Yesterday I attended the press release and conference in Tallahassee where the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission (FWC) announced the details of a 2 year undercover operation and subsequent arrests of 14 individuals in Florida and Georgia. The individuals targeted in the sting had been involved in the illegal taking of prehistoric and historic artifacts from protected areas on land and underwater and in the extensive dealing of that stolen property. FWC and arresting officers levied over 400 criminal charges; both felony and misdemeanor counts. Florida Secretary of State, Ken Detzner, spoke first and introduced the Community Relations representative for FWC who then introduced the FWC’s lead officer on the case. Video of the press conference is linked below.
Division of Historical Resources Director and State Historic Preservation Officer, Robert Bendus, spoke as well. In a few words, Mr. Bendus boiled down the impact of the criminal activity and its effect today but also for future generations of Floridians. A combination of words stuck with me long after he finished speaking, “…we need to teach about the enterprise of archaeology and how great it is to participate in it professionally and pass that information along.” The arrested few have stolen a part of that enterprise from Florida and from Floridians. Unfortunately, many will continue the criminal pursuit but this undercover operation and the arrests will have a lasting impact on those that choose to perpetuate these illegal activities.
Evidence collected during the FWC investigation was on display during the press conference.
It’s not a coincidence that the individuals arrested yesterday may also be proponents of an idea that has made its way back into the forefront of the issue of collecting artifacts from State property. The idea is one that has already been a policy of the State, the Isolated Finds Policy (IFP). Under IFP, individuals were allowed to recover isolated finds from Florida rivers and submerged bottomlands as long as they then complied with IFP and reported their finds to the State. Created in 1994, IFP sought to facilitate communication between professional and amateur archaeologists but ended up instead serving as a way for individuals to game a legitimate system of reporting and to, in all likelihood, loot and destroy archaeological sites on State property. IFP’s inherent communication drawbacks and enforcement issues caused it to be discontinued as a policy of the State in 2005.
The idea is back. This time it’s titled Citizen Archaeology Permit program or CAP. Where officials did not codify IFP into State law, proponents of CAP wish to amend Chapter 267, the Florida Historical Resources Act, and ensure that CAP will become law and thus more difficult to discontinue. In light of the recent investigation and the uncovering of such an extensive network of illegal taking and illicit dealing, CAP poses some serious issues that must be taken into account by our elected officials, especially those who have been approached by its proponents and may support a proposed amendment. A consequence of CAP may only ensure more access to those individuals who already choose to access Florida’s past through illegal and disastrous means, and do nothing to preserve these resources and facilitate a dialogue between archaeologists and interested members of the public.
FPAN has put together a list of key talking points and issues regarding CAP. I’ll submit those in a follow-up as well as a list of the ways Floridians can participate in the Enterprise of Archaeology and encourage others to do so as well.
Jeff Moates, FPAN Regional Director
West Central and Central Regional Centers
University of South Florida, Department of Anthropology