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Submerged Cultural Resource Laws and Policies

When I began to study submerged cultural resource legislation and management I became enlightened by the truths that laws and enforcement are only a small part of the solution to save our cultural heritage from people that are only interested with the financial gain from antiquities. Modern Americans unlike many other cultures around the world, “Including native American Indians” do not seem to place great importance on preserving artifacts relating to their history. This may be due to the fact that “Americans” have only occupied north America for a short time and do not feel ancestral ties to the past as many people with ancient culture and history. This lack of respect for artifacts of great scientific and cultural potential but little monetary value is a direct result of our greedy capitalistic society.

There is currently much debate as to the best policies to help the public see the importance of Marine Archeological evidence, end the black market trade in Antiquities, and find some criteria for describing a wreck or artifact as being “historical” or worthy of protection. Much of this debate is derived from the fact that there seems to be little if any collective agreement even from professional Marine Archeologist as to what types of actions or legislation best suits this extensive issue. Not only do the treasure hunters, and art dealers oppose much of the current laws but many recreational divers and common laymen do not see the importance in the precise nature of Archeological research. This ignorance can only be changed trough the proper education of students and the public as a whole.

There have been laws for the protection of archeological resources in the U.S. for over a century. In the Early 1900’s many collectors and certain historians realized the great profit and historical significance in many artifacts that were being found all over the country and especially in the west. The federal government soon realized that something must be done or much of Native American and early colonial history would be lost as mantle pieces in rich homes. The Antiquities Act of 1906, provided for the formation of national monuments and the issuance of permits to insure regulation as dealing with archeological excavations. This act focused on three areas of importance: criminal punishments for the destruction of artifacts; to allow for the formation of historic and scientific national monuments; and to allow for the establishment of permit procedures for the examination and excavation of archeological sites. This act requires the secretaries of three federal departments to regulate this act. This was the first legislation dealing with cultural resources, and while it was not a very effective deterrent, it began the long legal process of saving our past. “The overall enforcement record for the Antiquities Act from 1906 to 1979 is 18 convictions, $4,000 in fines, and two 90-day jail sentences.” (Jones, p25) Since this time many protection laws have developed within broader context of Archeological Resources.

These laws have become increasingly stringent of criminals and have focused on the sites and artifacts as nonrenewable cultural resources. The need for new laws became increasingly more apparent and the Society for American Archeology drafted prototype legislation and fought to get congressional support. The Archeological Resource protection act (ARPA) was signed into law by president Jimmy Carter on October 31, 1979, and has been amended many times by different agencies since then. The ARPA is found in the land use and conservation legislation, and is a very versatile civil law tool. Their is a strong criminal statute, and the “ARPA can also be a catalyst for education and the interaction of interest groups to preserve and protect archeological resources.”(McAllister, p31). These laws have saved much historical evidence but are just the tip of the iceberg for a much larger conservation issue.

These laws did change awareness of the importance of cultural resources, but many of these laws do not effect Archeological resources found underwater or on private lands. The location and previous ownership is very important to obtain ownership and protection for historic sites. Many states have a different zones of management control depending on the bodies of water by which they reside, and over the years there has been increased legislation in federally owned or controlled seabeds and resources therein.

Before legislation was devised for SCRs all wrecks were dealt with through Admiralty law. This allowed salvage companies to sue for ownership of wrecks, so they could excavate and sell any artifacts they might plunder. Some legislation has been designed to help protect underwater resources, and legislation has been enacted to transfer from Admiralty law to state enforced laws. The federal Abandon shipwreck act of 1987 gives states the title to historic shipwrecks within their jurisdiction and can issue permits to regulate salvage. This act also provides for historical wreck definition; a wreck that is fifty or more years old, and the final guidelines suggest many strategies to encourage public use and understanding of SCRs.

Through the Department of the Interior the National Parks Service has come up with many guidelines and suggestions that will help protect SCRs and increase public awareness of these resources. A wealth of good information can be gleamed from the Abandoned Shipwreck Act Guidelines, but this document only suggest these courses of action to states to put into law. Much of the information dealing with the public and education about SCRs is over looked by states and many of these guidelines are never followed.

Their are many very good guidelines in the Abandoned Shipwreck Act some of the Acts findings include; G. Providing public access to Shipwrecks: Access to publicly owned shipwrecks by the public is beneficial for tourism, public enjoyment and appreciation, and preservation, as well as for recreation.

