Undergraduate Honors Theses

Thesis Defended

Spring 2015

Document Type


Type of Thesis

Departmental Honors



First Advisor

Douglas Bamforth

Second Advisor

Payson Sheets

Third Advisor

Patricia Nelson Limerick


Abstract: Underwater treasure hunting is a rampant and concerning problem for marine archaeology and the future of underwater cultural heritage. Professional and small-time operations survey the ocean floors for valuable historical artifacts which they proceed to collect with little to no understanding of archaeological methods or caution for preservation of context. The artifacts they take often end up in a private collection, sold or given to investors, and dispersed throughout the world. In this way information is lost, history is not preserved and our common cultural heritage is destroyed. The archaeological community highly condemns association with underwater treasure hunters and salvage companies and for understandable reasons. However, it is the belief of the author that salvage companies are not just an annoying fly that can be dismissed by the underwater archaeology community. Rather this relationship is an ongoing and pressing issue that must be dealt with by professional archaeologists. This paper looks into ways of dealing with this issue that respects the concerns of both sides. It examines the history of the issue and how it has come to this point. Finally, the author proposes a program, set up and maintained by individual states for persons/organizations who wish to obtain their salvage license. This program would train potential treasure hunters in the ethics and methods of underwater archaeology in the hope of preventing that loss of material and historical culture.