amateur relic hunters

New legislation will define protected artifacts

By Jesse Robichaud - Times & Transcript


Everything turns to dust.

At least that's the case for artifacts that are salvaged from the estimated 9,500 shipwrecks that sit on the sea floor off New Brunswick if they aren't properly treated for conservation.

The New Brunswick legislature has already granted royal assent to the Heritage Conservation Act that will regulate shipwreck salvaging and treasure hunting across the province's land and seas.

Once the act's regulations are ready, it will replace the 1954 Heritage Sites Protection Act, which depends on a ministerial discretion to name protected sites.

The new law, which was voted on before Nova Scotia's NDP government declared it would overhaul its Treasure Trove Act and render the spoils of treasure hunting property of the Crown, will clearly define what constitutes a protected artifact.

"Previously, the process was that if someone wanted something protected they would have to make the argument to the minister responsible for heritage," said government archeologist Brent Suttie.

"There are a few shipwrecks that are protected provincial sites, and those sites are protected because people were either going to salvage them or people were picking stuff off the bottom from fairly old and significant sites."

Suttie says the act will be of particular use to amateur scouts of treasures and relics who will be able to access the province's resources and expertise to help conserve artifacts that otherwise couldn't stand up against the test of time plainly exposed.

"The whole intent is addressing issues we have had in the past of people finding pretty amazing stuff and not having the capacity or the ability to preserve it, and that stuff is lost," said Suttie.

Suttie said artifacts that are found in the water or on the eroding coast can disintegrate in a matter of months if trained professionals can't treat them first.

"If they hold on to it themselves it is going to be dust in a matter of months," he said.

The new legislation will make these protected artifacts property of the Crown. So what's in it for these amateur history sleuths ? Suttie says that in the majority of cases if an artifact is deemed strong enough to maintain its physical integrity once it is exposed to oxygen, it will be loaned to the finders on a long-term basis.

"The new act allows for amateur archeological licenses which still don't allow people to do destructive practices like digging, but what it does allow is people to walk the shoreline and find early historic artifacts."

The shoreline is the focal point for amateur treasure hunters because digging for artifacts without a proper archeological permit is illegal in New Brunswick, explains Suttie.

That makes erosion the best friend of amateur relic hunters.