Abstract

This paper examines how US and proposed international law relate to the recovery of archaeological data from historic shipwrecks. It argues that US federal admiralty law of salvage gives far less protection to historic submerged sites than do US laws protecting archaeological sites on US federal and Indian lands. The paper offers a simple model in which the net present value of the salvage and archaeological investigation of an historic shipwreck is maximized. It is suggested that salvage law gives insufficient protection to archaeological data, but that UNESCO's Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage goes too far in the other direction. It is also suggested that a move towards maximizing the net present value of a wreck would be promoted if the US admiralty courts explicitly tied the size of salvage awards to the quality of the archaeology performed.

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