Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Found Gold Coins? You Can't Keep 'Em. On Incentives and Valuable Archaeological Finds

Or as kindly pointed out to me by Murphy's Law this post could also be titled: "2,000 reasons to keep your mouth shut".

And that is the problem.

The story from the UK's Daily Mail: 'Priceless' trove of 2,000 gold coins used by 10th Century Caliphate which once ruled much of the Middle East is found off the coast of Israel

In what is every warm-blooded diver's dream dive, a bunch of divers came upon a treasure trove of 2,000 Fatimid-era gold coins, off the historic and beautiful port of Caesarea, so in Israeli rather than international waters.

Unfortunately, as is often the case in the majority of countries around the world, the law provides that the divers don't get to keep any of the find when it is found in a country's territorial waters, and it all goes to the state.

Lest you think this wouldn't happen in the USA, try and take an artifact you discover, that no one else knew existed, from the bottomlands of the Great Lakes. Your head will spin as to how fast you will not only lose the item but have all your dive-gear and possibly your car (if it drove you to the dive site it can be fair game) confiscated as well. States are touchy about treasure located in their national waters.

2,000 gold coins provide a powerful incentive to shut up and pocket the find and not tell anyone you found them, especially if you won't receive a finder's fee. This creates some bad incentives as hiding the find would prevent archeological discovery, documentation and exploration of the site and creates an illicit market in the coins.

Passing off 2,000 gold coins of the era would cause quite a stir and lead to them being prosecuted, so the divers rightly followed the law by reporting the find.

The divers should be, and would be in a more perfect world, allowed to keep some percentage of the find considering it was unknown to exist until they found it and it was found by their efforts. This would ensure the site to be properly explored, preserve the coins and reward the finders to keep them and future finders honest and willing to come forward about such discoveries.

A great find and hopefully they'll at least be publicly named and given credit for the discovery, and it wouldn't hurt if they could be allowed to keep a few coins for themselves.

1 comment:

Murphy's Law said...

I'm thinking now that were it me finding those, 20lbs of gold would replace my dive weights prior to my exiting the water, and another dive, in international waters, would be made soon and the coins "found" there instead.

But that's just me.