German archaeologists set up underwater museum to deter treasure hunters
If someone walked into a museum and desecrated the artifacts on display, people would be upset. So why isn’t the same true of historical artifacts that happen to be under the ocean? In an attempt to deter vandals, reckless tourists, and amateur collectors, German archaeologists have started planting signs next to shipwrecks, crashed planes and other noteworthy places under the Baltic Sea.
The practice first started in 2012, at which time Der Spiegel pointed out that: “Hobby divers and trophy hunters are damaging a precious maritime legacy stretching back thousands of years.” There are around 1,500 marine monuments scattered across the seabed of the Baltic Sea, all of which are at risk from heavy-handed explorers. This includes shipwrecks, sunken aircraft, and even even ancient settlements that succumbed to rising water levels.
One particular site that has come under attack numerous times is home to a two-man U-boat designated as a war grave – a designation which wasn’t enough to deter someone from tearing off its hatch in 2002. Even after the local government installed a steel plate, there were further attempts to get inside. “It’s one of our big worries, over the years people keep trying to get into it and that is of course utterly disrespectful,” says Detlef Jantzen, an archaeologist at the regional agency for monument protection in the northeastern German state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania.
Due to the fact many monuments are referred to as “wrecks,” it might be sending the wrong message to those who go diving in the area. In the same way that touching coral reefs and interacting with animals can damage the ecosystem for future visitors, stealing and damaging underwater monuments could be enough to delete a piece of history forever.
On a more lighthearted note, the signs are also a much more convenient way to provide information underwater. Especially when you consider that a guided tour doesn’t have quite the same effect when you’re hooked up to an oxygen tank and words come out as nothing more than bubbles.
Images by Martin Siegel/Society of Maritime Archaeology, Michael via Flickr