The Ethics of Treasure Hunting

Shipwrecks are invaluable in reconstructing life-styles no longer existing and represent a buried treasure in terms of knowledge about life on board, boat construction and trade routes. A shipwreck is a time capsule waiting to be unlocked since time stops when a vessel founders.

At present, there is no international legal instrument which adequately protects the underwater cultural heritage, which is increasingly threatened by pillage and natural damage. This has led to the irretrievable loss of a vast part of our collective cultural heritage.

What does the underwater cultural heritage consist of?

Historic shipwrecks, sunken cities and structures such as the Alexandria Lighthouse, underwater cave paintings, Neolithic lake settlements…

Diving into the past, the underwater cultural heritage is a significant component of human history. Like land-based cultural heritage, it is an integral part of the common heritage of humanity, and it deserves similar attention and management.

Why the urgency?

In some parts of the world, virtually no underwater site has been left unpillaged. For example, the Turkish authorities have found that no Classical Age wreck off the country’s coast has been left untouched.

Modern diving techniques have made the seabed accessible to all. This has led to extensive looting by treasure hunters who often disregard ownership rights and scientific/archaeological methods of excavation. They thereby damage the remainder of the site and deprive the general public of these treasures. Likewise tourists diving, the fishing industry, pipe-laying and other activities on the sea-bed can harm or destroy the underwater cultural heritage. This increase in theft and destruction results in the irretrievable loss of our common heritage. It is therefore a matter not only of necessity but of urgency to adopt an international instrument in order to preserve the underwater cultural heritage.

Much of the world’s underwater heritage escapes any national control as it is located on the outer reaches of the continental shelf or deep seabed. As early as 1956, UNESCO’s Recommendation on International Principles Applicable to Archaeological Excavation applied to underwater sites within national jurisdiction. There is a need for an international legal instrument to protect this heritage, wherever it may be.

UNESCO is currently preparing an international convention aimed at protecting this treasure of humanity and preserving it for future generations. The experts drafting this instrument will take into account the principles set forth in the ICOMOS Charter for the Protection and Management of the Underwater Cultural Heritage and various international conventions of major significance, such as the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and UNESCO’s 1970 Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property.

The States Parties will collaborate at the international level and take all reasonable measures to put into effect the sound management principles developed by the experts for the purpose of preserving the underwater cultural heritage in the interests of humanity.