  1. 1 Guarantee recreational exploration of publicly owned shipwreck sites; At a minimum, any person should be able to freely and without permit dive on, inspect, study, explore, measure, record, fish at, or otherwise use and enjoy.
  2. 2 Establish lists of shipwrecks having recreational value; These list should note shipwrecks location depth and historical significance.
  3. 3 Facilitate public access to shipwrecks; Recreational values should be facilitated though the placement of marker buoys and anchor moorings and through the distribution of information at dive shops and marinas. H. Interpreting Shipwreck sites: Interpretation of publicly owned shipwrecks help increase the publics knowledge and understanding of our nations maritime history and application for shipwrecks and their preservation. 1 Present information on the vessel’s history and the shipwreck’s various values and uses; Interpretive efforts should strive to present to the public information about a vessel’s construction, type, characteristics, age, use history, significance in history. 2 Disseminate information on shipwrecks projects through publications, lectures, exhibits, and professional papers; The results of shipwreck projects should be presented in professional reports and journals as well as in non-technical, popular publications. Lectures, videos, slide shows, and exhibits on shipwreck projects, maritime history, underwater archaeology, and opportunities for sport divers should be made available. 3 Build models of vessels: Models of intact shipwrecks should be made and exhibited to provide detailed, small scale orientation and interpretation for divers and non-divers.
  4. 4 Include interpretive material in underwater parks, and preserves: The creation of underwater trails at shipwreck sites. Sites and noteworthy features should be marked with permanent signs. Signs also should be placed on mooring buoys along trails. In addition, a site map and pamphlet should be prepared for individual shipwreck sites.
  5. 5 Encourage public and private interest groups to dissimulate information on shipwreck activities; Public and private museums and visitor centers should be encouraged to provide lectures, slide shows, videos, and exhibits.
  6. 6 Require permittees, licensees, and contractors to disseminate information about recovery activities at historic shipwrecks: A) Make presentations on the results of the recovery activity and archeological findings at professional meetings and in public forums. B) Prepare scientific and non-technical, popular publications; and C) To the extent possible, make artifacts and other materials recovered from the shipwreck available for future study, public interpretation and exhibition.

I Establish volunteer programs: Establishing organized volunteer programs that include sport divers, and other interested parties in shipwreck management activities.

  1. Use volunteers in shipwreck projects; Dive clubs, dive shops, dive boat operators, and individual sport divers frequently are willing to volunteer their diving skills or donate the use of their vessels or equipment.
  2. Maintain lists of volunteers; Associations, and organizations that have indicated an interest in volunteering their services and equipment in shipwreck survey, mapping, and research projects should be assembled and maintained.
  3. Distribute information on shipwreck projects to interested parties; Information on proposed shipwreck projects routinely should be distributed to sport divers, dive clubs and dive shops, and other businesses.
  4. Ensure that volunteers are properly trained and supervised; Divers should be encouraged to complete standardized diver specialty certification courses.
  5. Cooperate with the private sector in designing and teaching archeological methods specialty courses for sport divers; Introductory courses should provide background in archival research, survey methods, site mapping, illustration, photography, diagnostic measurement skills. In addition, they should teach divers nondestructive preservation oriented behavior and describe State and Federal law.
  6. Recognize private sector contributions to shipwreck discovery, research and preservation; Persons who find and report the discovery of previously unknown shipwrecks, who volunteer their skills or who donate their vessels should be recognized for their contributions to shipwreck discovery; A) Naming the shipwreck site after the person that finds it; B) Issuing certificates or plaques; C) Naming discoverers, volunteers and donors in museum exhibits, newspaper and magazine coverage, and publication.

This is a great plan to help involve the public and build more interest by the public, but how many of above suggestions have been implemented? I am sorry to say not enough. I have been a diver in Florida all my life and I have never seen a; map, pamphlet, plaque, volunteer group, or project information on any historic shipwrecks in a states which contains hundreds.

Treasure hunting lawyers have found many loopholes in the past with Admiralty law, and still seem to be able to undermine present regulations. Much of the laws concerning SCRs were never designed to encompass management of the state owned seabed by Federal agencies, or to establish laws witch protect all sorts of Artifacts and their trade worldwide. “Today treasure hunts are promoted on Wall Street and the Vancouver Stock Exchange. There investors include some of the wealthiest men in the world. What were are seeing today is an assault on antiquities by an industry, not by a bunch of small time adventurers.”(Throckmorton. p8).

