Ethics in Underwater Archaeology by Dr. E. Lee Spence

Capitalism Versus Socialism in Underwater Archaeology



The author, Dr. E. Lee Spence, is President of the Sea Research Society and Vice-President of the International Diving Institute. This article, including the entire section subtitled “Capitalism versus Socialism in Underwater Archaeology” are Dr. Spence’s personal thoughts and views on the ethics of selling artifacts from shipwrecks and do not necessarily represent the official views or positions of the above organizations. This article applies to shipwrecks in general, regardless of their age or the nationality of the country involved. It has been updated from Dr. Spence’s original 1994 paper through August of 2008.

The author by a poster advertising the Greenwood Museum’s 2009 exhibit “Discovering the Treasures of a Lifetime: The E. Lee Spence Collection.”

Before beginning, it should be pointed out that many people incorrectly assume that all government and institutional employees with the job title “archaeologist” or “underwater archaeologist” have an accredited academic degree in land or underwater archaeology. In fact, nothing could be farther from the truth. Research shows that over 98% of government and institutional archaeologists, if they have an advanced degree at all (which most do), have degrees in anthropology, history, vertebrate paleontology, or some other discipline. They very rarely have masters or doctorates in “Archaeology.” This does not mean that they are not qualified (although some are not) and, in fact, most have their jobs because they have amply demonstrated their extensive knowledge and abilities.

Furthermore, I want to make it absolutely clear that I am not at all suggesting that a degree in “anthropology” necessarily fails to confer the appropriate archaeological training and credentials. In fact, the vast majority of programs leading to a degree in anthropology offer anthropological archaeology as a specialization or sub-field of its parent field, anthropology. Archaeologists taught in this manner can be just as well versed in archaeological method and theory as those raised in archaeology departments, and they can have the additional advantage of broader human physical and behavioral knowledge. However, with that said, it is not necessarily the case that all anthropologists are qualified as archaeologists and they are certainly not automatically qualified as underwater archaeologists.

Despite the State of Florida’s long public stance against treasure hunters (allegedly because they are “unqualified”), for many years Florida had only one person on its staff that actually had a doctorate that could even remotely be construed as a doctorate in underwater archaeology.

Individuals with degrees in anthropology (i.e. cultural anthropologists or ethnographers) may have focused on the ethnology of Central Asia or Sub-Saharan Africa, yet might be working as archaeologists in the Western Hemisphere, where virtually none of their specialized knowledge applies. Others may have exhaustively studied the history and customs of the Navaho or Apache nations (none of which is directly applicable to shipwrecks). Government or other institutional underwater archaeologists working on Spanish colonial era wrecks may have actually earned their degrees in nineteenth or twentieth century history, and may never have studied either Spanish colonial history or even ship construction. Their employer may have recognized when hiring them the reality that there were no applicants who were perfectly qualified work in a field as far reaching as “underwater archaeology.” Many of those persons, who we now rightly consider experts, got their real training on the job and not in the classroom. Thus many of them lack the formal degrees, which did not even exist when they entered the field, yet they may actually have far more useful insight and applicable knowledge than those with formal training and degrees.

Members of the Register of Professional Archaeologists ( ) agree to a code of conduct, which includes such provisions as agreeing not to undertake any research that affects the archaeological resource base for which she/he is not qualified. Perhaps more archaeologists need to join that association and adhere to its code. (Note: Membership also requires one to “Support and comply with the terms of the UNESCO Convention on the means of prohibiting and preventing the illicit import, export, and transfer of ownership of cultural property, as adopted by the General Conference, 14 November 1970, Paris.” While being strongly opposed to illicit import, export, and transfer of ownership of cultural property, I have not joined. I strongly believe UNESCO’s current definition of cultural property to be too broad, overly inclusive, poorly defined and subjective in nature; and I further believe that such terms would allow unreasonable, discriminatory, capricious, discretionary, and arbitrary enforcement of a myriad of conflicting, rules, regulations and laws by the various local bureaucratic officials and nations involved. A further read of this paper should explain some of the pitfalls, conflicts and unintended consequences that I see in the implementation of UNESCO’s obviously well intended terms.)

An underwater archaeologist may be required to work on a 19th century Civil War blockade runner one month and a thousand years old Indian canoe or an inundated habitation site the next. There is simply no way any archaeologist can be an expert on everything. Instead, the archaeologist uses common archaeological techniques to gather and record data while the site is being worked. In ideal cases, specialists are brought in on a full time or consulting basis and/or the data is later interpreted by one or more people who are experts in the applicable fields.

Most government and institutional employees who hold the title “underwater archaeologist” do so simply because they use archaeological techniques in the performance of their duties and they work underwater. While most perform their jobs in an outstanding manner, some are incompetent and their work is worse than worthless. While most underwater archaeologists are honest, others are liars and thieves. This is just as true in the private sector as in the public sector.

