption of “Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage” by UNESCO in 2001 displays the global concern about the protection and management of underwater cultural heritage. UAW has initiated steps for the protection and preservation of the underwater cultural heritage.


Importance of underwater archaeology was realized as early as VI five year plan. History of underwater archaeology in Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has passed through three phases. 1987 – 1990 | 1991 – 2000 | Since 2001|2001 | 2002 | 2003 | 2004 | 2005 1987 to 1990

Provided Funds for ConferenceFunded Training ProgrammeTraining of Technical Staff

From 1987 contributed towards the development of the subject by providing financial assistance to an ongoing project, holding seminars, etc. In 1987 it was decided to start underwater archaeology in the ASI and in 19988 first archaeologist was sent for training in this multidisciplinary branch of archaeology. ASI has maintained high standards in the fields of the protection and preservation of the cultural heritage of the nation. Since the subject was still in infancy and it was necessary to expose its archaeologists to the recent developments in the world. ASI sent its trained underwater archaeologist to participate with experts of various countries. 1991 – 2000

Funded Training Programme till 1993Organised Training Programmes

with GSI (1995)with Andhra University (1997)Underwater exploration (1991)Advance training for staff participation in underwater excavations abroad

In 1991 it undertook a first independent investigation in Indian waters to a depth of 40 m. Till its excavation in 2002 it remained the deepest underwater archaeological site in the country investigated by the archaeologists. Since 2001

Establishment of Underwater Archaeology Wing (UAW) on 8th February 2001 marked a major step in the field of underwater archaeology. It started functioning from 26th February 2001 at the office of Director-General, ASI at Janpath, New Delhi. Since its inception, the UAW is engaged in the exploration of underwater archaeological sites and shipwrecks and to preserve sunken cultural heritage in Indian waters. Some of the achievements are listed below. 2001

  • Establishment of Underwater Archaeology Wing

  • A training programme organized in the Institute of Archaeology, New Delhi was attended by the archaeologists of the ASI, State departments of Archaeology and University.

  • Conducted the first exploration in the Bay of Bengal off Mahabalipuram, Tamil Nadu.


  • Conducted exploration off Mahabalipuram, Tamil Nadu

  • conducted exploration off Arikamedu, UT of Pondicherry

  • Conducted underwater exploration off Bangaram Island in May followed by first systematic underwater excavation of ancient shipwreck “Princess Royal” in collaboration with IN


  • International Seminar on Marine Archaeology (ISMA-2003) at New Delhi with IN

  • Published interim report on Excavation of Princess Royal

  • Conducted exploration at Elephanta Island, Maharashtra

  • Participated in International Seminar on Boat and Ship Archaeology-10 at Roskilde, Denmark

  • Participated in UNESCO Asia-Pacific workshop on Convention on Protection of Underwater Cultural Heritage at Hong Kong, SAR China

  • 2004

  • Conducted offshore explorations at

  • Mahabalipuram, Tamil Nadu

  • Kaveripatmnam, Tamil Nadu

  • Arikamedu, UT of Pondicherry

  • Conducted exploration at Elephanta Island, Maharashtra

  • Published Proceedings of International Seminar on Marine Archaeology 2003


  • Conducted excavation at Mahabalipuram, Tamil Nadu

  • Organized International Seminar on Marine Archaeology (ISMA-2005)

  • Participated in Magan Boat Reconstruction Project with the Ministry of Heritage and Culture, Sultanate of man

  • Conducted exploration at Elephanta Island, Maharashtra



Underwater Archaeological Exploration Off Mahabalipuram in the Bay of Bengal The UAW carried out its first offshore exploration in the Bay of Bengal, off Mahabalipuram in November 2001. The coast areas between Saluvankuppam in the north to Sadrungpattnam in the south was explored. The underwater exploration was carried out in the area east of famous Shore temple and submerged rocks about 500 m. off Mahabalipuram were also examined.

