Category:Treasure Hunting

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"You can say Expert Treasure-hunter instead of Burglar if you like. Some of them do. It's all the same to us."

Glóin the Dwarf to Bilbo Baggins,

The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkein

Favored Quote of Don Keith

This website is intended for people fighting treasure hunters all over the world. The information is the product of Dr. Filipe Castro's efforts to fight treasure hunters. Filipe is a Nautical Archaeologist and professor at Texas A&M University.

Why Treasure Hunting Is Morally And Financially Bankrupt

1. Treasure hunting has nothing to do with archaeology

Archaeologists and treasure hunters cannot work together. Just as astronomers and astrologists cannot work together, or evolutionary biologists and creationists cannot work together.

We do different things, we have different objectives, we use different methods, and most importantly, we work under different ethical standards.

A more detailed rationale... Treasure Hunting Frequently Asked Questions

2. More often than not, the "treasure" is in the investor's pockets

A famous story of a treasure hunter is that of a South African citizen who bathed in champaign and washed his socks with beer while "raising money" in Europe to salvage the "treasure" of the Grosvenor. And although the information is not easily available, there are frequent accounts of investors who lost their money in treasure hunting ventures.

There are many types of treasure hunters; to try to divide them into categories would be a difficult and futile enterprise. However, there seems to be a wide consensus that among the treasure hunting community there is only a small, silent minority, largely unnoticed by the general public, whose work is to find and rescue precious cargoes. The larger, noisier majority of treasure hunters advertises its treasures in the press long before they have been found. They specialize in the hunt for the savings of potential investors. It is reminiscint of P. T. Barnum and his favorite saying: "a sucker is born every minute".

In fact, most treasure hunters live of the money of their investors, sometimes lavishly, sometimes miserably. Treasure hunting very rarely returns a profit to the investors.

As Peter Throckmorton said, treasure hunting is "The world's worse investment".

3. Treasure hunters destroy the world's cultural heritage forever

If the objective of an underwater excavation is profit, it is impossible to do good archaeology. This is simply a matter of logics: since investors want a good return on their investments, a for-profit company that would loose time or incur extra costs to excavate carefully a particular site, or to preserve an artifact without market value, would not last long in the market. Common sense dictates that such company would be naturally replaced by a company that would be more efficient at extracting and selling the treasure.

That is why treasure hunters must lie about what they do.

That threasure hunters lie is not always obvious. Treasure hunters are often soft spoken persons, aristocrats with political connections and rich friends, and it is difficult to imagine what they actually do. But let us not fool ourselves.

As J. Richard Steffy, renowned nautical archaeologist and MacArthur genius, has put it, ships carried merchandises and ideas. If carefully studied, ship hull remains can yield precious clues about shipbuilding techniques of societies that no longer exist. This is studied in several places throughout the world, including at the ShipLab at Texas A&M University.

Shipwrecks are precious archaeological resources. They are a fragile, non-renewable resource under the constant threat of treasure hunters.

Ships were among the most complex machines built by men through time, and their archaeological remains constitute an important part of the world's cultural heritage. Shipwrecks should belong to all of us and deserve to be protected from destruction by short-term profiteers such as treasure hunters.

However, too many ships have been destroyed by salvage companies looking for valuable artifacts, fuelled by an avid antiquities market that does not ask questions about the provenience of artifacts.

Fake Expectations Lousy Results.JPG

Auction catalogs are often the only information remaining after a ship has been torn apart by treasure hunters in search for artifacts with market value.

Keep in mind: most shipwrecks destroyed by treasure hunters never yield enough artifacts to justify even a catalog. After being destroyed they are simply forgotten.

Ethicstheman.jpg George F. Bass' article The Man who Stole the Stars

4. Hiring archaeologists is just a marketing strategy

Shame and political pressure are changing the way treasure hunters operate. Traditionally assuming their activity as purely profit seeking, treasure hunting companies are now trying to separate themselves from their land counterparts - pot hunters and grave robbers - and advertise themselves under euphemistic designations such as "commercial archaeologists".

Without changing the way they operate, they are changing their image, stating their mission differently, hiring public relations specialists and archaeologists that do not mind lending their names to such ventures.

Working for treasure hunters is against most professional ethical codes.

But that is not all. Archaeologists working for treasure hunters cannot publicly assume their participation in the destructions they witness and must involve themselves in webs of lies, half-truths, and intentionally complicated situations, in which nobody ever understands who is in charge or when, in order to dilute their responsibility and move on, doing waht they do: renting their names to make possible the destruction of the Humanity's underwater cultural heritage.

Case Study

Arqueonáutica, Centro de Estudos was created as a non-profit organization around the National Museum of Archaeology in Lisbon, by Francisco Alves, Octávio Lixa Filgueiras, and other scholars to promote and protect the Portuguese underwater cultural heritage. For the projects developed in the early 1990s it stands as a very good example of cooperation between scholars and avocationals. During the period 1993-95, when the Portuguese government issued legislation allowing for the sale of artifacts of archaeological excavations, Arqueonáutica played a central role in aggregating all the voices that opposed treasure hunting in Portugal. The legislation was frozen in 1995 and repealed in 1997. Arqueonáutica must not be confounded with Arqueonautas SA., the treasure hunting company created during the same period.

Treasure Hunting - The Portuguese Case Study 1993-1995


Acuaonline.jpg Advisory Council for Underwater Archaeology

ICPUCH.jpg International Convention for the Preservation of the Underwater Cultural Heritage

Ethics rev engl.jpg ICOM Code of Ethics for Museums


Treasure Hunting: Selected Texts

Colapinto, John, "Secrets of the Deep," The New Yorker, April 7, 2008.

Throckmorton, Peter. "The World's Worst Investment: The Economics of Treasure Hunting with Real Life Comparisons," in Toni Carrell, ed., Underwater Archaeology Proceedings of the Society for Historical Archaeology Annual Meeting, 1990.

Kiesling, Stephen, Walking the Plank: A True Adventure Among Pirates. Ashland, Or.: Nordic Knight Press, 1994.

Watson, Peter, Sotheby's : the inside story. New York: Random House, 1997.

Watson, Peter, and Cecilia Todeschini, The Medici conspiracy : the illicit journey of looted antiquities, from Italy's tomb raiders to the world's greatest museums. New York: Public Affairs, 2006.

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).

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