When amateur ‘land fishers’ (or metal detector users) make an archaeological discovery, who receives the proceeds? Should academics get automatic claim upon the find, the owner of the land, or should we follow the childish yet simple rule of finders keepers?
Economists have long claimed that property rights have incentivized innovation and discovery, so to motivate future finds the finders keepers rule should be maintained. However this infringes on the land owners and the much older monarchist rules where from example in ancient Rome, half went to the finder, half to Hadrian. So what have other countries decided?
In the UK, to encourage artifacts to be enjoyed by the public, the Treasure Act of 1996 stipulates if something of worth is discovered, museums or the government will bid or offer the fair market price for them. For example $5.3 million was paid by the successful bid from a British Museum, and split between Herbert and the owner of the Staffordshire field where the Anglo Saxon copper was found.
However in the US, various statues and precedents make the rules murky. For example, US treasure seekers in 1993 discovered the wreckage of a steamer containing millions of dollars worth of gold coins, but had to fight a court battle with both the government and the original insurers of the accident. They eventually won back most of the value, but these decisions are made by case by case and are very much subject to opinion, and muddled by the American culture personified by the ‘no trespasser’ signs.
So which system should prevail? Ultimately, 90% of finds are by amateurs, so without incentivizing them, future discoveries will never see the light of day and be enjoyed for its academic value. But unfortunately as there is a lot of money involved it will inherently be plagued with conflict.
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Sources: National Geographic, TIME, SF Gate
Siobhan R.// SMC Editor
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