In most academic institutions, archaeology, if it is offered at all, is taught as a single undergraduate level course, for which the student receives three or four college credits. More importantly, basic archaeological techniques are fairly straight forward and simple, and can be easily mastered. They can be learned by sport divers, professional salvagers, medical doctors, lawyers, and businessmen, just as easily as they can be mastered by anthropologists, geologists and historians. In fact, just because a person is a sport diver, professional salvager, medical doctor, lawyer, or businessman, does not mean that he has not studied archaeological techniques, anthropology or history. In some cases, a private individual’s true abilities (as they apply to a particular site) may far exceed those of the government and/or institutional employee who is supervising (and/or criticizing) him. Many of the more advanced archaeological techniques may best be performed by specialists who routinely act as consultants. Theoretically, and in actuality, these experts can be hired by both academic and nonacademic groups.

All of this is mentioned because, in the body of the following article, the author uses the term “archaeologist” to designate anyone involved in the locating and recovery of artifacts, regardless of that individual’s professional standing or abilities. He does it to make the point that in the past it has not been the specific professional or academic qualifications of the individual that have been held up for scrutiny, but rather whether the person doing the work is working for a “nonprofit or a “profit” organization. In other words, the author feels that in the past there has been more concern over whether someone was making a “profit” than what his qualifications were or what was actually being done with the data and/or the artifacts that are collected.

In fact, the author feels far too many people (in both the public and private sector) are being touted as archaeologists and the author would prefer to see the standards raised to a reasonable level for all persons involved in that work. Possibly with a variety of titles used to help clarify levels of experience and proficiency. Such titles, including level of proficiency they represent, should not be related in any way to whether a profit is involved or not involved in a particular project.

I sincerely hope that no one will take offense if they find that, because of their current employment, they are being classified as a Capitalistic Archaeologist or as a Socialistic Archaeologist as defined below. Neither term is meant to endorse, enhance or denigrate anyone’s political philosophy or their current choice of employment. In fact, because of my past employment, I could be correctly described with either term.

Some of the many bottles of Whyte & McKay Scotch recovered from the wreck of the Regina. Some went to museums, while most were sold auction. 1986 photo courtesy Wayne Brusate. For text of People magazine article on Lee & expedition to the Regina see,,20097593,00.html

Capitalism Versus Socialism

in Underwater Archaeology

{Note: The following was originally published in 1992. It has been updated and revised for a book I am doing on shipwrecks of the island of Hispaniola.}

Most people agree that virtually all shipwrecks have at least some historical and/or archaeological value. So, one might ask, how should they be treated? What methods should be used when disturbing them? What records should be kept? Should they all be treated the same way? Should work on shipwrecks be limited to academically trained archaeologists? Should these archaeologists, whether academically trained or not, be required to belong to traditional professional archaeological societies that prohibit their members from selling artifacts? Should shipwrecks be left open to sport divers and commercial salvagers (hereinafter lumped together as Capitalistic Archaeologists) who seek keep or sell the artifacts? Or, should wrecks, once discovered, be left untouched until they can be worked by unpaid volunteers and/or government and institutional archaeologists (hereinafter lumped together as Socialistic Archaeologists) who will raise everything regardless of value? Should Capitalistic Archaeologists and Socialistic Archaeologists cooperate and work together? These are all good questions, and they should have well reasoned answers.

Capitalistic Archaeologists want to make or save money. They tend to welcome and use the knowledge and help of others. Most Capitalistic Archaeologists use basic archaeological techniques simply because it makes them more productive in their work.

Socialistic Archaeologists believe wrecks are public property and do not believe artifacts should ever be sold. Except when it affects their own budget, Socialistic Archaeologists are less likely to place a high priority on cost as they are usually financed by tax dollars or by donations.

Most Socialistic Archaeologists belong to exclusive professional societies that have rules, which prohibit their members from keeping or selling artifacts. This is done to discourage looting of archaeological sites. Most, but certainly not all, of themembers of those professional adhere to those rules.

Looters are criminals showing wanton disregard for the rights and property of others. Looters work sites without lawful right and usually without proper record keeping. Looters are thieves who are strictly in it for profit, and break all kinds of laws respecting public and private property. Looters should definitely be reported and if possible stopped.

Unfortunately, because like looters, Capitalistic Archaeologists are also interested in profit and typically market the artifacts they find, many Socialistic Archaeologists unfairly try to brand Capitalistic Archaeologists as looters. Those Socialistic Archaeologists are either trying to protect their own jobs by smearing others, or they simply don’t understand that Capitalistic Archaeologists are not looters and are people working within the law to aid the public (the courts have routinely defined salvage as in the best interest of the public).

