Today I headed out early after a quick breakfast at my hotel in Glofito, a small fishing village on the southern coast of Costa Rica. The heat and humidity down here is brutal and I knew that I would have to get an early start. I was traveling through an area, known as the Diquís Delta, in the southernmost part of the Puntarenas Province of south eastern Costa Rica. Today’s mission was to do some gold panning along a couple of the many rivers flowing out of the thick jungle covered mountains and into the shimmering blue Pacific Ocean.
Less than an hour into my trip, and shortly after passing a Police checkpoint I arrived at my destination on the banks of the Rio Oro or Gold River in English. I parked the Blazer, and donned my back pack and headed into the jungle and eventually down to the banks of the river.
The Blue Water Rose out of Key West Florida, moored just outside the Panama Canal. She was one of the primary recovery vessels used to recover artifacts from the wreck of the San Jose. (Photo - TreasureWorks)
By Tommy Vawter
It has been some time since I have sat down and put pen to paper on this subject matter, save a rant from time to time on TreasureWorks FORUMS or on my facebook account. The last time was back in February of 2013 when I penned an article on my blog titled “Treasure Hunters – v – Archaeologists”.
Back then I supported the efforts of some professional Treasure Hunters who were working alongside Archaeologists and in cooperation with the Governments who had possible historic and reachable treasure within their political boarders, as the best way forward for the rescue of long lost shipwrecks from the ravages of the sea.
Just the year prior, Odyssey Marine was forced to hand over to the Kingdom of Spain some $500 Million in treasure they had recovered in International Waters, in what seemed at the time to be an arbitrary and capricious decision by the US Supreme Court, not to stay a lower court ruling awarding the treasure to Spain. This precedent setting case basically pumped out centuries of International Shipwreck Salvage Law with the bilge water.
That plot thickened with the release via WikiLeaks of a State Department Cable to the Kingdom of Spain where the US State Department promised support to Spain in the Odyssey Marine case in a quid pro quo exchange for Spain’s support in efforts to recover a painting from a French Museum that was taken by the Nazi’s during WWII, from relatives of a wealthy family, and presumably a Clinton campaign contributor now residing in the US. While the Kingdom of Spain ended up with the Odyssey Marine Treasure, the painting is still hanging in a French Museum.
This time it’s not the State Department in cahoots with a foreign government, for their own misguided political ends, all too eager to sacrifice the hard work and considerable expense of truly archaeological conscious treasure salvors. No, this time it’s the United Nations coming to the rescue of the Kingdom of Spain (more about Spain in a later blog), and the Panama Institute of National Culture.
By Tommy Vawter
In the dark and deadly underworld of narco-trafficking down here in Central America, where ruthless people of limited education and meager beginnings are transformed almost overnight into multi-millionaires, to the point that they no longer count the cash money that is flowing in. They have to weigh it because counting it all takes too long.
It seems almost inevitable that sooner or later, some of these modern day pirates of this multi-billion dollar industry are going to burry some of their ill-gotten gains in secret locations.
I am sure that the reasons for hiding some of their wealth varies from one drug lord to another. Some hide their treasure for old age retirement, some to us as an emergency escape in case they are being hunted by new drug lords wanting to take over precious territory and drug transportation routes, and some to save in case the authorities are moving in on them and they need to buy their way out of jail or prison.
Y’all remember about 5 months ago we were talking about the crew of the Aqua Quest, and their miss-adventure down in Honduras and how the Capitan and her crew ended up spending some 52 days in the squealer of a sorry excuse of a prison located in the department of Gracias a Dios (Thank God), in La Mosquitia region of northern Honduras on trumped up weapons smuggling charges.
To his credit, Capt Mayne did not cave to the pressure to pay extortion money to some local officials, but they paid a heavy price in term of the loss of their freedom, and the constant worry of friends and family back home.
