Indiana Jones should learn how to scuba dive. Technological advances in recent years, coupled with the political opening of once secretive and reclusive regimes, is enabling archeologists to unlock the secrets of the world’s formerly forbidden waters. And for treasure hunters, the rewards are worth millions.
A recent article from the BBC chronicles the efforts of scientists off the coast of Vietnam to rescue artifacts of immeasurable value. For thousands of years, the Cham Islands off the UNESCO city of Hoi An have been a layover point on the ‘Ceramic Road’, a nautical trade route rich in ceramics, spices, and silk. The islands are also right in the middle of typhoon-alley, which invariably caught many trading boats by surprise over the centuries. Treasures from a wreck found in 1991 were auctioned off by Christies for US$7.3 million.
The coastlines of once-communist Bulgaria and Romania have also proven to be extraordinarily rich in shipwrecked treasures. Just a few months ago, a scuba diver off the coast of the ancient Bulgarian city of Sozopol discovered a gold coin dating from the Lydian Civilization in the 7th century BCE.
In an effort to fund scientific research and further exploration of these waters, Bulgaria and Romania have established a series of undersea tourism routes, enabling scuba divers to explore historical sites hidden below the surface of the water. Vietnam is contemplating a similar strategy, with the proceeds from tourism helping to fund museums for recovered artifacts.
In the future, the technology may become advanced enough to explore shipwrecks at the deepest depths of the ocean. A treasure hunter named Paul Tidwell is currently trying to raise a Japanese submarine sunk off the coast of Africa in 1944 that was carrying a secret payload containing over 2.2 tons of gold and worth over $25 million. His efforts, coupled with those of innovative entrepreneurs like the director of Titanic, James Cameron, could yield technologies that will enable us to more fully explore the mysteries of the universe below our oceans. If the treasures currently being discovered off of Vietnam, Bulgaria, Romania, and invariably, Myanmar, offer us any insight into what lies ahead, the future of our coastlines is looking very golden indeed.