Marketing is not looting. Marketing is a legal part of capitalism. Besides marketing is not just limited to actual sales, marketing can mean putting an item or collection on display for promotional purposes or for paid admissions. Which is what many on both sides are coming to feel is the best solution.

Capitalistic Archaeologists are not looters any more than Socialistic Archaeologists excavating ancient tombs are grave robbers.

Actually, that was a bad comparison, as some classical archaeologists are no better than looters and grave robbers as some covertly steal and sell artifacts from the sites they are “legally” working. Many of the Socialistic Archaeologists seem to have little or no regard for the customs, rights, and burials of other cultures. Unfortunately, Capitalistic Archaeologists frequently show the same callous disregard. Such behavior, regardless of whether it is by Socialists or by Capitalists, is appalling. Even when not illegal, it is inappropriate and should be discouraged.

The dramatic stories of the valiant struggles, of those who survived and those who died on shipwrecks, can cause the casual observer to regard all wrecks as watery mausoleums. Such stories tempt one to seek laws, which would insure that all wrecks, and what they hold, would remain undisturbed as memorials to their dead.

But, leaving the wrecks to be untouched (as some of the more extreme Socialistic Archaeologists desire) would be wrong. Not only are the bodies usually long gone, it would mean that we would all lose. The story of those unfortunate people would quickly be forgotten if wrecks were simply treated as graves and left untouched, or worse, like most graves, unvisited. But, as Capitalistic Archaeologists locate and explore wrecks, they feel their awesome past and are captivated by their history. Capitalistic Archaeologists, who remove artifacts, are not desecrating wrecks, they are saving them. Human remains, when found, should not be stuck away in boxes in museum or university warehouses, to be neglected and eventually thrown out. Instead, they should be respectfully studied and then be given proper burials.

When referring to myself, I usually use the term archaeologist without the modifiers “Capitalistic” or “Socialistic,” because my academic concentration was in “marine archaeology” and I have worked for profit-oriented companies as well as for eleemosynary organizations and government institutions. And, except in the context of this article or in trying to explain the political objectives of some archaeologists, I prefer not to differentiate between the two groups and do not encourage the use of the related modifiers.)

Wrecks are destroyed through natural causes. Electrolysis, erosion, marine flora and fauna, and the force of the waves daily eat at the wrecks, destroying and scattering them. Already millions of artifacts on hundreds of thousands of shipwrecks have been irretrievably lost.

An archaeologist working with the United States National Park Service in the Dry Tortugas seems to have forgotten this when he expressed a common Socialistic Archaeologist view point in a television documentary a that “a wreck found is wreck lost.” What a load of dung.

The glass tumblers, the brass valves, the bullets, the bottles, the coins, and the other items recovered by Capitalistic Archaeologists allow them to share the story with their children and with non-diving friends. The crew and passengers of each lost ship are brought back to life every time a person views or holds the small treasures that the divers salvage.

Over one million brass sewing pins and white glass buttons were recovered from the wreck of the Civil War blockade runner Georgiana sunk in 1863. Their sale has helped finance research and additional discoveries and has helped preserve the wreck’s history.

The artifacts that are recovered, and the stories that go with them, are memorials to the souls of the dead. In effect, each artifact, whether in a museum or on a mantelpiece in a private home, becomes a meaningful memorial, a testimony to the reality of the lives of those who sailed aboard the over two million vessels that have been wrecked worldwide in the past two thousand years, and the more than one thousand additional vessels (fifty tons and higher) that are being lost each year.

It would be great if each wreck could be worked to the highest archaeological standards. But that simply isn’t practical. The cost of conducting underwater archaeology to such standards on all wrecks, regardless of their historical or archaeological value, would beboth unnecessary and unaffordable.

It cost the British government today’s equivalent of over fifty million dollars (U.S. $50,000,000) to salvage and conserve portions of the wreck of the

Mary Rose(lost in 1545) to basic archaeological standards. The work took over ten years and still required making extensive use of volunteers. Unbelievably, many Socialistic Archaeologists thought the work was not up to their standards, and felt even more money should have been spent. That was over a decade ago and the costs would be far higher today.

There have been well over two million wrecks in the waters of the world. Working all of these wrecks to the same standards, as used on the

Mary Rose, would require a budget of over one hundred trillion dollars (U.S. $100,000,000,000,000). And, it would take all of the world’s underwater archaeologists alive today over ten thousand years to do the job. In effect, this is what many Socialistic Archaeologists want. Obviously, it is not realistic. The world simply doesn’t have the time or the money. Based on what I have seen and researched, I believe that I am being conservative when I estimate that well over 90% of the world’s shipwrecks will be lost through natural causes, centuries before the resources ever become available to work them as pure archaeology. I believe that most Capitalistic Archaeologists recognize this and want to save what they can, and they want to profit while doing it.