The huge amounts of money that is poured into the treasure hunting outfits is due directly to the profit that can be made for the sales of the antiquities excavated. Many treasurer hunters think that Marine sites, especially wrecks can bring huge profits and are easy to loot under faulty laws. Much emphasis in the media and public dealing with historic wrecks focus on treasure hunters like Mel Fisher and their fortune in gold and jewels, not on the hard working Archeologist that finds tremendous historical significance in that same site.

Salvagers have been around as long as there has been precious cargo that has found its way to the sea floor, and the blackmarket has been there just as long to buy and sell these artifacts . The large salvage companies of today show little respect for cultural resources and only work to make a profit and to distribute Archeological evidence to the highest bidder. The tremendous work and space required to conserve, store and exhibit historic artifacts for the public and professionals to view presents just as many obstacles as overcoming the publics lust for gold.

This salvage boom began in Florida in the early sixties with the advent of SCUBA, and the discovery of many shallow wrecks including the discovery of the 1715 plate fleet off of Vero beach. Many weekend hobbyist and large salvage firms came to Florida for this “Gold rush” including Mel Fisher. Soon the hunters moved to Key West and started searching for the Atocha, witch Mel Fisher eventually found and looted. He was a instant hero, and the American public gave these for- profit adventurers great acclaim. Fisher and his group destroyed the historical value of the wreck because of a rush to get to the gold and jewels, and the lack of any professionalism or Archeological excavation methods. Not only did Fisher destroy most of the historical parts of the wreck “Hull” but he also sold a great deal of these resources with no concern to there conservation or to their historical significance to a trained archeologist.

George Bass explains the importance of conservation and continuing study of artifacts decades after the excavation is complete. Bass tells that revolutionary discoveries of the Byzantine wreck excavated in 1961-64 were made during the eighties because of new technology and professionals spending great amounts of time conducting detailed studies. “Twenty nine years ago we did not have a paleobotanist surveying mud from each of the amphoras to determine what it had contained. Twenty nine years ago there were no neutron activated studies of pottery to tell us if there clays came from one or more sources. One good thing we did twenty nine years ago was to leave about 700 of the 900 amphoras on the seabed.”(Bass, 11).

Because of the nature of the treasure hunters profit making attitude very little historical evidence will ever be gleamed through intensive study because the resources are scattered throughout the private sector. Florida policy toward underwater antiquities has been a 25% share of the loot to achieve a permit for excavation. This percent of the grubbing can be paid in the form of artifacts, and has usually been skewed to give the state the worst or least valuable artifacts. Peter Throckmorton discusses the treasure hunting problem in Florida and addresses the policy, “The state’s 25 percent share from treasure hunting of the past 20 years is a collection worth only about five million today….

The collection has cost more than its value to maintain, especially if one includes the cost of continuing legal cases that have resulted from the states policy.”(Throckmorton, p8) Many professionals feel that the states including Florida should set a museum system to educate the public, promote tourism, provide access for study, and to pay for the cost of conservation. The shift of focus should not be only saving the physical remains of past culture, but also through the education of the public. It is clear that more laws are need to protect historic resources. But it is not the laws alone that provide for the Conservation and study of our heritage.

More must be done in the professional field to find consensus over resource management policy. This consensus must consider a number of important factors: Cooperation between Archeologist, public, and Salvage; Black market trade in historic artifacts; Conservation and display for public and scientific study; ownership of artifacts; and preservation and definition of historic sites.

This may seem like a long list and an impossible dream, but every time another wreck is looted or lost another page in history vanishes forever. Cooperation between all parties evolved with historical resources is very important because at this point all parties seemed to be at great odds, and this does nothing for the plight of the resources that should be protected. More research and study should be done to help set standards to decide the balance between salvage and excavation, also regulations should be provided to assign professional supervision to even the most despicable treasure hunters.

