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Troubled Waters for Ancient Shipwrecks

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Science  17 May 2013:
Vol. 340, Issue 6134, pp. 802-807
DOI: 10.1126/science.340.6134.802

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Finding shipwrecks has never been easier, and a spectrum of archaeologists, explorers, salvage operators, and treasure hunters all are setting out to do so. Local divers scavenge wrecks for coins and ingots, while companies equipped with remote-sensing technology recover artifacts for sale to collectors and museums. Specialized antiquity dealers do a brisk trade in shipwreck artifacts such as coins and Chinese porcelain. For years, the law of the sea was essentially finders keepers, and salvors who located shipwrecks and brought up their cargo were entitled to a reward at the least. But in recent years, archaeologists have argued that this maritime right of salvage should not be applied to ancient, archaeologically valuable ships, as new techniques for excavating and analyzing underwater wrecks are yielding just a small part of the potential scientific bounty.

  • * Heather Pringle is a science writer based in Victoria, Canada.