In 1991, South Carolina passed a bill, which replaced the Underwater Antiquities Act of 1967. The original 1967 Act had been passed at my instigation to allow me to get a license to salvage the wrecks of the

GeorgianaandMary Bowers, which I had discovered in 1966.

The two vessels were built and sunk within the space of two years. They sit one across the top of the other. The

Georgianawas a deep draft screw steamer and was said to have been the most powerful Confederate cruiser ever built. TheMary Bowerswas a shallow draft side-wheel merchant blockade runner. As such, they represent two entirely different classes of Civil War steamers used by the Confederacy. Their combined cargoes were said to have been worth over a million dollars at the time of loss. Needless to say, in addition to monetary value, they have immense archaeological and historical importance.

The 1967 act clearly stated that the State could not issue more licenses than it could properly supervise. That sounded reasonable enough, but who would have ever thought the State could not do its job on even that one site. Believe it or not, to this date (January, 2008), because of incompetence and/or politics, no state official has ever visited the

Georgiana/Mary Bowerswreck site. Therefore, if the State actually obeys the letter of the law, no more permits or licenses can be issued in South Carolina, until the Socialistic Archaeologists get their act together.

Forty years is too long to allow an important wreck site, once found, to be ignored. This isn’t just stupidity or negligence on the part of the Socialistic Archaeologists working for the State it is politics at its worst.

South Carolina’s law does nothing to prevent that type of petty politics, incompetence or negligence.

For example, in 1996, the South Carolina Institute of Archaeology & Anthropology (SCIAA) and the United States National Park Service (NPS) finally examined the wreck of the

Hunley, which was the first submarine in the history of the entire world to sink an enemy ship. I had discovered the wreck in 1970 and had immediately notified both of those organizations of its location. Based on Sea Research Society’s report of my discovery, the NPS nominated theHunleyto the National Register of Historic Places in 1976, and it was placed on that register in 1978, but they did nothing more. Directly due to petty politics, neither SCIAA nor NPS bothered independently verifying the site even though I had furnished them with a map sufficiently accurate that they could have relocated it with a magnetometer in just one afternoon. Instead both groups waited for a quarter of a century and didn’t go to the site until after my mapped location had been published in 1995 and a nonprofit group (NUMA) funded by millionaire novelist Clive Cussler had gone to it and gotten worldwide publicity for the “discovery.” Afterwards, those same Socialistic organizations, who had ignored the wreck for decades, insisted that it be raised within the next several years in fear that by waiting it would be too damaged by environmental factors to save. Why had they waited at all? Although some people in those Socialistic organizations attempted to justify the over twenty-five years of delay by saying that I never found it, the fact remains that the map, which had been filed with the Federal District Court many years prior to NUMA’s investigation of the site, was correct. The accuracy of my plotted location of theHunleywas well within the length of the salvage barge used in raising the wreck. Furthermore, the true location (and thus the map) went against what would have been deduced from historical accounts, so it cannot reasonably be said that the location on the map was simply an educated guess. The Socialistic Archaeologists and their political supporters have also ignored the sworn affidavits from people who aided me in my work, and they completely ignored the reality that neither group did what the public would have expected them to do in a far more-timely manner. They did not even bother going to the site and checking out whether it was really there, until a group technically organized for nonprofit purposes by a man who could command worldwide publicity, put the spotlight on the wreck. {In preparing this paper, I searched the Register of Professional Archaeologists for two government (socialistic) archaeologists that I had reason to believe had not complied with that association’s code of conduct to see if they were members. They were not members. In particular, I felt that both had falsely or maliciously attempted to injure the reputation of another archaeologist (in particular me) and had given professional opinion(s) and/or had made a public report(s) involving archaeological matters without being as thoroughly informed as might reasonably be expected. If they had been members, and had done as I believe, such actions would have been violations of that association’s code. It is my personal belief that both individuals had ignored criteria that they had previously agreed (in a letter to me on SCIAA letterhead) would be used to judge whether I or NUMA was the original discoverer of theHunleyand they even publicly claimed (while on the radio with a very influential politician, who had previously threatened to pull funding for their employer, SCIAA) that my work failed to meet their standards when they knew or at least should have known that my work had absolutely met the criteria they had officially advised me would be used. {See: And, for more on this particular controversy go toThe Discovery of the Hunley by Dr. E. Lee Spence – a knol by Dr. E. Lee Spence( or to Spence’s Sworn Affidavit at’s%20discovery%20sworn%20affidavit.htmand follow the various links to other pages.}

This photo shows Spence with Elizabeth Dole during her bid for the Republican presidential nomination in 2000. Senator Dole inscribed the photo as follows: “Congratulations to Lee Spence on his discovery of the Hunley! With appreciation and all best wishes. Elizabeth Dole.”

