Archaeology Odyssey 7:2, March/April 2004

Editors’ Page: The Enemy of the Good

Work Out a Compromise with Salvors

By Hershel Shanks

Archaeology Odyssey

We lead off this issue of The Forum with a letter from an experienced marine archaeologist, Edward Von der Porten, criticizing my November/December 2003 editorial (“Why Not Work with the Salvors?”) and suggesting that I’m being beguiled by smiling sharks in encouraging marine archaeologists to work with salvors.

Mr. Von der Porten makes some interesting observations. He ends by lauding me for deploring looting on land, then asks why I encourage it at sea.

But he suggests no ways of stopping the salvors who loot. I want at least to retrieve what we can from their activities.

Major salvor operations take millions of dollars to mount. There is no way archaeologists can raise this money to do their own work at these sites. So we either leave it to the salvors or we try to impose rules, standards and restrictions. Even though it may not be perfect, it’s better than the alternative. That’s the important point: Look at the alternative. Don’t just morally pontificate and wring your hands.

Moreover, the archaeological community is not quite so helpless as Mr. Von der Porten suggests. It can affect the situation. There is enough common interest between the professional archaeological community and the salvor community to make a deal. At least the archaeological community should consider this possibility instead of simply fulminating at salvors.

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