Archaeologists Turn On Another Group Of People Destroying Our History, And It Won’t End Well


Kay Smythe News and Commentary Writer
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An essay published Wednesday in Sapiens called out “treasure hunters” for making archaeology so much harder than it needs to be.

Modern treasure hunters are to archaeology as pirates were to the oceans of old, Hipolito Sanchiz Alvarex de Toledo and Hipolito Sanchiz Alcaraz wrote in their essay, republished in English by Sapiens. Though separated by 200 years of history, the result is always the same: these people want the gold and precious materials once held by our ancestors.

The authors used the example of a Spanish ship, sunk by the British Royal Navy in 1804 off the coast of Gibraltar, along with hundreds and thousands of silver and gold coins. When the ship was rediscovered in 2007, archaeologists suddenly discovered a private company called Odyssey Marine Exploration had been sweeping the area since 1999 and found the coins.

These coins were then sent back to Florida, where the company was headquartered. It took more than a decade until the 11 Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta agreed to force the company to return the items to Spain. But only then was it discovered that it wasn’t just the coins that were wrongfully recovered. (RELATED: A 27,000-Year-Old Pyramid Is Causing Much Debate For Big Archaeology)

It seems obvious to almost everyone but the treasure hunters themselves that their behaviors are not only detrimental to themselves (from a long-term legal perspective) but also mitigate the scientific certainty of archaeology. We all know I’m far from a fan of Big Archaeology (akin to Big Pharma, or Big Tech), but an emerging group of amateur and young archaeologists are finally digging into sites once lost to ancient history … and it’s rewriting the history books.

After countless conversations with experts, law enforcement, and others involved in mitigating the theft and illegal import of stolen artifacts from cultural and historical sites, it seems the gears of law may move slowly against thieves. But when the strong arm comes down, it hits with an almighty crash.

Many treasure hunters seem to think of themselves as archaeologists, and even parade themselves around as “experts.” In fact, they’re such “experts” that they think it’s okay to walk into cultural sites — anywhere in the world — pick up an ancient piece of pottery, glass, gold, or whatever, and just put it in their pocket. (RELATED: American Convicted For Smuggling Ancient Artifacts From Syria)

Customs doesn’t realize what these things are when they fly through our borders, as many look like trinkets, making theft and illegal importation of these artifacts really, really easy. And trust me, I’ve had people who’ve done this tell me how easy it is … and it’s disgusting.

Not only do these people steal knowledge of our past from everyone, but they’re making it harder for future generations of our species to understand who we were at this moment in time.

Thankfully, it sounds like archaeologists are finally fighting back against the utter losers who engage in this modern form of piracy. And as new laws emerge regarding the protection of cultural heritage sites and items already stolen, I think a lot of people are going to end up with hefty fines, or possibly even jail time for their casual, multi-decadal destruction of history.