Florida Proposed House Bill 803/Senate Bill 1054

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According to the Florida Historical Resources Act (Ch. 267 of the Florida Statutes), historical and archaeological sites and artifacts located on State-owned lands, including submerged lands, belong to the people of Florida. Excavating, disturbing, or collecting is prohibited in order to protect information about our State’s past. Recently a bill has been filed with the Florida House (HB803) and it’s companion bill was filed with the Florida Senate (SB1054) that would allow for collectors to obtain a $100 permit that would then entitle them to collect on state submerged lands. This bill allows for the excavation of “isolated finds” with hand tools. There are many issues concerning this bill. First and foremost, these lands are protected because of their sensitive nature and that is why they have been protected under Ch. 267. They are held in the public trust for all Florida citizens and the cultural and natural resources on these lands (both submerged and terrestrial) are protected for everyone to enjoy. Additionally, the use of excavation tools by non-professionals (or untrained/unsupervised avocationals) could lead to the permanent destruction of significant archaeological sites through non-scientific methodological excavation. These sites, unlike most natural resources, do not grow back over time. Once they are lost, they are gone forever, along with the potentially significant information about the past which they contain. Even isolated finds, those that are no longer in their original context, have the potential to provide us with information and one cannot confirm that an artifact is indeed isolated unless they excavate (thus risk destroying the site in the process).

Many of us grow up finding arrowheads on family farms or other places, and that is how many of us initially become interested in archaeology. The problem here isn’t little kids picking up arrowheads on grandpa’s farm. The problem is that these objects are a part of our common past and belong to everyone, not just to people who want to take them. Just like sea oats belong to everyone and provide a vital role for our beaches and so are protected by law, artifacts belong to everyone and provide vital information about our heritage and so are protected by law. It is currently legal to collect on private lands with permission of the landowner. There are also organizations like FPAN and the Florida Anthropological Society that invite and encourage those that are interested in archaeology to get involved by volunteering. Legitimate avocational organizations will have a strict code of ethics that they expect their members and volunteers to abide by and will encourage also the participation of professionals that are interested in working and teaching the public about archaeology. Archaeology is not about collecting things – it’s about what those “things” can tell us about the people who made and used them. Archaeologists care about past human behaviors and activities, and we learn about that through the objects people left behind. When those objects are collected willy-nilly and are removed from the surrounding landscape and other artifacts, we lose information. Organizations and academic programs like the Florida Anthropological Society and FPAN provide many ways for citizens to assist and become involved in meaningful archaeological research that provides information about our past, not simply picking up random objects.

If you take the time to read the bills, which I encourage you to do,  you will  notice that it requires that permit holders report on their findings. That seems like a good idea, right? The problem is that it’s been tried before in Florida and failed – the Isolated Finds program was implemented so that people could certain keep artifacts they found in Florida rivers and all they had to do was turn in information, and it was free! Very few IF reports were sent in, however, and the state discontinued IF due to wide-spread non-compliance among the river diver collecting community. Issuing permits would make tracking collectors easier for the state, but also would require additional staffing as well as additional law enforcement time, a cost which will ultimately be paid by tax payers. In order to pay for the program by charging for permits, each permit would cost hundreds of dollars, making them out of range for most citizens, which would defeat the purpose of a “citizen’s” permit.

On our website we have compiled various resources and answers to common questions about these bills and other previously proposed legislation regarding the collection of artifacts on public lands. I hope that you will take the time to read the bills and read what we have compiled. Ultimately the responsibility of protecting our state’s cultural resources falls to the citizens and we encourage your participation. Included in our list of resources is a link where you can find your local representatives. We hope that you will educate yourself and be encouraged to write, call or email them to express your concerns.

