Open Source Computing and GIS in the UK

Travels in a digital world

Archaeologists, Not Treasure Hunters

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Via the seasite mailing list, this article about the difference between underwater archaeology, salvage, and treasure-hunting really got me thinking.

I started off as a diver, then a marine archaeologist, and often came into contact with the strange point of view that if you find something underwater, like something from a wreck, it’s OK to prise it off and take it home to display proudly on your wall, yet you’d hardly go and break the wing-mirror off someone’s car. A friend became an archaeologist for Odyssey, the controversial marine salvage firm, and was ostracised amongst the academic community for his decision, yet he just wanted to put food on his children’s table, and felt that it was better for Odyssey to have some archaeologists trying to do things right than none at all.

Clearly, the difference between archaeology and treasure hunting or salvage is not clear, and is often quite emotive. This latest article, though, makes me feel even more uneasy about this strange blurring of lines. From what I can tell, treasure-hunters felt it was their right to steal things, even when visited by the police and the coast guard.

I don’t think this happens all that often on land, though we have occasionally had to hire 24 hour security for our sites to stop metal-detectorists coming in and digging things up. And sometimes to stop feral children getting in and setting fire to things. But that’s a different story…

The only conclusion I can come to is that people think it’s OK to do this sort of thing underwater, or at sea, because they don’t think they will be seen or caught. So, people behave themselves only because they think they will be censured by their peers, not because of any inherent sense of right or wrong. How depressing…