Thursday, March 16, 2017

3/16/17 Report - Legal Issues and Maritime Treasure Salvage. The Roll of The Public.

Written by the TreasureGuide for the exclusive use of

Ancient Gold Coin Found in Pendant.
A few days ago I posted a number of gold coins that were found in pendants.  Here is another example.

It is an ancient Greek Coin showing Alexander the Great.


I'll make a few comments on a article by Cathryn Henn entitled The Trouble With Treasure: Historic Shipwrecks Discovered in International Waters and published in the 2013 International and Comparative Law Review.

The article comments on archaeological interests, commercial interests and public interests as competing interests.  I'd say that no person fits into one of those categories,

I'll submit that archaeologists have commercial interests, other than those who are volunteers or amateurs, and those are members of the public.  The public makes a lot of significant discoveries and commercial ventures contribute to archaeology and the public. And the public funds most archaeology.

Here is how they describe public interests.

3. Public Interests    The interest held by the general public can be summarized as "the interest to educate and be educated about the historical and cultural implications that accompany historic wrecks." 76 This interest has a tendency to get lost in the bitter feud between archeologists and salvage companies. For instance, when a historic shipwreck is discovered, archeologists may not want the artifacts to be moved or disturbed.77 Archeologists have "a tendency to become singularly preoccupied with protecting artifacts and lose sight of why the protection is necessary in the first place.. .the education of the world public."78 Conversely, a salvor would naturally want to sell recovered artifacts to finance the salvage operation, and receive compensation for his or her time and effort.

The public is perceived as being very much a passive bystander that might read a book, attend a class or visit a museum.  That perception is seriously flawed.  One group that is really overlooked in this classification is the segment of the public that is actively interested and involved in the pursuit of their cultural heritage. They might dive, metal detect or collect. I believe that the public has a right to not only fund archaeology and consume education, but also a right to pursue their cultural heritage. They have a right to seek, discover, touch, protect, collect, protect, research, communicate, educate and conserve.  As it is often said, "Cultural heritage belongs to the public."

Here is one more paragraph from that article.  Here it is.

The needs of all three interest groups are not currently met under the salvage laws applied by U.S. courts. Confusion about the application of salvage laws often leads to litigation, which economically strains parties, slows the pace of wreck disposition, and negatively impacts all stakeholders. Ultimately, this fails to satisfy the public interest in learning about the cultural and historical aspects of shipwrecks. The current legal regime is thus ineffective at meeting the needs of all interest groups; instead a cooperative approach (as will be discussed in section V) should be used.

Their proposed solution is briefly described in summary below.

In conclusion, a collaborative model that provides for a bilateral agreement between potential salvors and nations of origin, taking all competing interest into account, best provides protection for our underwater cultural heritage. This model will provide a system that incentivizes private corporations to find and salvage artifacts for the benefit of all mankind. Instead of viewing profit motives as evil, it embraces the economic needs of the salvage industry, recognizing the difficulty in locating ships, and the financial and technological inability of nations to perform this task themselves.

While their proposed collaborative model has merit, it is a collaboration between the archaeological and commercial interests, it does not nothing to improve involvement by the most interested segment of the public.

If you want to read the entire article, here is the link.

Here is another article from a law review that you might want to look at.  It is from 2008 and a little out of date.


A front came through and we got a north wind.  The surf is small, but with the tides it might be enough to shake out a musket ball or something like that at one location.

Happy hunting,