One of the few areas of archaeology where practices like these still, legally, occur is in the salvage of underwater shipwrecks. Some jurisdictions, which don’t have the money to pay for an underwater excavation, will allow a salvage company to excavate a site using professional archaeologists and scientific techniques. The salvage company in turn recoups their costs (and sometimes makes a good profit) by selling some of the artifacts. This practice is deeply controversial among archaeologists and a source of debate among lawmakers.
In the late nineteenth century the South Street Seaport began to fall into obsolescence, as larger sea vessels and Erie Canal traffic were better suited to the deeper, more spacious Hudson River side of Manhattan. It was finally revitalized in the second half of the twentieth century with the construction of a tourist-friendly marketplace, only to decline again after 9/11 and in the last decade, in part because of the damage caused by Hurricane Sandy. During the storm the East River surged past South Street, Front Street, and Water Street before stopping near Pearl Street, the original Manhattan shoreline. Now, the South Street Seaport is the focus of a $ billion redevelopment project. Throughout its existence, despite periods of change, when it has been altered and adapted to meet the city’s needs, the Seaport has remained a subtle remnant of an important era in New York City’s early history. For archaeologists, the ebb and flow of the Seaport’s fortunes has provided a look at the story of how this often underappreciated port developed and the people who made it happen. “History—things that have happened in the past, people who have walked these streets in the past—adds to our knowledge of how we got to where we are today,” Loorya says. “The reality is New York City could not have become what it is without the South Street Seaport.”