The six Americans were finally released from prison on the 26th of June, and then headed home to Tarpon Springs, Florida. On the July 2nd, the Aqua Quest and her crew sailed into their home port to a hero’s welcome.
Well, it is often said that us Treasure Hunters are a different breed, and that many are cut from the same cloth as other Explorers and Adventurers that have gone before us. This is defiantly the case for Capt Mayne and his crew. As I am writing this, Capt Mayne is back in Honduras meeting with local officials in several municipalities, signing exclusive 5 year agreements to continue with his salvage operation of ancient Mahogany logs in the Mosquitia region of northern Honduras.
While Bob and his crew have made many friends in Honduras as a result of their efforts to assist the native Mosquitia Indians with some profit sharing from the Mahogany Log project and the promise of other Humanitarian aid. I would venture to say that in the back of his mind he must be thinking that he has also made a few enemies during their ordeal earlier this year.
Northern Honduras is one of the most stunningly beautiful places that I have had the pleasure to visit, and I fully understand the desire to return. On the 12th of August TreasureWorks temporarily pulled the plug on our plans to set up an operation in northern Honduras, in part because of security concerns. In the meantime, we have moved down to Panama, but the desire to return to Honduras burns bright.
Honduras is also one of the most dangerous places on the earth, and the UN has rated Honduras as the most deadly country in the world for the last four years with an annual murder rate of 90.4 per 100,000 residents. In part due to narco-traffickers who often operate with the support of some corrupt government officials, but mostly due to gang related violence exported from Los Angeles, California prisons and brought on by mass poverty.
Capt. Mayne has not yet announced when he and his crew will be returning to Honduras.
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Government Prohibits diving on the Samabaj site
Yesterday we were informed that the Guatemalan Ministry of Culture and Sports issued an order that prohibits SCUBA Diving on the Samabaj archaeological site, on Lake Atitlan, Santiago Atitlan, Guatemala, because the government does not yet have an adequate management plan of the place.
After that resolution was issued entities involved in the management of the Lake conducted a workshop for the creation of this plan.
Adriana Segura, the Directorate General of Cultural and Natural Heritage, said that the aim is to identify problems affecting the archaeological site and take into account the local Indian authorities.
Indigenous mayors of Santiago Atitlán expressed discomfort because they have not been taken into account, noting that they have knowledge and documents containing information about this place, including the ground that the name is Pa'Jaibal '.
They asked that the management plan will be suitable and especially the revenue generated in any way directly benefit the conservation of the site and the local population.
The ruins were first discovered by a local diver back in 1996, and archaeologists showed little interest in the site until just recently.
Once archaeologists realized the size and scope of the submerged Mayan ruins they decided to keep the location a secret in order to prevent any looting of the site.
In July of this year, a team from TreasureWorks, led by explorer and treasure hunter Tommy Vawter successfully located the lost Mayan City of Samabaj and spent several days diving on and exploring the site.
View the video
By Tommy Vawter
My interest in the Legend of Ciudad Blanca, or "The White City" began several years ago as we made plans to launch an expedition to the Central American county of Honduras, and last year we spent 3 months exploring Honduras and the many legends of Pirate treasure on the Island of Roatan and also the legendary city said to be located in the Mosquitia.
The Rio Platano Biosphere was declared World Heritage by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), which is located in the departments of Olancho, Gracias a Dios and Colón , with an area of 815 000 hectares, which borders the Bosawás, in Nicaragua.
Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés reported hearing legends of a region with towns and villages of extreme wealth in Honduras, but never located them. By the 1930s, there were rumors of a place in Honduras called the "City of the Monkey God" and in 1940 adventurer Theodore Morde claimed to have found it. However, he never provided a precise location for the site, one that later sources equated with Ciudad Blanca. Morde died before returning to the region to undertake further exploration.
