What is a "Treasure Hunter"?
Imagine that you walked into a lab full of bunsen burners and test tubes
and dozens of different experiments going on all around you. The lab is
empty, there's an open door to the hallway, and no-one is there but you.
Thinking that a particular test tube is interesting, or a flask is bizarrely
shaped, or that this type of burner is extremely rare, you start filling a
sack with whatever you find. In a cabinet is a collection of slides and
other reference data, so you rip open the cabinet, smash the glass and take
those, too. Happy with the knowledge that you've got a sack full of
shiny objects that appeal to you, you stroll into the hallway and go home to
put them on a shelf or sell them on eBay.
Later, a biochemist that has
been trying to find out where the lab was wanders in
and sees the vandalized equipment, the destroyed
cabinet and all the experiments that are now
rendered almost completely useless.
the lab is a crappy metaphor for an underwater site
full of artifacts, and the guy with the sack ripping
apart everything he finds interesting is the
Everything on a dig-site is precious.
The smallest detail or fragment
can sometimes be the crucial clue to solving the
puzzle. Even more important is knowing the context,
or, where that piece came from. When a vessel
decays, items fall to the sea floor and become
covered with sediment. Only by careful and precise
evaluation of these items and their locations can we
accurately determine where they originally were
placed. This may not sound all that difficult to
figure out at first. I mean, if you find a lug nut,
and you find a 1976 MGB Midget five feet away, it
doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out where
the lug nut is going to fit. However, you put that
car & lug nut underwater for four hundred years and
then come across it as a human being that has never
seen something as antique as a car before, then
you've got some problems. The bolt threads would
have long ago been rusted away, the nut itself would
be encrusted and virtually unidentifiable without
being cleaned in the lab first, and it would be safe
to bet that no living soul in the year 2397 would
have ever owned a 1976 MGB Midget. Besides, speaking
as a person who once owned a 1976 MGB Midget, the
parts never fit quite right in the first place. So
as you can see, it's an uphill battle all the way
for Nautical Archaeologists to reconstruct the
"Okay", you say, "It's tough. Why bother?"
because there is so much about our origins as human beings that we don't even
know about. Common place technologies and practices that were prevalent in the
year 800 AD that are now unknown to us can be understood by studying the remains
of those times.
"But why underwater? I thought you archeologist-types just dug up bones
in Peru or something."
On land, we are able to excavate finds that lay under the earth for untold
centuries, but all too often, these sites have been disturbed, looted, or
destroyed beyond any real use. Under the sea, however, sites have remained out
of reach of humankind, and therefore virtually undisturbed since they were laid
"But what's the harm in bringing up stuff if I let you look at it
If you brought my ancestor that lug nut from the MGB, we may never know for sure
where it came from, what it came from, or why it was made in the first place. If
you bring me a gold coin you sucked out of the silt with a blower, I will never
be able to discern what ship it came from, what type of ship, what nationality,
how that ship was built (they weren't all the same back then), or evaluate any
of the thousands of artifacts you may have accidentally blown away in the
The lure is very attractive. I grew up watching pirate movies and
Johnny Quest cartoons where every third or fourth
episode Johnny would come across buried or sunken
treasure. I think you'd be hard pressed to find a
land Archaeologist who doesn't like Indiana Jones
movies, either. I too have the desire to see what a
chest full of gold looks like, but not enough to
irrevocably destroy what might be the only existing
site of it's kind in the entire world just to see
it. I would much rather follow the proper methods of
Archaeology and find out all I can from the wreck,
and then bring up that chest of gold. It's been down
there for hundreds of years. A little while longer
isn't going to make much difference.
mean no-one without a PhD should be allowed to bring
home souvenirs of SCUBA trips?"
That is definitely not what I mean!
I love SCUBA diving and encourage it in everyone I
meet. I do however think that you should take a
class to find out what is and is not important to
Archaeologists so that you don't take something that
is important. And in return, by taking these classes
you can not only learn more about what you're
finding, but also be certified to volunteer on real
dig-sites. Volunteers are needed on sites around the
world to help gather data and catalogue artifacts.
To find an Archeological group in your area,
Click on the Piece of Eight to return to the Main