What marine archeology in Nova Scotia needs

By Rob Rondeau - The Chronicle Herald

In July, Nova Scotia announced it would do away with its Treasure Trove Act; yesterday, legislation was introduced to make this happen. The act allowed treasure hunters to actively look for treasure on land and underwater.

Most important, it allowed them to keep 90 per cent of what they found (the rest was supposed to be turned over to the province).

Doing away with the archaic act is long overdue! As Darryl Kelman, president of the Nova Scotia Archaeology Society (NSAS), said: "The proposed changes to the law bring the province in line with the rest of the country and the Western world."

Government opted for the changes after reviewing the lengthy Blackstone Report, which was started in 2005 by a Toronto consulting firm, the Blackstone Corporation, which specializes in resource management and tourism consulting.

It recommended three options for Nova Scotia to consider when dealing with treasure hunting.

Of course, doing away with the act completely, which the province chose to do, was one option.

While many consider the government’s decision to repeal the act a "slam dunk" for conserving the province’s underwater cultural heritage, we can learn a lot from the research done by the Blackstone consultants.

They focused on several key areas, including possible legal ramifications, the potential need for institutional change, and how to improve protecting underwater cultural heritage. The three "scenarios" were weighed out against these criteria.

Hundreds of individuals were consulted for the report. Many are world experts in the field of marine archeology. How the science is done in other countries was also described in detail.

The report’s writers concluded that Nova Scotia needs to make managing its underwater cultural heritage more of a priority. Doing away with the act, Scenario C, was said to "reflect an approach much more consistent with UNESCO (and) … presents little risk of interference with the sovereign immunity claims of other countries."

The report also concluded that the province can learn from other jurisdictions — giving greater weight to protecting underwater cultural heritage through policy and legislation.

One concept that almost all stakeholders agreed to was the need for a full-time provincial marine archeologist. At present, only archeologists who have experience working on land are employed by the province.

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