Offshore and Onshore Exploration in Elephanta Island Offshore and onshore exploration was conducted in Elephanta Island during the monsoon to study the coastal changes and the deposition on the coast. The coastal area was explored and important features and ancient remains were documented and their position was fixed with the help of a Global Positioning System. The area around Mora-Bandar has strewn with remains of brick made houses, stonewalls and other remains and a large number of potsherds. Divers of the ASI carried out offshore exploration in near-shore the area to a distance of about 100 m from the high-water line. A number of amphorae sherds found here indicate towards the maritime trade from this ancient port. Underwater Exploration in the Bay of Bengal In continuation of previous work, the UAW in collaboration with Indian Navy carried out underwater exploration to search ancient sites and shipwrecks in the Bay of Bengal. INS Darshak, a survey ship was used for conducting underwater archaeological explorations on Tamilnadu and Pondicherry coast off Kaveripattinam, Pondicherry, Arikamedu and Mahabalipuram. Exploration Off Kaveripattnam The survey boats carried out an acoustic survey to locate the ancient shipwreck, which was earlier noticed by the Survey ship of Indian Navy along with a series of anomalies. The area was explored to locate this historic shipwreck and access its archaeological importance. Diving was carried out to a depth of 20 m. Exploration Off Pondicherry A number of naval battles took place off Pondicherry resulting in the sinking of a number of ships. Preliminary information collected by UAW through local sources during its previous fieldworks suggested a few shipwrecks in the area. Diving was carried out to a depth of 22 m at two probable shipwreck sites. Survey boats also carried out a side-scan sonar survey in the area to study bottom features. Exploration Off Arikamedu Divers also explored in the Ariyankuppam river on the bank of which is situated famous archaeological site Arikamedu. The riverbed was very shallow and covered with fine clay and thick mud. Hard patches on the riverbed are covered with barnacles. Due to shallow depth diving in certain areas can only be carried out during the high tide. Rising water, however, provide sufficient depth for diving but working on a muddy bed is very difficult as the visibility is badly effected as the turbid water does not move out due to rising tide. Exploration Off Mahabalipuram Previous underwater explorations have established that there are submerged structures near Shore temple. Divers carried out extensive diving near submerged features to the east and north of shore temple in 6 to 10 m depth. Side-scan sonar survey conducted at a depth of 10 m shows a series of anomalies. Straight joins, angular cuts on some of the submerged rocks and stone blocks indicates some kind of human activity. A huge trough-like feature at about 3–4 m depth is worth mentioning. Surfaces of all the submerged rocks and stone blocks are covered with barnacles. Due to poor visibility, it was difficult to observe the surface of these features clearly. The site would be thoroughly investigated incoming field season. Underwater archaeological investigations here would be very useful for the study of shoreline change in the area. Wing.


Excavation of Princess Royal UAW in collaboration with the Indian Navy carried out an excavation of a shipwreck, Princess Royal, in Lakshadweep waters. The ship lying from 9 to 54 m depth on the outer slope of the coral reef was excavated systematically. The antiquities retrieved include iron cannon, glazed pottery, blue on white porcelain, nails, and objects of copper, etc. it is the deepest archaeological excavation, conducted so far in the country.


UAW organized a training course on underwater Archaeology in July – August 2001. Eight Assistant Archaeologists from different Circles of the Archaeological Survey of India, three archaeologists from Department of Archaeology, Government of Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and Maharastra, and one research scholar from Andhra University, Visakhapatnam participated in this training programme. The course included lectures on different aspects of Underwater Archaeology, traditional boat building, diving, navigation, maritime law, archival researches, chemical preservation etc., practical demonstrations and film shows on important Underwater Archaeological investigations around the world.

International Seminar on Marine Archaeology

Underwater Archaeology Wing of the Archaeological Survey of India collaborated with Indian Navy in organizing an International Seminar on marine archaeology on the theme “A Marine Archaeological Perspective of the Indian Ocean: A Gateway to the Continents”. The seminar was attended by the delegates from France, Netherlands, Portugal, United Kingdom, United States of America, and India.

Underwater archaeologist of UAW participated in Asia-Pacific regional workshop on the 2001 Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural heritage which was held at Hongkong. The workshop aimed for Implementation of the Convention in the Asia-Pacific Region workshop and was attended by delegates from 25 countries.


Results of the fieldworks and studies carried out by the UAW are made available to researchers and the public through presentations in academic seminars and timely publications.

Smt. Neena Ranjan, Secretary Culture releasing a publication of UAW Abstract of papers

Proceedings ISMA-1

(Interim Report on Excavation)Wing.

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