Saturday, June 23, 2007

Saving History for the Public by James Delgado
Another disturbing feature on Archaeology Magazine's website about underwater archaeology.

Glorifying treasure hunters and denigrating archaeologists is a poor apology for the destruction of our underwater heritage.
In a June 8 New York Times Op-Ed piece, Robert Kurson, author of the popular book Shadow Divers, attacks archaeologists as pirates, calling us a "new breed of raiders." By contrast, he praises treasure hunters: "Without them...many of these wrecks would stay lost forever. Without the lure of a big and romantic payoff, no one
would even look." Moreover, Kurson paints archaeologists as ivory-tower academics and the treasure hunters as larger-than-life men-of-action: "it's a good bet that a grizzled, lifelong salvage diver has better real-life, tight-squeeze shipwreck experience than an archaeologist who writes up guidelines for this work from his office near the student union." This is a response from a grizzled lifelong archaeologist who has plenty of real-life, tight-squeeze experiences, as do many of my colleagues.
The recent controversy over the discovery of the "Black Swan" treasure off the coast of England by the company Odyssey Marine has ignited more than just a debate between scholars and treasure hunters. The key question of who owns the treasure has involved diplomats and lawyers, led to legal action, and a stand off at Gibraltar that has stoked longstanding tensions between Spain and Great Britain. Lost in the rhetoric of these battles is the question of the relevance of the archaeologists' arguments. Whether Odyssey Marine is doing careful work that meets archaeological standards remains unknown.