Treasure hunting (marine)

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Treasure hunting is an expression which nowadays applies mainly to maritime salvage. Treasure hunters try to find sunken shipwrecks and retrieve artifacts with market value. This industry is generally fueled by the market of antiquities.

Professional organisations generally invest considerable effort to ensure that their treasure hunting is legal and hence is not looting. By definition, looters work illegally. Other treasure hunters may infringe national or international law concerned with property ownership, marine salvage, sovereign or state vessels, commercial diving regulations, protection of cultural heritage and control of trade in antiquities.

Treasure hunters tend to fall in one of three main groups:

  1. small companies or individuals, working part-time, in shallow waters
  2. professional groups, sponsored by wealthy collectors, generally operating without any publicity
  3. well-advertised companies, seeking money from investors and generally not excessively worried with profitability.

Since the late 1990s, reacting against increasingly energetic efforts by the international community to stop the destruction of the world submerged cultural heritage, treasure hunting companies started hiring archaeologists and marketing directors, making public statements about their good intentions. Treasure hunting activity, however, is primarily motivated by potential for profit rather than for archaeological purposes.[citation needed] Even where good quality archaeological research is carried out by archaeologists working with treasure hunters, concerns remain that treasure hunting, by definition, ignores the principle that in-situ preservation of cultural heritage should always be considered first, and that the sale of recovered artifacts breaks up the assemblage of cultural heritage material, resulting in a loss of opportunity to study the whole picture. The counter argument is that professional salvors have the resources to fund archaeological research of sites that would otherwise be unrecorded, and be subject to destruction by looting or natural forces.

Treasure hunting can also refer to Geocaching which has also become a very popular sport in which participants utilize GPS units to find hidden (but not buried) caches of toys and trinkets.

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Bass, George F. “After the Diving is Over,” Underwater Archaeology Proceedings, Toni Carrell, ed., Society for Historical Archaeology, 1990, 10-13.
  • Bass, George F. “The Men Who Stole the Stars,” INA Newsletter, Vol. 15, No. 2, 11.
  • Castro, Filipe. "Treasure Hunting", [1]
  • Draper, Robert. “Indian Takers,” Texas Monthly, March, 1993, 104-107, 121-124.
  • Elia, Ricardo. “Nautical Shenanigans [review of book Walking the Plank],” Archaeology, Vol. 48, No. 1, January–February, 1995, 79-84.
  • Haldane, Cheryl. “The Abandoned Shipwreck Act,” INA Newsletter, Vol. 15, No. 2, 9.
  • Renfrew, Colin, Loot, Legitimacy and Ownership. London: Duckworth, 2000.
  • Throckmorton, Peter. “The World’s Worst Investment: The Economics of Treasure Hunting with Real Life Comparisons,” Underwater Archaeology Proceedings, Toni Carrell, ed., Society for Historical Archaeology, 1990, 6-10.
  • United States Senate. Public Law 100-298 [S. 858], Abandoned Shipwreck Act of 1987, April 28, 1988 (Courtesy of Calvin R. Cummings).