One of the most important points to realize is that many wrecks have long since been largely (although not completely) broken up by environmental forces, eaten by the teredo navalis (marine borer), or otherwise destroyed by nature, and therefore offer relatively little to learn in an archaeological sense, except what the few remaining hard parts (consisting primarily of scattered armaments, cargo, and fittings) can tell us. Wrecks in shallow water, high-energy areas are not only difficult to work, the artifacts are usually scattered to the point of being of almost no interest to Socialistic Archaeologists due to their typical lack of stratigraphy and articulated structure.

Since Socialistic Archaeologists traditionally do not market artifacts, they wisely prefer to work sites where more can be learned for the investment of time and dollars. They know that, based on a realistic appraisal of what archaeological data costs to acquire, most shipwrecks in high energy areas of the warm waters of the world simply are not worth the expense when worked for Socialistic purposes.

Many people, especially bureaucrats seem to ignore that reality. Even though they are (or at least should be) aware that taxpayers would never approve of extensive tax sponsored archaeology on sites of this nature and thus they rarely work them, they routinely require Capitalistic Archaeologists to go to great expense to keep records which have relatively little archaeological value. Many government archaeologists seem to do this in an almost vindictive manner, even though it is clear that less expensive methods and record keeping would serve the same purpose. Such unjustifiable requirements appear to be a way to discourage private enterprise.

Even when projects are conducted under the strictest archaeological guidelines, the value of the data from high-energy areas is questionable. Ask yourself the value of plotting provenience (relative recovery points) to the nearest centimeter when even a superficial survey shows that the artifacts have been scattered by numerous forces for thousands of yards from the actual point of impact. Could not the same value be assigned for data kept to the nearest meter or even to the nearest ten meters. (Please understand that I am not trying to answer this question for all sites, and I am definitely not applying this thinking to articulated wreckage, or to wrecks in extremely low energy zones.)

Buried wrecks, deep water wrecks, and wrecks in harbors, lakes and estuaries are far more likely to offer worthwhile archaeological data, at a price that is economically viable. Therefore, traditional archaeologists have all but abandoned shallow water coastal shipwrecks, especially those in very dynamic areas.

Pieces-of-eight, the legendary coins of the Spanish Main that bring thoughts of pirates and smugglers. Although extremely interesting and fairly valuable in a commercial sense, because these came from wrecks in high energy areas that have little archaeological value. Photo © 1995 by Lee Spence

What to many people fail to consider, is that even steel and other metal alloys can be badly abraded and worn away by the constant movement of sand across a wreck as the repeatedly wreck covers and uncovers in the shifting sands.It is exactly because most shipwrecks are still being scattered, abraded, eroded, eaten, oxidized and otherwise destroyed, that I believe all archaeologists (regardless of their motives) should be encouraged to retrieve what can be recovered from these wrecks, before they are lost forever.

Many Socialistic Archaeologists depend on contract salvage jobs to make a living. But in their case, the salvage is usually on land, where the work is being done in a “quick and dirty” fashion to beat the bulldozers, scrapers and pavers of State and Federal highway programs. Those archaeologists, knowing that sites will be destroyed, accept reality, lower their standards for data collection, and simply try to save as many artifacts and gather as much archaeological data as time and money permit. They even refer to this type of archaeology as “salvage archaeology.” To some the use of Prop-wash Deflection Devices (PDUs) by Capitalistic Archaeologists is the equivalent of using a bulldozer, but that belief is based on ignorance or at least the improper use of the PDU. Properly used a PDU can gently wash the sand or mud over burden off a site a fraction of an inch at a time.

Socialistic Archaeologists engaging in salvage archaeology may not sell the artifacts (although some do and still avoid the label of being “treasure hunters” because they either do so in secret and/or with the excuse that they are “disposing of excess collections”), but they are still doingsalvage archaeologyfor money. Their treasure simply comes to them in the form of institutional salaries, tax-deductible private endowments, and/or government research grants (all of which ultimately cost the public money). A major archaeological discovery (such as those that make the pages of

National Geographic) can reap even a Socialistic Archaeologist over a half million dollars in book contracts, speaking fees, and higher salary, during the years immediately following his discovery.

If a Socialistic Archaeologist working for the government or a nonprofit organization is involved in a major discovery and writes a book, why is he allowed to keep the profits from that book when the work was paid for with public money? An employee with a private company company couldn’t do that as the rights belong to and are reserved for the company employing him.

