How to Be a Modern Day Treasure Hunter

Careful: You can easily spend a fortune trying to find a fortune.

Compass and old treasure map
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Although the laws are put in place for a reason, that doesn't mean they shouldn't occasionally be tweaked, according to James Sinclair, a Jacksonville, Fla.-based archaeologist who consults with the private sector when there's a desire to salvage a historic shipwreck. He was also the first archaeologist to visit the RMS Titanic, where he spent two weeks on a diving expedition in 2000, uncovering treasures from the debris field.

"The term 'treasure hunter' has become a pejorative term that goes along with the current label of tomb and grave robbers, and I don't think that's the case anymore, at least in the world I deal with," Sinclair says.

Naturally, he takes the view that treasures shouldn't only be searched for by academics and should be an endeavor of cooperation between the private and public sector. "It's a fundamental human trait, the search for lost things," Sinclair says.

Expenses. This is not a cheap hobby, occupation or calling, which is one reason Sinclair feels that looking for treasure almost has to be an alignment of private and public forces working together.

"Academics rarely have the access to the funding you need to search for a shipwreck. It's also rare with the federal government," Sinclair says, noting that the Florida family that found $300,000 in treasure off the coast of Florida had been searching for it for 16 years. "If you were in an academic setting, and you used up your grant money after two years, I doubt funding would have been renewed again."

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"It is a high-risk business," Tedesco says. "It is more for gambler-type temperaments than those who are hardwired for security."

Carney can attest that treasure hunting isn't cheap. By the time he returned to Philadelphia, he calculated that in his quest to find $2 million, he had spent about $1,300 – on airfare, a rental car, a hotel and some other odds and ends. If he had bought a metal detector, he could have easily spent another $200 to $300 on a good one. From there, the expenses just go up. The 2000 Titanic expedition, Sinclair says, cost $5 million.

Whatever you do, if you're going to look for treasure, whether buried by pirates or underwater elements or hidden by a multimillionaire, "do your homework," Carney advises. "Those adventure movies? They're two hours long because that's how long movies are, not because that's how long it takes to find a treasure."