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The Heritage Conservation Act

It is important to be familiar with the laws that protect our cultural heritage from being destroyed or disappearing. This is especially true during diving, shipping, fishing and development of structures in or near water.

Looting, vandalism or souvenir picking are cultural heritage crimes. Cultural heritage crimes are usually due to a lack of knowledge of what is hidden in or by the water.

The Heritage Conservation Act

Sweden’s Heritage Conservation Act is the most important law on cultural heritage management. Its origins date back to the 17th century, making it the world’s oldest law governing the protection of ancient monuments and the relics that belong to them. The act also applies to ancient remains in or adjacent to water.

The law states:

  • It is important that we protect and manage our country’s cultural heritage, and we all share the responsibility for doing so.
  • The county administrative boards are charged with cultural heritage management at the county level, and the Swedish National Heritage Board at the national level.
  • Ancient remains are the remnants of people’s activities in ancient times
  • Shipwrecks are considered permanent ancient remains if the ship sank before 1850. But even ships that sank after that year can be considered permanent ancient remains if they are of particular interest.
  • It is forbidden to dislodge, remove, excavate, cover, or in any other way alter or damage permanent relics.
  • The Heritage Conservation Act protects not just known ancient remains, but those that have not yet been found.
The Heritage Conservation Act

Diving on wrecks

Recreational diving on wrecks is generally allowed. You can look, but you can’t touch. A diving ban can be used to prohibit diving near wrecks that have a unique cultural heritage value in order to reduce wear and tear. Diving companies offer diving experiences to recreational divers at designated wrecks.

Building in or adjacent to water

The County Administrative Board must be contacted at an early stage when planning any expansion, dredging, bridge construction, laying of cables or similar activities. In these cases, archaeological investigations might need to be conducted or special measures taken to protect any ancient remains.

National Heritage Board

County Administrative Board

Page last updated: 2021-07-09