For some strange reason, most Socialistic Archaeologists do not extend the logic that allows them to conduct salvage archaeology on land to shipwrecks. This is probably because they lack the knowledge and experience to differentiate, in their own minds, between a land site where the relatively few intact artifacts found are unique and distinct. They are used to land sites where the artifacts have been laid down in thin layers over a period of many years. They are not used to shipwreck sites that frequently contain many tons of virtually identical artifacts (i.e. the ship’s cargo) that were dumped on the site during one brief moment in history. Without even considering the costs of salvage, preservation, and study, just imagine the insurance costs, storage costs, and other long term expenses that would have to be paid by taxpayers if all wrecks were worked as public projects. Imagine the waste of tax dollars that would be incurred by keeping forty tons of coins (which could be the bounty from just one “treasure” wreck) in permanent storage, unable to properly display them because of the lack of space and the high price of adequate security.

Despite the fact that hundreds of thousands of coastal wrecks worldwide are in immediate danger of being destroyed by both natural and manmade causes, Socialistic Archaeologists are almost universally against allowing Capitalistic Archaeologists to work wrecks using the looser (and therefore more economical) standards of salvage archaeology. Instead, they insist that Capitalistic Archaeologists work these wrecks to standards they would be unlikely to impose on themselves or their colleagues. Capitalistic Archaeologists would prefer to use more realistic archaeological standards.

Laws passed to prevent sport divers and commercial salvagers from disturbing the wrecks, will not save them. Such laws, if observed, would simply mean that most wrecks would be neglected forever. When divers did find wrecks they would be afraid to report them, or would at least have little if any incentive to report them. If they then went ahead and salvaged the wrecks they would be breaking the law, and as looters they would have nothing to gain by doing even basic underwater archaeology. Then everyone would lose.

Regulations giving too large a share of the recovery to the government are usually self-defeating. The higher the percentage the government takes the fewer wrecks are worked (or at least reported). Remember, the government could claim 100%, but then capitalistic archaeologists would work the wrecks so nothing would be recovered by them. As the saying goes 100% of nothing is still nothing. Since governments rarely have sufficient funds to do the work themselves, in most cases, the government would be better off allowing capitalistic archaeologists to work for a reasonable percentage. On a very rich wreck investors might be willing to fund a project for as little as half. In other cases, depending on the intrinsic value of the cargo and difficulties involved, the government might need to give up 90%, of the artifacts recovered.

Except for the fact that governments can issue exclusive permits and licenses for salvage work conducted within their territorial waters and thus insure that competing groups will not intrude on projects already started by the licensed or permitted group, I do not necessarily agree that any government should automatically get a share. However, licenses and permits can and do help both capitalistic and socialistic archaeologists. And, by setting the rules up front, well thought out permits allow capitalistic and socialistic archaeologists alike to seek funding from their respective sources. However, regardless of the split agreed to in the license or permit, I still feel that the local government should retain the first right of refusal to purchase any or all of the material at the fair market value. However, except for the percentage agreed to and assigned to the government under the terms of the license or permit, in no case do I feel that the government should be allowed to pay less than the true cost of salvage. Even if the local government does not take a share, salvage can still benefit the local economy through the hiring of personnel, the purchase of consumables, rents, and normal taxation on profits.

It is great in theory to establish wreck preserves and I whole-heartedly encourage them, when they are practical. Wreck preserves suggest that the wrecks and their artifacts will be left in situ for everyone to visit and enjoy. That is a great goal. However, some wreck preserves are being created in high energy zones along parts of the Florida where the visibility is poor and shifting sands hide virtually everything of interest. Preserves in such areas draw zero tourists because there is nothing to see, and, for the reasons cited earlier, they protect nothing.

Wreck preserves in the Great Lakes (USA and Canada) are in much clearer water and the wrecks are largely unburied. They have already drawn large numbers of divers and have created a whole new tourist industry reportedly worth millions of dollars a year to the local economy.

Because of the touted success in the Great Lakes, the natural temptation is to create similar preserves in other areas to encourage tourism and to protect the wrecks.

But even the wrecks in preserves are slowly being looted by underwater thieves, and the wrecks are still being scattered and destroyed by natural causes. Some people, myself included, believe that much if not all of the exposed parts of the Great Lakes wrecks will eventually be obscured by fast growing shell fish that have recently been introduced into the lakes by freighters traveling from foreign waters dumping their water ballast into the lakes. Once that has happened, even the already discovered and supposedly “protected” wrecks will be “lost” and the tourist industry surrounding them will die.

Whereas, if Capitalistic Archaeologists were encouraged to raise the artifacts and place them in paid admission, profit oriented museums, there would still be something for the tourists to see long after the wrecks were covered. The museums could operate gift shops which would sell the vast numbers of duplicate or otherwise non-displayable artifacts. These artifacts could be sold in conjunction with certificates of authenticity that recounted the history of the wreck and explained the use and importance of the artifacts. Each artifact sold would become an educational tool that would be carried to other cities to further spread the story of that particular shipwreck.

