Ricardo J. Elia, Looting, Collecting, and the Destruction of Archaeological Resources, 6 Nonrenewable Resources, no. 2, at 85–86, 88–89, 91, 93, 95 (1997)
Archaeological resources are frequently described as nonrenewable resources. It is true that new archaeological sites are being formed every day by the same processes that created sites in the past – the disposal of refuse, the [abandonment] of living and working spaces, and natural causes like alluviation, flooding, and earthquakes. But archaeological resources from past epochs can never be renewed. The surviving stock (including recorded and as yet unrecorded sites) of Sumerian temples, early hominid sites, or Anasazi pithouses is all that we will ever have; the resource base of past sites may be preserved or diminished, but will never be augmented. To cite one specific example, historical records indicate that between 1492 and 1520, the period of European exploration of the Americas, slightly more than 50 vessels were lost in the New World. Considering that some of these ships were later stripped for parts and materials, the actual number is probably smaller. The result is a strikingly small potential database for underwater archaeologists who are interested in this important period of nautical history.
The physical remains of the past constitute a fragile and finite archaeological resource base that is regularly threatened with depletion, destruction, and disturbance from several causes, some deliberate and others unintentional. The principal causes of the attrition of the archaeological record are environmental forces, development, warfare, vandalism, and looting. Each factor varies in intensity and scope, but all produce the same result – a steady, irremediable erosion of the record of our life on the planet.