Opinions expressed here are personal, not representing any official opinion of this web site.

Archaeologists, Divers & Salvors

by Jayson R Jones

I believe that most salvors, archaeologists and avocational sport divers do agree on the basic premise of advancing our understanding of the past and adding to the store of knowledge. That is a good starting point. From there, we can build a cooperative framework that will put us on firm footing to build a concensus on the best way to gather this knowledge, protect it, and present it to the public.

The following are some of my personal views and opinions. They are not meant to be anything other than that. Hopefully, they will elicit general debate on the ideas expressed, not malicious diatribe.

This may shock some, but I do believe that a U.N. Convention is the only way to approach a workable solution to a worldwide problem. That means that Nationalism and Localism must give way to International Convention. This is not an attack on any sovereignty, nor in any way affects ownership (that must be addressed in courts and is not a subject covered here). It is simply a statement that all U/W archaeology (and that means academic, salvor, or amature) must conform to these standards. It should be recognized that we can not stop the black market in artifacts, and that ever more restrictive regulation only serves to up the ante. It is ultimately up to the people involved to be responsible in their actions, and that is why the Convention must be clear, consise and realistic.

It should be clear to all that the financial profit motive is not the prime motivator in any archaeology. There are far more profitable, easier, and less risky ways to make money. The prime motivator is a love of archaeology, which is the study of the past through the artifacts left behind. Whether you persue this through pure academic study and publicly funded projects or through raising money from investors and doing only the reasearch necessary for that particular project, you have to love doing it or you would not do it. Some sport divers may well exemplify the purest of motivations in that they spend their own time and money to learn, and explore, a very small area; often one site can consume a lifetime.

It should be a basic tennant that an academically trained archaeologist be involved in any recovery of artifacts. It is not happening now because any academicaly trained archaeologist is blacklisted for association with salvors or sport divers doing recovery work. This insures that much knowledge is going to be lost, and this policy keeps the flames burning bright in the war over our past. On nonprofit avocational sport diver projects, a volunteer academic can be invaluable in directing operations, as well as in assessing the value (archaeological, not monetary) of the site. On for profit operations, an academic can insure that data is not lost in the push for profitability.

Academic Archaeology must understand that there is a balance between the ideal archaeological standards and operating at a profit. The sale of artifacts with certified provenience can help to offset the costs of archaeology. Some sites can be more readily left in situ, and a small charge for visitation would pay for the research done on the site.

Other sites are best recovered, the important peices being sold to museums, and the lesser pieces being sold to collectors with the provision that they be available for research by academics. No more expensive publically funded storage of the bulk of items where they will never be seen by anyone other than the odd researcher. Let the public see them in private museums or own them for their collections, as long as they are available for researchers who want to study them. This is already happening but archaeology is not reaping the monetary rewards and no provisions are made for examination by researchers. Certified authenticity increases the value of artifacts, and availability to researchers is the tradeoff. A win/win proposition.

Every site that is explored must be written up in terms that the average person can understand. That goes for everything from publication of survey results being made available to the local library or historical society, to the comprehensive publication of important sites in multimedia formats. Academics are woefully poor at publicizing their finds to the general public (who is often paying for the site, the research and the publication of academically codified tomes that only a few will ever read). We have the technology to disperse the information we gain, yet we don't do a good job of it, and snipe at the popular books and other media for being less than academic in their handling of it. It is not any lack of interest by the public, but rather a lack of understanding on the part of the academics as to how to communicate their finds to the public in a way that the public can process. Salvors do an excellent job of getting the public attention, and getting the word out in a profitable way.

Many highly qualified sport divers would gladly volunteer on a real archaeological site. With supervision and training by both the academics and the salvors, the costs of any project can be significantly lowered by using this resource. Currently two things stand in the way. First is the mountain of often contradictory, and generally confusing rules, regulations and laws that surround any attempt to do much of anything. Secondly, most legal systems make it far too easy to sue anyone over anything. A combined archaeological community that was profitable and realistic could overcome both of these problems, but it would take cooperation between and among academic, salvor and sport divers to do so. There is that word again, "cooperation".

So here we have a starting point. The Ivory Tower Academic, the Capitalistic Salvor, and the Joyfull Amature are all in this because they love it. If they cooperate, they can all be happier than they are now. Each bring a strong point to the table. Each has something to offer the others. No one can be really effective without the other, yet combined, they can be far more functional than they are now. Let's have some real discussion as to how we can achieve this cooperation.

Jayson R Jones

Oregon, USA, May 1999

Mr Jones is a former commercial diver, presently a student in archaeology

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