Unlike the average Capitalistic Archaeologist who seeks a wide range of publicity in hopes it will create a market for his artifacts, Socialistic Archaeologists tend to publish very little of their work outside of their own immediate academic circles. Only the exceptional discovery reaches National Geographic and other “popular” magazines. Much of the work conducted by Socialistic Archaeologists, although paid for with institutional or tax dollars, is virtually inaccessible to the average person. Most of it ends up in locked files in government offices. Even when “published,” most of the reports prepared by Socialistic Archaeologists are virtually incomprehensible to the average person. That is because they are not meant to be distributed outside of academic circles and are thus not designed to be read by the general public. Readers who do wade through these reports might wonder why so much paper is generated to say so little.

Because of blackballing, Capitalistic Archaeologist are usually unable to get their work published in the journals of professional archaeological societies. But they still strive to publicize their work through news stories, magazine articles, books, and videos, all of which will be designed to appeal to, and be understood by, the common man. They do this partly because they have a monetary incentive. Capitalistic Archaeologists need informed people, or they will not have investors or customers for their museums, services, products or artifacts.

Capitalistic Archaeologists also understand and recognize the potential commercial value of the intellectual property rights they have created through their salvage ventures. Those rights are an additional source of revenue to the Capitalistic Archaeologist, and to make to make the most of those rights they routinely invest the money to publish their work in a way that is both interesting and appealing to the public.

I think it is clear who truly makes the most information available and thereby educates the most people. It is the Capitalistic Archaeologist, and he does it because capitalism works.

If governments take out the profit motive (by prohibiting the sale of artifacts or by requiring the salvors to meet arbitrary and unrealistic archaeological standards, or by failing to protect the intellectual property rights of Capitalistic Archaeologists), the public will lose, not gain.

Most of the world’s wrecks have long since been covered by either sand or coral. Excavation of these wrecks could provide working classrooms and fill several museums and numerous gift shops. Tourists could be encouraged to visit underwater digs, where they could (when feasible) actively participate or simply watch the excavations in progress. This is already being successfully done on land at archaeological sites in Egypt, Israel, Spain and other countries in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East.

The creation of artificial reefs, by the intentional sinking of ships otherwise destined for the scrap heap, is a great idea and I encourage their judicious creation. Even though they are artificial, these reefs (when placed in an appropriate location) provide a habitat for a wide range of marine flora and fauna, and they serve as a unique opportunity for divers to experience certain types of relatively safe wreck diving. These reefs offer divers the chance to take pictures and feel the thrill of exploration. They can also help instill divers with a greater respect for wrecks. However, these reefs do nothing to protect other wrecks from being destroyed by natural causes.

As stated earlier, wrecks can offer rich rewards. Sport divers and salvors (operating as capitalistic archaeologists), if allowed to benefit from their discoveries, would spend the time and the money to train themselves as archaeologists and to seek out and salvage these wrecks. There is nothing to prevent laws being passed which would encourage search and salvage, yet require all operations to meet realistic archaeological guidelines. These searches and discoveries would create jobs and preserve the history and archaeology of these wrecks. Successful projects would also bring favorable publicity and therefore tourist and investment dollars into the areas where the wrecks were being worked.

I firmly believe that the extent of record keeping and the exact methodology used in working a wreck site should be decided on a case by case basis. In some cases, the standards may justifiably be set so high that only a nonprofit or governmental group could get the funding. But even then, the benefits versus costs must be realistic.

One wreck contained over 10,000 clay smoking pipes. Photo © 2009 by E. Lee Spence.

I do not believe that Capitalistic Archaeologists should be penalized and forced to observe a higher or otherwise unrealistic standard just because they have capitalistic motives. At the same time, in no way do I believe that a wreck site with high archaeological or historical value should be sacrificed for a capitalistic motive. Realistic standards must be set. Because of the realities of funding, a compromise on methods and techniques must be reached, regardless of whether the wreck is worked by Capitalistic Archaeologists or by Socialistic Archaeologists. In fact, one compromise that ought to be used more often is that the two groups work together. Working together will combine the knowledge, experience and resources of both groups. However, when working with Capitalistic Archaeologists, the Socialistic Archaeologists must respect the legal rights of the Capitalistic Archaeologists, they cannot be allowed to usurp the intellectual property rights of the Capitalistic Archaeologists by the unauthorized or premature disclosure of information.

Remember, even according to Socialistic Archaeologists, who usually act like there are not nearly enough wrecks to study, there have been well over a million wrecks in the Mediterranean Sea alone, and over two million worldwide. Relatively few wrecks have been found. Far fewer have been completely salvaged. Globally, many, many times more wrecks have been or will be lost by natural causes (or by man-made causes unrelated to salvage) than have been or will ever be worked by Capitalistic Archaeologists and Socialistic Archaeologists combined.

