Are we set for an Undersea Gold Rush?


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Is there another Gold Rush coming? Will this one be underwater in search of shipwrecks and their treasures? Major shipwreck treasure discoveries have been made in recent years. The technology needs to get better, but the fact is, we can now find and salvage shipwrecks in almost any part of the seas. The laws are confusing and a recent court decision giving a half billion dollars in treasure from an early 19th century wreck  has sparked controversy, but reality is that people will keep going after the gold. Two thirds of all the gold and silver mined before 1900 is said to have been lost in shipwrecks and now rests on the oceans floor. That much gold has to be worth going after.
Cover of "ShipWrecks" Magazine showing gold ingots in situ on shipwreck

Cover of ShipWrecks™ Magazine showing gold ingots in situ on the wreck of the California Gold Rush steamer Central America

When gold was first discovered in the Carolinas and Georgia, it created “gold rushes” that resulted in an influx of prospectors and miners into those areas, just as similar discoveries of gold had in the days of the Roman Empire and even before that in the time of ancient Egypt. Following them were their families and other settlers. They started farms, towns, shops, schools, and created a timber industry that still thrives today.

When gold was found in California, Georgia’s miners moved westward and, like Georgia before it, California’s population exploded.

Gold discoveries in Utah Territory brought miners there and soon thereafter came America’s first major silver strike (the Comstock Lode in what is now Nevada). Again the settlers came.

Gold found in the Klondike region of the Yukon in Canada sparked a virtual stampede of 100,000 prospectors and miners (accompanied by merchants and saloon & tavern keepers) to the region and with it came more exploration and settlement. In turn, that increased interest in Alaska, especially after gold was found in Nome starting a rush there.

Besides in America, major 19th century gold rushes took place in Australia, Brazil, Canada, and South Africa. Like in the United States, these gold rushes helped spur immigration to new regions and opened new frontiers.

With each of these rushes for wealth there has come a transition of progressively higher capital investments, larger organizations, and more specialized knowledge. They have affected migration, trade, colonization, the environment and our collective history.

If the world’s oceans were opened for commercial salvage (capitalistic underwater archaeology), it would cause an “undersea gold rush” with more exploration taking place. I hope more people will understand that capitalistic underwater archaeology can be a socially beneficial business approach to treasure hunting. Standards can be put in place to insure that shipwreck sites aren’t simply looted and that appropriate archaeological guidelines and protocols are followed. It should be a win, win.

At the very least, such commercially oriented expeditions would create many new jobs. And, because the exploration would be for profit (at the risks of the shareholders) and not just for “pure” academic research (where taxpayers bear the burden of the costs), the companies doing the work would seek new and better techniques to both make and save money.

The capitalistic approach of such companies would undoubtedly result in innovative techniques and inventions.

Like the gold rushes mentioned above, an underwater gold rush in search of valuable shipwrecks would definitely mean more discovery and more wealth brought into society.

text copyright © 2012 by Edward Lee Spence
ShipWrecks™ is a trademark of Edward Lee Spence and Narwhal Press Inc.


Comments RSS
  1. Randy Barnhouse

    Great article Doc. Private enterprize always trumps socialized programs.

  2. Gene Birdsong

    Great article Lee… Gene Birdsong

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