Treasure hunters eye underwater cultural heritage in Mexico

Date:

Share post:

Hundreds of sunken boats and thousands of other items lying hidden in the ocean, rivers, lakes, and cave pools, which make up part of Mexico’s cultural heritage each year, are the much-desired booty of marine treasure hunters.

070523100014-largeAccording to Pilar Luna, a pioneer of marine archaeology in Mexico, there are up to 250 sunken boats registered in the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean. But it is estimated that there are thousands of vessels, both large and small, that sank off the country’s coasts.

In addition, some 30 areas of items have been tallied in cenotes and sunken caves, where ancient civilizations like the Maya deposited bodies, personal objects, and food in conducting their spiritual rituals.

The treasures of Mexico are exposed to looting by adventurers who erase the traces of the country’s forebears, said Pilar Luna, an expert with the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH), who has devoted over 30 years of work to the investigation and preservation of underwater cultural heritage.

The boats that sank in Mexico belonged to the series of fleets that, starting in the 16th century, were used by the colonisers to transport people and merchandise from the New World to Spain.

These vessels were mainly loaded with cargos of gold, silver, and precious stones that the colonies sent to Madrid as a tribute to offset the expenses of the Spanish monarchy.

‘The interests have not changed. It continues to be the precious metals that are pursued by treasure hunters at any cost and by those who forget that, beyond their economic value, it is history and culture,’ Luna said.

Since 1970s, INAH has declined over 30 requests to do salvage work on sunken vessels that have been found in Mexican waters.

One of those requests came from Florida-based Odyssey Marine Exploration, Inc., which became famous in 2007 after salvaging $500 million in gold and silver coins from the wreck of a Spanish ship that sank in an 1804 battle off the coast of Portugal, though US courts must still decide whether the treasure rightfully belongs to the firm or to the Spanish government.

In Mexico, Odyssey intended to explore the Nuestra Senora del Juncal, a galleon that sank in 1631 in the Bay of Campeche while en route to Spain as part of a fleet comprising 18 other vessels.

The Juncal is one of the vessels most sought after by underwater salvage firms because it is the first in the country for which it is known for certain that there is a cargo of treasure within the wreck.

According to the magazine Arqueologia Mexicana, that fleet set sail from the Port of San Juan de Ulua, in Veracruz, bearing a cargo of silver, silk, leather, precious woods and chocolate.

Fortunately, Luna said, it is getting more and more difficult for ‘marine adventurers’ to be successful thanks to treaties such as the 2001 U.N. Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage.

The lack of economic resources and the unawareness of tourists who destroy and steal part of the artifacts are another threat to the conservation of Mexico’s submerged cultural wealth, Luna said.


Source: IANS/EFE [February 03, 2011]


ADVERTISEMENT

spot_img

Related articles

Rapid end of the Green Sahara 8000 years ago

9,000 years ago most of the Sahara was not the ultra-arid desert as we know it today. Due...

Rapid evolution aids spread of exotic plant species

A team of Belgian biologists led by researchers at KU Leuven has provided the first genetic evidence that...

Intertwined evolution of human brain and brawn

The cognitive differences between humans and our closest living cousins, the chimpanzees, are staggeringly obvious. Although we share...

English Civil War ‘casualties’ uncovered

Archaeologists working on the site of a former hospital in West Yorkshire have uncovered human remains thought to...

Methane muted: How did early Earth stay warm?

For at least a billion years of the distant past, planet Earth should have been frozen over but...

700,000-year-old elephant fossil found in Central Java

A phenomenal 700,000-year-old ancient dwarf elephant (Stegodon) fossil has been found in Banjarejo Village, Grobogan Regency, Central Java,...

Will Zahi Hawass's crusade ever end?

Zahi Hawass is a man who is used to getting his way. The head of Egypt's Supreme Council...

Researchers discover oldest fossil rodents in South America

In a literal walk through time along the Ucayali River near Contamana, Peru, a team of researchers found...