If the world is to save its vast underwater archaeological heritage, it must locate and save as much as possible from these wrecks.

We must educate people. Basic archaeological techniques are fairly simple to teach and easy to learn. There is no valid reason not to teach them to the interested public. The more sophisticated archaeological techniques can be very difficult, time-consuming and costly to learn, and perhaps should be left to a cadre of dedicated specialists (each highly trained in one or more fields), but those specialists should be allowed to work with both Capitalists and Socialists without fear of stigma.

If and when new laws are passed, they should be designed to promote education, and to protect the rights of the people to conduct salvage archaeology as a capitalistic enterprise. At the same time, they should encourage and fund Socialistic type projects, but only when such projects can reasonably be expected to result in sufficient benefits to the public that the costs to the taxpayers are justified. By doing that, the laws will protect this valuable resource, develop it, save tax dollars, create new jobs, and give everyone an equal opportunity to contribute to archaeology.

Spence with part of the Dominican Republic’s share of artifacts found on various shipwrecks in their waters. These bags of artifacts are stored in a government facility and will likely never be displayed, as the government already has more than it can use in their museums. Photo © 2008 by Lauren Spence.

About E. Lee Spence

Dr. E. Lee Spence has made numerous important archaeological and historical discoveries and he has authored over thirty books on shipwrecks. His work has been reported in over one thousand periodicals around the world including Life, the New York Times and People magazine. He has also been interviewed on numerous radio and television shows ranging from a BBC radio documentary to NBC’s Today Show. He strongly believes that commercial salvage and archaeology are compatible, and further believes that the capitalistic marketing and/or display of artifacts is not only ethical, it may ultimately be the most reasonable way to finance the historical research and the archaeological salvage efforts needed to save the world’s vast underwater archaeological and historical heritage.

Although Dr. Spence has been employed as an underwater archaeologist on a number of commercial salvage ventures, he has served as a government underwater archaeologist in Colombia, South America and was hired by the College of Charleston (a state institution) to conduct a major study of shipwrecks of South Carolina and Georgia. He has also served as a peer reviewer for grant applications for the National Endowment for the Humanities (a federal program) in the United States.

Spence’s undergraduate degree was a “Bachelor of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies” and was awarded “cum laude.” It is a fully accredited degree granted for an “academic concentration in marine archaeology designed by Spence and his academic advisor in the College of Applied Professional Sciences, University of South Carolina.”

Spence also holds the degree of Doctor of Marine Histories. This degree was awarded in 1972 by the Sea Research Society as part of its College of Marine Arts Program. Requirements for this degree were set at a minimum of nine years of involvement in marine work or marine related research, as well as some significant contribution to the furthering of marine archaeology or other marine related art or history, or the satisfactory completion of all course work normally required for a Doctor of Philosophy, with at least one year of intensive research in one of the marine related arts or histories, over and beyond that done meeting the more standard course requirements for a Ph.D. The creation and awarding of this degree was done by a written vote of Sea Research Society’s Board of Directors and Board of Advisors. Person’s voting for this degree included: the late Frederick Dumas (French underwater archaeologist famed for his work with the late Captain J.Y. Cousteau); Luis Marden (then Chief, Foreign Editorial Staff, National Geographic Magazine, and at that time National Geographic Society’s resident shipwreck expert); Ron A. Gibbs (Ron was then Registrar, Division of Museums, National Parks Service, and had previously worked on the federal government’s Dry Tortugas Shipwreck Project and other shipwreck projects); Edwin C. Bearss (historian for the National Park Service, author of numerous books including several on shipwrecks); Don Pablo Bush Romero (then president of the Club de Exploraciones Mexico, Mexican underwater archaeological society); Sir Anders Franzen (discoverer of the wreck of the Swedish warship Vasa); Paul J. Tzimoulis (editor/publisher of Skin Diver magazine); and others of similar note. At present the degree of Doctor of Marine Histories remains a non-traditional degree, but its validity and high caliber should be recognized in light of the above facts.

Another person who voted for the creation and granting of Spence’s doctorate was the late Peter Throckmorton. In a professional paper that Throckmorton later wrote about Spence’s pioneering work in underwater archaeology on the wreck of the Civil War blockade runner

Mary Bowers, Throckmorton compared Spence to Heinrich Schliemann, the founder of historical archaeology. At the time of Throckmorton’s passing, was a professor at Nova University in Florida and was working with North Caribbean Research S.A., as its staff archaeologist.

Spence, 62, is married to the former Rebecca Lauren McEntire, 34.

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