COUNTER POINT

by mermaid michele

Thank You Paulo, for once again illustrating OUR points so well with your own “scriptures”! This ‘diatribe’ is embarrassingly UN-scientific, UN-true, and LOADED with UN-substantiated BALDERDASH –which is further construed into FALSE alternatives. I will counter and refute each “statement” here…and illustrate item for item their falsehood. “Shipwrecks are invaluable in reconstructing life-styles no longer existing and represent a buried treasure in terms of knowledge about life on board, boat construction and trade routes. A shipwreck is a time capsule waiting to be unlocked since time stops when a vessel founders.” FALSE!This statement has already been refuted and retracted by both the Mainstream Archeological community and the Marine Biology and Ocean Science communities. Here’s WHY. An overwhelming majority of discovered shipwrecks exist in an extremely dynamic and volatile environment known as the high energy zone. The REASON it is called a high energy zone is because more kinetic power exists in the 0-300 fsw coastal ocean boundary than anywhere else on the planet. This energy is expressed profoundly and dramatically through the ever changing seabed profile and continental coastlines. This does not include by the way, other climatic and tectonic shifts which dramatically affect the seabed, and therefore ANYTHING submerged or lying on them. How then, can one call ANY underwater deposit a “time capsule” – implying these “precious artifacts” exist in a static and untouched VACUMN repository- when in fact, these items are being subjected to what amounts to a global tumble cycle on God’s washing machine-loaded with sand in one of Natures most corrosive elements – SALT WATER? At present, there is no international legal instrument which adequately protects the underwater cultural heritage, which is increasingly threatened by pillage and natural damage. Wrong Again! There is and has been a very successful instrument called the Law of Salvage and Finds and as a portion of one of the most enduring [four hundred plus years] INTERNATIONAL forms of recognized operational legal instruments, it has endured for centuries. It is called Admiralty law. This has led to the irretrievable loss of a vast part of our collective cultural heritage. ??? What a disingenuous statement! OK. First of all, how can you lose something you haven’t found? Secondly, WHOSE ‘irretrievable loss? Yours? The Publics? The Governments? If yours, I revert to my initial statement. If it’s the publics, I say they gain not suffer by private recovery and PUBLIC display. If it’s the Government’s there’s plenty of satisfied Governments who now have “priceless collections” because of successful partnerships with Commercial salvors. So WHO’S losing? My answer: NO ONE! What does the underwater cultural heritage consist of? Historic shipwrecks, sunken cities and structures such as the Alexandria Lighthouse, underwater cave paintings, Neolithic lake settlements… [ and 75 year old cargo ships, airplanes, and yes even “old dumping sites”…] Diving into the past, the underwater cultural heritage is a significant component of human history. Like land-based cultural heritage, it is an integral part of the common heritage of humanity, and it deserves similar attention and management. No one disagrees with this statement – therefore it is posed as a false issue. Why the urgency? Interesting! This diatribe BEGINS by asserting that the UCH’s in discussion are “like sealed time capsules” – best left untouched and undisturbed, but now there is urgency to “protect them”. In some parts of the world, virtually no underwater site has been left unpillaged. For example, the Turkish authorities have found that no Classical Age wreck off the country’s coast has been left untouched. This is a WHOPPER of a FLASE ALTERNATIVE! How embarrassingly Unscientific a statement! Let’s start with “Turkish authorities” [now THERE’s an image that conjures up heaps of authoritative confidence!] Who are these “authorities”? Are these “authorities” in Archeology? Are they scientists of any sort? Are they in fact, even remotely linked to ANY cultural data base or experience in these realms? Or are we using POLICE or POLITICIANS as “experts” in this statement? QUALIFY your data! Furthermore, the incredible leap here is simply embarrassing! Are you actually asserting that these so called “authorities” are claiming that they have SEEN and ASSESSED each and every “classical wreck” in their waters? When did this incredible feat occur? That would be news in itself! How could they possibly KNOW whether these wrecks were “pillaged” or rather disturbed and destroyed by natural ocean dynamics? If they can figure this out, it would also be BIG news. Modern diving techniques have made the seabed accessible to all. Are you kidding? Less than one percent of the world’s population even dives. And more importantly, less than five percent of the ocean’s “seabed” is accessible to ANYONE, much less has been explored. I am one of many who yearn to change this, but this is again a wholly unscientific polemic, intended only to create a alarmist reaction in those who don’t know any better. Shame on those who pretend this is a logical scientific claim. This has led to extensive looting by treasure hunters who often disregard ownership rights and scientific/archaeological methods of excavation. Uh-Huh. Right. A perfect example of Demonizing an extremely tiny minority margin -and completely ignoring the OVERWHELMING evidence to the contrary. The facts and documented data speaks for itself and this is a bald faced lie. A commercial salvage company can not survive today NOR maintain a profit without performing exemplary scientific and archeological management of recoveries. The truth is, most ‘archeologically correct” UCH’s involve commercial marine intervention operations because they are simply the best at doing this. You academic socialist nutballs are simply suffering from an extreme underwater version of penis envy! They thereby damage the remainder of the site and deprive the general public of these treasures. Likewise tourists diving, the fishing industry, pipe-laying and other activities on the sea-bed can harm or destroy the underwater cultural heritage. This increase in theft and destruction results in the irretrievable loss of our common heritage. It is therefore a matter not only of necessity but of urgency to adopt an international instrument in order to preserve the underwater cultural heritage. Oh Ho! So here you let the socialist cat out of the bag! No pretense whatsoever of politics posing as science! Much of the world’s underwater heritage escapes any national control as it is located on the outer reaches of the continental shelf or deep seabed. As early as 1956, UNESCO’s Recommendation on International Principles Applicable to Archaeological Excavation applied to underwater sites within national jurisdiction. There is a need for an international legal instrument to protect this heritage, wherever it may be. Hmmm! And HOW pray tell will it protect something it can not reach? How can it protect something it can not prove is there? I particularly like the verbiage used here- such as CONTROL. [Fact is, you don’t need to CONTROL something in order to PROTECT it!] UNESCO is currently preparing an international convention aimed at protecting this treasure of humanity and preserving it for future generations. The experts drafting this instrument will take into account the principles set forth in the ICOMOS Charter for the Protection and Management of the Underwater Cultural Heritage and various international conventions of major significance, such as the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and UNESCO’s 1970 Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property. Again, you emphasize exactly WHY The Untied States of America, and other FREE ENTERPRISE, FREE MARKET DEMOCRACIES will not subscribe to UNESCO’s “politics posing as policies”. The States Parties will collaborate at the international level and take all reasonable measures to put into effect the sound management principles developed by the experts for the purpose of preserving the underwater cultural heritage in the interests of humanity. “The States parties”…. Hmmmm, Anyone read Orwell’s Animal Farm lately? Apparently UNESCO subscribes to the notion that “Some Animals are more equal than others”…. And no animals can make a profit from anything pertaining to the past. So, what’s left?

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