Archaeological artifacts, both prehistoric and historic, located on state lands or submerged in state waters, belong to the people of the State of Florida and are managed by the Florida Division of Historical Resources on behalf of the people (see Chapter 267 of the Florida Statutes, the Florida Historical Resources Act). Normally, artifacts indicate the presence of an archaeological site that includes the remains of a previous human settlement or activity. Sometimes, artifacts are found in contexts not associated with a previous occupation. They may have become displaced through erosion, later activities, or some other disturbance; these artifacts are referred to as “isolated.” A number of years ago, the Florida Bureau of Archaeological Research operated an “Isolated Finds Program” that allowed individuals diving in Florida’s rivers to collect and keep isolated artifacts they found on the river bottoms provided they reported their finds to the Bureau following established procedures. After a number of years, the program was discontinued due to wide-spread non-compliance in reporting by the vast majority of diving collectors.
Recently, a citizen group has expressed interest in what they are calling a “Citizen Archaeology Permit,” which is essentially a revival of the failed Isolated Finds Program. This program, or CAP as it is being called, would again allow individuals to collect and keep archaeological materials from state-owned lands and especially submerged lands. The Florida Public Archaeology Network believes this proposed program is contrary to the public trust and would result in the archaeological heritage that belongs to all of Florida’s citizens disappearing into private collections or being sold to collectors in other states or countries, thereby depriving us all of valuable information about our common past.
The following points present information regarding the former Isolated Finds Program and issues surrounding the proposed Citizen Archaeology Permit:
Isolated Finds Program (IFP):
• CAP is proposed as a revision of IFP and will permit removal of artifacts from sovereign submerged lands, and possibly dry lands as well (State Lands).
• IFP was in place for 11 years (1994-2005)
- Not codified into law but a program of Florida Division of Historical Resources (DHR).
- Created to facilitate communication and information exchange between river-diving collectors and professional archaeologists.
• Beginning June 1, 2005, DHR discontinued IFP upon a recommendation from the Florida Historical Commission. In support of the decision, DHR referred to Chapter 267.115(9), Florida Statutes, which states that “the division may implement a program to administer finds of isolated historic artifacts to the finder in exchange for information about the artifacts and the circumstances and location of their discovery.” In other words, the Division is not obligated to operate such a program.
• Most artifacts collected under the Isolated Finds Program were unreported and underreported:
- Florida Bureau of Archaeological Research (BAR) conducted an informal survey of state land managers to gather information on IFP, which revealed approximately 78% non-compliance.
- Only a handful of individuals (approximately 7) regularly participated in IFP.
- Evidence in South Carolina, the only other state to enact a similar policy, mirrors BAR’s findings.
• Although a few river divers were very conscientious in submitting IFP reports of finds, the vast majority of artifacts collected from Florida rivers were never reported. With no way to enforce compliance through law, lack of dedicated BAR staff and funding to educate river divers, and widespread disregard by the river diving community, IFP was an idea that failed.
• All data reported through IFP is open to scholars and interested individuals for public inspection.
Issues with the proposed CAP program:
1. Archaeology is more than collecting artifacts. The proposed CAP is not an archaeology permit, but rather merely a collecting permit.
• Archaeological investigations stress context, the matrix of artifacts in relation to one another that enables dating and understanding of objects, archaeological sites, and human activity that forms our understanding of the past.
2. Stone spear points, knives, and arrowheads are not just curiosities but were objects made and used by the ancestors of today’s descendent Native American communities and are part of the heritage for those of us who call Florida home.
• The prehistoric artifacts in Florida are connections for Native Americans to their ancestors, recent and distant.
3. Over time, legalizing collecting only exacerbates existing problems and loss of information.
• CAP is a program based on consumption. Each generation inherits a physical environment from their preceding generation. Through CAP, that inheritance will be diminished and will reflect the preceding generation’s selfish consumption and disregard for the future.
4. Florida Statute already prohibits removing artifacts and other modified or unmodified materials from State Lands, both terrestrial and submerged.
• “No person shall destroy, injure, deface, mar, move, dig, harmfully disturb or remove from any park area, or the waters thereof, any buildings, structures, facilities, historic ruins, equipment, park property, soil, sand, gravel, rocks, stones, minerals, marine plants or animals, artifacts, or other materials” (Rule 62D-2.013, Chapter 258, Florida Statutes).
5. CAP fundamentally alters the relationship between the State of Florida and its management of resources.
• CAP requires DHR to surrender obligation to “administer state-owned or state controlled historical resources in a spirit of stewardship and trusteeship” (267.061, 1(a), Florida Statutes).
6. Most finds are not “isolated.”
• Florida defines an archaeological site as three or more artifacts within a 30 meter diameter area that are not obviously redeposited (Division of Historical Resources, Cultural Resource Standards & Operational Manual, Module 3, Guidelines for Use by Historic Preservation Professionals, Section 188.8.131.52 Site Bounding, p.18-19).
• Florida’s rivers are unlike South Carolina’s and their low energy can preserve original context unparalleled in higher-energy rivers in other states. It is irresponsible to ask a non-professional to determine whether an artifact is in its original context or is displaced.
7. Florida exempts from the Sunshine Law location information for archaeological sites to prevent their destruction by looters and vandals.
• Self-identified artifact collectors and divers are thus often misinformed about their finds being “isolated” and actually are collecting from archaeological sites.
- Cultural materials taken from good context look identical to redeposited artifacts, rendering violations undetectable. Even honest river divers can remove artifacts from sites unknowingly, especially in the low-visibility conditions characteristic of many Florida rivers. For example, multiple divers over the course of a year could each collect a single artifact from the same area; although each might think their artifact was isolated, the area likely is a submerged archaeological site.
8. Implementing CAP will increase need for oversight.
• Annual cost of this program will incur the need for at least two full-time employees, as well as funds for employee travel to implement and sustain training programs, to monitor and track compliance, and to maintain files and databases of information.
• The need for Law Enforcement training and coordination of archaeological site information will also increase.
For these reasons, FPAN is opposed to the removal into private collections of archaeological materials from state-owned lands, including sovereign submerged state lands. FPAN supports the preservation of archaeological materials and sites for the education and benefit of present and future generations. FPAN encourages you to contact your state legislator with your opinion of the proposed CAP program. Senator Alan Hays (www.flsenate.gov/Senators/s11) has expressed an interest in the proposed CAP and would appreciate the input of Florida citizens.