Apparently, dead things are not safe from the oil spill's onslaught. Archaeologists are worried about damage the oil could inflict on shipwrecks—both 19th century and WWII U-Boat flavors—and important coastal historic sites.
Oil contamination could damage the artifacts, itself, but there's also concerns about how risk of human exposure could keep sites from being properly researched. What's more, archaeologists say that, during past spills like the Exxon Valdez, cleanup efforts led to accidental destruction of sites, and intentional looting.
"We learned from Exxon Valdez that there were incidents of looting by cleanup workers, equipment being brought in, destroying the ground," said John Rawls, marine archaeologist with Earth Search Inc., a firm hired by BP to do archaeological surveys.
In one incident, cleanup workers stumbled across a prehistoric Chugachmiut burial cave containing wooden artifacts.
"Cleanup workers found the cave, which was unknown to archaeologists, and removed some of the bones and then called a supervisor," McMahan said. He said Exxon security collected more of the bones and state troopers raked remains into a body bag and carted them away. "The site was pretty much trashed," he said.
Image of a Maui shipwreck courtesy Flickr user DirectDish, via CC
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