I feel that a system of checks and balances would benefit all parties, and I’m sure that combining forces as difficult as it may appear will drastically affect the amount and quality of artifacts recovered. Toni Carrell address the balance that must be achieved between granting permits for salvage and excavation, and the looting and natural destruction of a wreck. Carrell addresses a wreck with a cargo of various goods including scotch and champagne that was publicly announced and a prime target for looters; “Soon after the wreck became widely known the cases of liquor disappeared….Yet the question remains unanswered : how much of the cargo and equipment would have remained if salvage had not been permitted?”(Carrell p4).

Here it seems that science seems to gain from salvage because little evidence and poor records are better than leaving no historical evidence at all. There would be no need to protect Archeological resources if there was no monetary value placed on artifacts of historic importance. The only reason there is a treasure hunting and looting going on is because of profit or more realistically expected profit. “As long as there is a market, there are unscrupulous individuals who will continue to destroy irreplaceable resources to feed the market.

The way to stop the destruction of resources is to stop the consumption of theses endangered resources.” (Cockrell p 13) If greater importance was placed on the need to do scientific investigation and historical and cultural studies, more people dealing with antiquities would realize the great injustice they are doing to mankind by buying goods off the black market or keeping them from professional research. Many collectors and even a number of museums are guilty of unscrupulous actions, and deny study of their collections.

Laws must be enacted and better steps must be taken to try to identify artifacts so that collectors and museums could only obtain antiquities that are identified and numbered. This would provide a catalog of artifacts, and provide a method of the location of a particular artifact so that it might be later studied. Most professionals would not object if a particular artifact went to a museum or even private hands if the Archeologist was sure the artifact was properly conserved and he had as much time to study the object as needed and could retrieve the object on request for further study.

The need to keep Archeologist in charge of artifacts not only has to due with extensive study but also with the physical and exhibitor nature of its conservation. Only a professional can judge the stability of an artifact in a terrestrial environment, and can judge its true historic nature. Here again education should be the main concern and this education should include the public though exhibition. The public attitudes toward Archeology and resource protection is a very important factor, and professional archeologist along with treasure hunters should realize that all people have a right to view and understand their cultural heritage.

At present most projects divert funds and resources to store artifacts, but few see the importance and cost effective nature of loot displayed in some type of museum setting. Many states and even private enterprise would profit or at least cut the incredible cost of excavation and conservation by the adoption of a museum policy. Florida 25% collection of treasure from permits on state owned sites cost more than its value to conserve, store and maintain. “If Florida had used state money, and invested 10 million dollars in two great maritime museums back in the 1960’s the state would be nearly half a billion dollars richer each year…

It could even be argued that individuals and corporations who wanted to do legitimate work in searching for and excavating shipwrecks that collaborated with the state, would have profited.” (Throckmorton, p) Not only does the public gain from the exhibition and education, but also these museums provide profit to help finance projects and excavations that without funding would slip away. This policy would attract more attention to Marine Archeology, and increase funding would lead to more archeological projects and provide more reason to be a marine Archeologist not a treasure hunter.

There must be a shift of the profit emphasis of artifacts to deal only within the constrained boundaries of museums. “Several companies are now investigating financing archeological projects that will result in museums, and building resorts around them so they acquire long-term profit from the visitors attracted by the museum.”(Thorkmorton, p7) For the above polices to become reality one must concentrate on the ownership of the artifacts. This is a crucial issue because it deals with the trade in artifacts and use of those artifacts to exhibit to the public. With a emphasis on profit from museum visitation instead of from sales, more artifacts especially those of great historical or public interest will end up on exhibit or under study. This would give states and museum curators more reason to try to get choice items out of private collections and into their new exhibits.

Many states such as Florida could ask for more than a 25% share of the loot if agreement could be made to the allocation of future profits. This could induce more joint ventures between the state and salvers with a more professional approach, and really fulfill the need for education to sell important artifacts. A system can be devised as stated earlier that would allow a professional the right to conserve, study, record and even sell pieces that are no longer considered of historic value, and that must go into storage. The Florida state museum has in its possession about 20 thousand silver coins, some of these could possibly be sold and funds put toward more current projects. This system would include a catalog and right of an Archeologist to request further study.

