Every once in a while, an archaeological discovery comes along that makes me feel as if I should leap out of my chair, cartwheel across the room, and turn pirouettes in the street. I had one of those days yesterday, when I read the British newspaper accounts of an absolutely stunning underwater discovery off the coast of South Devon. The South West Maritime Archaeological Group has discovered the debris field of a Bronze-Age trading vessel, dating back to 1300 B.C.
This is one of the oldest known shipwrecks in the world. And what makes me so very, very happy about it is that this immensely important find is in the hands of serious archaeologists whose sole objective is to advance scientific knowledge –not corporate treasure hunters driven by the bottom line. Hallelujah!
I have long worried about ancient underwater sites such as this in British waters. The British government, I am sorry to report, has failed miserably to step up to the plate when it comes to protecting shipwreckl sites. Although the Britannia long ruled the waves as a great maritime power, the British government has so far refused to sign the UNESCO Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage, a vital piece of international law protecting prehistoric and historic wrecks from the clutches of treasure hunters. Thirty-one other nations, however, have taken the much-needed plunge.
So the discovery of the South Devon site and its astonishing cargo of gold bracelets, rapiers, sling shots, tin ingots and the like by devoted avocational underwater archaeologists is cause for real rejoicing. Ben Roberts, an archaeometallurgist and curator at the British Museum, couldn’t be happier. “The Salcombe site,” he notes, “is now one of the most important Bronze Age sites currently being investigated in Britain.”