Artifacts Left in Context…Priceless: Why You Can’t Put a Price on the Past

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FPAN regularly hosts what we call “Public Archaeology Days”. This is a day where we have the opportunity  to meet and interact with the local community and educate them about their local cultural resources. Many

Public Archaeology Day at the Wakulla History Museum and Archives.

people will  bring us their personal artifact collection and ask us what their artifacts are worth. My answer is simple, artifacts are priceless!  Archaeologists do not, and should not, appraise artifacts. However, I am always more than happy to help identify their artifacts and educate them on why we do not appraise artifacts. Artifacts are non-renewable resources that provide a window into our understanding of past cultures and lifeways. The information and knowledge that can be gained about our past is priceless. According to the Register of Professional Archaeologists Code of Conduct it is unethical for archaeologists to take part in the commercial exploitation of artifacts, which can be interpreted to include the appraisal of artifacts.

When you purchase an artifact at a show, flea market, online or anywhere else you can never be certain where it came from. There are laws that prohibit the taking of artifacts from burials, state and federal land. If somebody knowingly or even unknowingly purchases artifacts that have been illegally excavated from state or federal land, they may be seized without that person receiving financial compensation. Additionally you could find yourself facing jail time and possibly a hefty fine. It is also important to mention that the enforcement of these laws has been stepped up by law enforcement within the last few years. Additionally, here in Florida many counties and cities have their own preservation ordinances. In some cases, such as in St. Augustine, these ordinances apply even to private property. So you can never be certain what risks you are taking when you are tempted to purchase that arrowhead at the flea market or see a cool artifact for sale online.

Not only are there legal ramifications for purchasing or excavating artifacts from an archaeological site, but there are ethical concerns as well. This is especially true for burial sites, both historic and prehistoric, but can be easily applied to all archaeological and historical sites. With burials especially, by disturbing the site or owning something that was taken from a burial site you are damaging a sacred space and may be interfering with Native American or other religious ceremonial expectations. The Society for American Archaeology has understood for awhile now that the selling and buying of artifacts out of archaeological context is essentially destroying the archaeological record in the U.S. and around the world. This results in the destruction of sites and the information that they potentially can contribute to our understanding of the past.

This brings me to a brief explanation about context.  So let me digress for a moment to help you understand the importance of archaeological context.  Context, archaeological speaking, refers to the relationship artifacts have to each other and the situation in which they are found.  This is just as important, or some may argue even more important, than the actual artifact. The artifact can only tell us so much, but where it was found and what it was found with help to provide archaeologists with the whole story. When you take an artifact out of context we lose part of that story and thus, we lose the potential to fully understand the past.

Okay, with that being said we can now move on. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has also long recognized that the illicit antiquities market is a major problem worldwide. In fact, this organization has found that together, with the trafficking of illegal drugs and arms, the “black market” trade of antiquities and cultural objects constitutes one of the most persistent illegal trades in the world! As part of UNESCO’s efforts, many countries from around the world have assisted them in creating an international legal framework to recover stolen artifacts that have crossed into other countries and prosecute offenders.

You can find modern replicas and traditional crafts at events, such as this pow wow in North Florida.

So with this being said what you can do to help solve this issue? Well, one thing you can do is avoid taking part in the commercial exploitation of artifacts, and instead, understand that these objects are truly priceless and can provide us with a great understanding of our shared past if they are studied (in context) in a scientific manner. Instead of purchasing artifacts, look for replicas or modern crafts made by Native Americans or craftsmen from other cultures. You can legally purchase modern clothing, textiles, pottery and other beautiful and unique traditional crafts from contemporary craftsmen in stores, at festivals, online and in many other venues. In addition to supporting the artist, you will be supporting the local legal economy and ensuring the continuation of a traditional craft.

If you ever do come across an artifact, don’t think of it in terms of its monetary value. Instead contact the proper authorities. The best thing you can do is leave the

In stead of the real C.S.A. buckle, opt for the the replica! You can easily find one at any Civil War reenactment!

artifact in place, record the approximate location on a map, and take a photo with a well-known object (like a coin) in the picture to serve as a scale. Then contact your local FPAN office. They can help ensure that the site is properly recorded and that the proper authorities are notified.

Lastly, become an activist! The FPAN Northeast office in St. Augustine wrote an amazing article on their blog, “The Dirt on Public Archaeology” that discusses how to effectively be an activist for our priceless cultural and historical resources. Make a  choice to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.