By Tommy Vawter
COLOMBIA – The Government of Colombia today passed Senate bill No. 125 of 2011 - which will regulate Colombia’s Underwater Cultural Heritage. The bill states that contracts can now be made with marine exploration companies to search for and salvage shipwrecks in Colombian waters, but also that they can keep as pay up to 50 percent of what they find in what the law describes as “criterion of repetition”. In other words, all items that are basically one of kind items that are considered historically significant will be retained by the Colombian government for public display in museums. Hundreds of thousands of Silver reale and Gold doubloon coins and Gold and Silver bullion as well as other common artifacts will be split between the government and the treasure hunters.
As explained by the Colombian Minister of Culture, Mariana Garces. The rationale for the project by the Minister of Culture is that Colombia has neither the technology nor the resources to do these kinds of explorations that are highly expensive. To Garcés, this law will rescue the riches submerged and leverage them for the benefit of all Colombians and citizens of the world that will be able to see them in marine or naval museums. "The spirit of this bill was to create mechanisms to access some heritage objects that would otherwise be unattainable.
On June 8, 1708, in the heat of battle, the British Navy hunted down the Spanish galleon San Jose and sank her. The San Jose lies at 230 to 250 meters deep, well beyond conventional SCUBA, and 10 nautical miles from the port of Cartagena. She is known as the richest shipwreck in history and her registered cargo alone is estimated to be worth 10 Billion dollars in today’s money.
According to some researchers in the treasure hunting community, there are approximately 1,100 ships that were sunk or wrecked between the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in the territorial waters of what is now Colombia. However, some academic historians that claim these numbers are closer to only 200 shipwrecks.
By Tommy Vawter
Most of us involved in the world of treasure hunting have heard about the multi-millionaire Art Collector who told the world that he has hidden a treasure chest worth Millions of Dollars out in the mountains of New Mexico, and aptly named it Fenn’s Treasure.
When I first heard the story a few weeks ago I made a conscious decision not to cover the story here at TreasureWorks.com for many of the same reasons that I don’t cover Geo Caching and a lot of other stories that come across my desk. Primarily I didn’t really consider it treasure hunting in the true sense of the words. Additionally, I thought it may have just been some type of publicity stunt to sell books or whatever.
Today I read an article on the COLORADO PLATEAU ARCHAEOLOGICAL ALLIANCE website that caused me to reconsider my decision to leave the story in the reject pile.
In an article published on the website with the headline “Don’t go looking for Fenn’s treasure. It’s illegal. And you may end up like this woman.” The author proceeds to say “what Fenn’s doing on his own land is perfectly legal. Under the Archaeological Resources Protection Act, it is illegal to hunt for artifacts on public land. Same goes for site damage — you push over a rock wall, and you’re committing a felony.”
The author subsequently links the very next paragraph “and that’s another crime” to a Bureau of Land Management News Release dated back in 2009 about a group of 24 people who were arrested in Utah and charged with the looting of Native American grave sites. If memory serves me correctly one of them was an archaeologist, and there were also several deaths and suicides in that case that were directly attributable to the Department of Interiors heavy handed tactics and SWAT raids on the residences. But that’s another story for another day.
As many of you know, nothing gets my ire up faster than self-righteous academic archaeological types that automatically target treasure hunters as thieves and destroyers of cultural heritage. When, in fact the opposite is true. The simple fact of the matter, as I have stated repeatedly in my writings on this subject, is that the vast majority of both professional and amateur treasure hunters would prefer to work with the archaeological community so as to preserve any cultural heritage that we encounter along the way. The trouble is that the academic types just want to stop us all and outlaw metal detecting and treasure hunting because we are for profit operations.
The reality of this situation is that these left thinking professors don’t need to worry about us treasure hunters disturbing any archaeological sensitive arias; we already know the rules that are in place. It’s the hordes of unemployed folks in our country that don’t have a clue about treasure hunting / archaeology, and are only concerned with a chance to strike it rich and put more than beans on the table for their families.
