Digital Library

Check-List for Investors in Treasure Hunting Ventures

after Robert Stenuit

There are many types of treasure hunters, and to try to divide them into categories would be a difficult and futile enterprise.  However, there seems to be a wide consensus that among the treasure hunting community there is a small, silent minority, largely unnoticed by the general public, whose work is to find and rescue precious cargoes. The larger, noisier majority of treasure hunters advertises its treasures in the press long before they have been found. They are specialized in the hunt for the savings of potential investors.  As P. T. Barnum said: “a sucker is born every minute.” And many have money.

I borrowed the rules below from a longer list written by a treasure hunter named Robert Stenuit in a book titled L’or à la tonne, L’exploitation des trésors englouties (Grenoble: Glénat, 1990). Robert Sténuit defined a check list with 27 points and called it “Rules of the Game.”

Therefore, if any rich person ever feels compelled to invest in the destruction of the World’s submerged cultural heritage in the hope of making some more money, below are 21 things she or he should consider:

  1. Find reliable information about a valuable cargo shipped in a particular vessel that sunk;
  2. Make sure that the cargo was actually loaded on that particular vessel;
  3. Make sure that the ship did sink (beached ships were invariably salvaged);
  4. Make sure that the cargo was not unloaded on a port before the shipwreck took place;
  5. Make sure that the cargo was not saved (transshipped) right before the shipwreck;
  6. Make sure that the cargo was not jettisoned right before the shipwreck;
  7. Make sure that the cargo was not salvaged immediately after the shipwreck;
  8. Make sure that the cargo was not salvaged at a later date;
  9. Make sure that time did not damage the cargo;
  10. Make sure there are no claims on the shipwreck or its cargo;
  11. Make sure he has precise data to narrow the place where the shipwreck occurred;
  12. Find the shipwreck (often the most difficult part);
  13. Make sure that they actually find that particular shipwreck;
  14. If they ever find anything, make sure that the cargo is not spilled over too large an area;
  15. Make sure that treasure hunting is legal, or at least that the local authorities are cooperative;
  16. Make sure the country in whose waters the shipwreck lays is politically stable;
  17. Make sure they have all the necessary means to salvage a substantial part of the cargo;
  18. Make sure they get away with destroying, or abandoning all non-valuable items, which consume time and money, and are not accepted for sale by most auction houses;
  19. Make sure they have a safe port to disembark the cargo;
  20. Make sure they have a good lawyer;
  21. Make sure they have not spent by now much more money than they can make with the sale of valuable artifacts.

Treasure hunting is a disgraceful activity whose aim is to destroy our common past for profit.