"The looting of the tombs of Tutankhamen is now considered unacceptable, so why is the looting of shipwrecks considered acceptable?" – Tim Curtis, UNESCO
This blog post is a review and response to Chris Summers’ article, “Should shipwrecks be left alone?” from BBC News Magazine.
One of the first instances of archaeological ethics that Summers brings up is that of the British Department of Transport signing a deal with the salvage company Odyssey Marine Exploration to “excavate” the SS Gairsoppa. I put excavate in quotation marks because essentially the company was hired to salvage the tonnes of silver that were aboard the ship, amounting up to £150m. Summers explains that the British government will receive 20% of whatever Odyssey uncovers. I feel that this is in direct violation to the 2001 UNESCO Convention on the Protection of Underwater Cultural Heritage, even though the UK has yet to ratify it. The British government is willingly allowing for profit to be made off of the selling of the artifacts uncovered from the ship, which is ethically wrong whether or not you are a signatory to the Convention.
The article makes mention that one of the greatest threats to un-excavated shipwrecks and sites is governments’ failures to police the industries that are threatening the archaeological sites. I think that governments should be ethically responsible for protecting these sites regardless of being a signatory to the Convention. I feel that all shipwrecks should be protected until they can be properly evaluated by a qualified archaeologist (not one employed by a salvage company).
I think that the idea of creating living museums underwater is an excellent way to ensure that underwater sites are protected and that the public is being educated and made aware of the issues surrounding the protection and conservation of underwater wrecks and sites.