So instead of attacking the Treasure Hunting community, I would think that these people would be better served trying to educate the general public about archaeological sites on public lands, not the public on archaeological lands.
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By Tommy Vawter
The headlines in the small Central American country of Belize this week read “No More Mayan Artifacts Thefts - U.S. and Belize Sign MOU”. Finally we can rest at night knowing that our governments have put an end to this problem for once and all.
In September of 2011, the Government of Belize, concerned that its cultural heritage was in jeopardy from pillage, made a request to the Government of the United States under Article 9 of the 1970 UNESCO Convention. Belize's request sought U.S. import restrictions on archaeological material from Belize representing its Pre-Colombian heritage dating from (9000 B.C.) through the Spanish Colonial period (A.D. 1798).
On Wednesday, February 27th, 2013 The Honorable Jose Manuel Heredia, Belize Minister of Tourism and Culture, signed into effect the bilateral agreement between the governments of the United States and Belize under the 1970 UNESCO convention. The Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) places import restrictions on Pre-Columbian archaeological and Colonial-period artifacts from Belize entering the US. Similar bilateral agreements have already been in place between the US and Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.
Belize was the last unwilling loophole for illegal antiquities smuggling in the Maya region, for many years small time smugglers involved in the illicit trade of Mayan Artifacts have used this small nation on the Caribbean as a way point in the movement of artifacts from the rest of Central America and Mexico simply because they knew that they could escape prosecution in the US if they were caught.
So all is now well with the world and there will be no more theft of artifacts and destruction of archaeological sites in the Maya world. While government officials and archaeologists are sipping Champagne, eating Caviar and congratulating themselves on a job well done, some are standing in the corner of the room having intense discussions on the next step of confiscation and repatriation of artifacts from museums and private collections from around the globe.
Meanwhile, in the dark of night at clandestine airstrips throughout Central America, small aircraft either owned or stolen by drug cartels from South America and Mexico are quietly slipping into archaeological rich locations. The aircraft, many already loaded with Cocaine from Columbia are being met by trucks filled with Mayan artifacts, also headed for the hungry markets of Europe and the United States.
The cartels and their agents are able to pay top dollar, between $100 and $500 per artifact depending on the quality and the demand for that particular item. In turn, they are able to collect between $10,000 and $100,000 for these artifacts on the international black market.
By Tommy Vawter
In the US where a handful of elite academic archaeologist and state legislatures are slowly eroding our rights to treasure hunt and metal detect by making it a crime to recover anything over 50 years old. Many parts of the world seem to be a little more realistic.
I have long been a proponent of treasure hunters and archaeologist working together when it comes to sites that may or may not be of archaeological significance. I even created this website in part to help facilitate the concept of cooperation between our two communities. However, the elitest academic world of archaeology will have none of that.
On the other hand, there is much support for cooperation among the rank and file archaeological community, and there are even some of them that are members here at TreasureWorks. Unfortunately, I have been told privately that they fear going public because they know that they would never be allowed to work in their chosen profession.
Let’s face it; most archaeologists are just treasure hunters with a degree in archaeology. They fund there expeditions through research grants generated by universities, and by publishing their successes in the form of papers and books.
Most treasure hunters are hobbyists who enjoy the outdoors and the thrill of the hunt. These are the folks who often make significant find mostly by chance. We see many cases of this happening in the UK, where there is a system in place to profit from their discoveries, and that also allows archaeologists to further excavate the sites, creating a win, win situation for all parties. Yet in states like Florida and Texas this can land you in jail.
- The Lost Mayan City of Kaminaljuyu
- The Mayan Calendar and 13 Bak’tun
- Florida Treasure Hunters Unite to Help a Friend in Need
- Happy Birthday TreasureWorks
- Treasure Hunters Claim Victory in Florida Battle
- War declared on Metal Detecting / Treasure Hunting
- Florida’s War on Treasure Hunters
- Guatemala Launches New Tourism Website