Archaeology Magazine Archive

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

Special Introductory Offer!
Lure of the Deep Volume 49 Number 3, May/June 1996
by James P. Delgado

"It is probable that a greater number of monuments of the skill and industry of man will in the course of ages be collected together in the bed of the oceans, than will exist at any one time on the surface of the continents."--Sir Charles Lyell, Principles of Geology (1832)

For thousands of years the oceans have been great highways for communication and commerce. Many vessels have been lost and now rest on the ocean floor. Until recently these shipwrecks, and the incredible record of the past that they contain, were beyond our reach. Now, thanks to new technologies, scholars as well as treasure hunters can safely descend to great depths to explore or plunder them. At stake are a host of ancient wrecks--trading ships scattered about the Mediterranean seabed; gold-laden Spanish galleons off the coasts of North, Central, and South America; and Spanish and Portuguese ships off the Azores, their cargo of treasure from Asia, Africa, and the East Indies still intact. Many of these sites are incredibly well preserved, with both ships and their contents in near pristine condition. Salvors have barely begun exploiting these cultural resources, but the potential for them to do so is increasing by the day, a cause for alarm among archaeologists. Marine archaeologist James P. Delgado of the Vancouver Maritime Museum explorers new technologies used to recover shipwrecks and artifacts and the murky legal environment surrounding attempts to regulate and protect dwindling underwater archaeological resources.

© 1996 by the Archaeological Institute of America