Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Antiquities Market update

Scrutiny of the bounty
Though the ship was privately owned by Britons, it carried a load of treasure fresh from Spain's American mines. The doubloons' original courier, a Spanish treasure ship, had arrived at the Azores islands aflame. Spanish authorities put out the fires and hired the 700-ton Royal to complete the trip, not unusual when the lines of public and private, nationality and allegiance, crossed in far different ways than today.

. . .

Now, the Merchant Royal might return from the sea, complete with its silver, gold, jewels and 36 bronze cannon.

And with recovery will come questions. Who owns treasure from a different time, a different world? Spain, the country that mined the gold and silver? England, the country whose ship transported it? The descendants of the slaves who dug it out of mines in the bowels of the Earth? The captain whose ship and personal fortune sunk? Or is it finder's keepers?

Funny headline (FINALLY a good archaeological pun), but interesting read. I believe international law (such as it is) has held that it's finder's keepers when the wreck is in international waters. Doubtful that will change anytime soon because, as the article notes, things can get very complicated very quickly.