The Maritime and Underwater Cultural Heritage Division (MUCHD) is among the research and curatorial divisions created in the 2016 reorganization of the National Museum of the Philippines (NMP). But MUCHD’s roots extend long before this. The Underwater Archaeology Unit (UAU) was created in 1979 within the Archaeology Section of the Anthropology Division. When Archaeology was itself upgraded as its own division in 1988, the unit was also elevated as a section (UAS).

Interest in shipwrecks began even earlier as the first NMP foray in shipwreck activities took place in 1967 in a collaboration with a now-defunct newspaper outfit to recover various objects including two 3-ton anchors bearing a forging date of 1649 from what is suspected to be a Spanish galleon. While this is often cited as the first underwater archaeological activity in the Philippines, it would be more accurate to classify it as salvage work. In those days, the country had no trained underwater archaeologists.

The establishment of the UAU in 1979 came as a result of NMP personnel being trained in underwater archaeology in a course organized by the Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organization Special Project in Archaeology and Fine Arts (SEAMEO-SPAFA). In these early years, the units were staffed with those with prior diving experience rather than archaeologists with no dive training. While UAU and UAS took part in various international underwater archaeology training courses over the years thanks to international support, they often numbered no more than five or six staff at any one time. They were further hampered by a perennially limited budget often not enough to fund underwater research which costs significantly more than land-based projects.