The location of an under water site is very important in protection and management because it not only dictates ownership of the wreck, but the physical constants of excavation or recreational diving and the relative depth and water conditions, “Viability, temperature, surge, currents, and toxins”. The distance from the site to large populations of divers or interested parties along with access from land or sea are important as well. Most can not afford deep water salvage, and with the minimal policing force that tries to administer these laws, little notice or protection is given to very deep wrecks even if they are known.  The Titanic an the Central America are located in deep international waters and there seems to be very little if any regulation of the international seas. This situation can arise adversely too with the protecting of a shipwreck on dry land. The legality under federal and international laws also needs to be considered as to wreck ownership, permits, and regulations enforced by differing states or other agencies. This legality also deals with regulations and police control to insure the professionalism of the people and the quality of the work being done on the project.

The protection of the site must go on after work is done there to be assured that people will not plunder sites that have produced artifacts, and that the site will probably have to be re buried and records maintained to facilitate further study. More important than any one of the above criteria is educating the public and especially our youth. Many of the Abandoned Shipwreck Acts Guidelines need to be followed through but one major area of reform that was not mentioned in the guidelines was a change in states educational systems.

The state of California requires all third graders to complete a project on one of the Spanish Missions. These youngsters must make a model of the mission and complete a research paper. I feel that third graders in Florida would get great information have a good time and learn a great deal about SCRs and their importance to maritime history in the United States if they ad to do research on shipwrecks.

More time must be spent in classrooms to show importance of Archeologist and the part they play in putting together our heritage. Models, and interpretive pictures “Like the ones created for little salt springs”, and other teaching aids should be made available to schools. Maritime history should be taught and protection of SCRs should be taught along with environmental issues. Even the museums promote pirates and treasure chests to our youth and not the importance of maritime history. These institutions need to realize the message they send to the public and create exhibitions that show the true nature of marine archeology.

It is clear that much more time and effort must be invested into thought and policy concerning submerged cultural resources protection. There has been a number of recent laws past to help save what is left of underwater cultural resources, but it is obvious that these laws do not fully promote scientific study and a public understanding of our cultural heritage. These laws do not fully or in some cases even partially protect the sites, and with current legislation the public and profession sector can only hope to fight over the most worthless 25% of the loot.

After witnessing the false sense of security that law provides you begin to look deeper into the issue about the blackmarket trade, and a general public apathy about archeology . “More stringent laws alone will not resolve this problem. Rather, an effective solution requires a major change in public opinion to increase and awareness and understanding of our archeological heritage.”(Peccadillo, p9)

This lack of public awareness and bad media publicity is partly due to the fact there are such a great variance in opinions between treasure hunters and scientist. All the scientist realize the problems with current systems and many strive to change the system dealing with their particular expertise. This is great but thousands of different policies and changes made in a haphazard attempt to perfect this field of study still leave great disagreement between “experts” This inconsistency does not provide responsible direction for professional archeologist and certainly does not for the public who acclaim Mel Fisher as a master treasure hunter.

The archeological community must debate and as one consolidated unit express the need for increased scientific research and to begin to enact a complete change in the antiquities trade and exhibition policy away form antiquities sales to the education and display of the public cultural heritage. As previously explained this change has to be in the motive for Archaeological research to provide preservation of the past accomplished not by saving the physical remains of previous cultures, but though education of the value of learning about these cultures.

I hope to see the day when people remember George Bass as the father of underwater not Mel Fisher treasure looter in the history books.

Bibliography  Anuskiewicz, Richard J. Archaeological Resource Management on the Outer Continental Shelf, 1989 Bass, George F. After the diving is over, 1990 Cockrell, Wilburn A. Why Dr. Bass couldn’t Convince Mr. Gumble: The Trouble with Treasure Revisited, again, 1990 Fowler, Jhon M. The Legal Structure for the Protection of Archaeological Resources, 1991 Halsey, John R Michigan’s Great Lakes Shipwrecks: Save Salvage or Excavate? 1989 Keel,Bennie C. The Future of Protecting the Past, 1991 Lerner, Shereen Saving sites: Preservation and Education, 1991 McAllister, Martin E. Archaeological Resource Protection, 1992 Peccadillo, David L. Public Attitudes Towards Archaeological Resources and their Management, 1991 Stuart, George E. Conclusion: Working Together to Preserve Our Past, 1989 Throckmorton, Peter The economics of treasure hunting with real life comparisons, 1990 Waddell, Peter Reburial of the Red Bay Wreck as a Form of Preservation and Protection of the Historic Resource, 1994 Warren, Karen J. A Philosophical Perspective on the Ethics and Resolution of Cultural Property Issues, 1989