Proposed Legislation threatens Florida Archaeology: A Call to Action

A troubling new piece of proposed legislation (HB 803) puts Florida’s submerged (and likely all) cultural resources on public lands at risk by amending the state’s statutes relating to the discovery of “isolated” historic or archaeological artifacts.  The changes would compel the state to implement a program by which private individuals could apply for an annual permit (for $100) that allows them to “discover” and remove artifacts on State submerged lands and even officially transfers ownership of these artifacts to the permit holder. The only legal requirements: 1) individuals have to promise to report their finds and 2) no tools are allowed for excavation… ***EXCEPT*** trowels, shovels, or any other “hand-held implement” (jeez, I’m glad they narrowed that down).

While this bill ostensibly only applies to submerged and isolated artifacts, this change in the statutes would in effect endanger all archaeological and historical sites on public lands.  There are so many issues that could come out of this, but two huge problems I see with this legislation are these:

First, applying the term “isolated” to essentially all artifacts found in rivers or lake bottoms assumes a priori that they are not part of sites with potentially intact contexts.  Indiscriminate digging certainly does not facilitate determining if such contexts are present. As one of our own SEACU contributors can attest (ah-hem…Morgan Smith), important stratigraphic sites can be found in underwater contexts! And to rely on non-professional diggers to make such determinations (who potentially stand to make $$$ by selling said artifacts) is like putting the fox in the hen-house and saying it can eat only the “abandoned” eggs.

Second, even though this bill deals exclusively with submerged public lands (lake bottoms and rivers), I suspect that it would be incredibly difficult to prevent dry land digging once access was granted.  I suppose it is a matter of trust to hope that permit holders will restrict their activities to rivers and lakes, and that they will report honestly, but when there is a financial incentive to mine public lands for artifacts, that trust evaporates. The stated maximum penalty for violations of this program being only $1000 does not seem like it would be an effective deterrent when a quick search of eBay suggests “authentic” artifacts can bring in multiple thousands of dollars for a single piece.

I understand that looting and theft of natural and cultural resources already occur on public lands with disturbing regularity, but the solution should not be to simply open the doors to looters for $100 a pop.

If you live in Florida, or work in Florida, or if you know people in Florida, please contact the appropriate state representatives and encourage them to reject this attempt to legalize the destruction of archaeological and cultural heritage sites on public lands!

PS. What did I miss?  I know there are other important facets to this issue. Please feel free to add to this conversation in the comments!

PPS. Thanks to Tanya Peres Lemons for bringing this to our attention here at SEACU.


38 comments on “Proposed Legislation threatens Florida Archaeology: A Call to Action

  1. Ken Sassaman says:

    Thanks for posting that David. Pretty outrageous proposition, literally converting ownership of public resources to private individuals who then have right to commercialize and profit.

    Here is a link to the house bill posted a few days ago:

    and Senate bill introduced yesterday:

    If you are a Florida citizen, go to to find your representatives and senators. Most of them have email links that request your contact info and then provide a text box for inserting a message. The example below would suffice, but generally you want to keep it short and direct:

    As a citizen of the state of Florida I am writing to register my opposition to passage of House Bill 803 and Senate Bill 1054, which will allow private citizens, with state-issued permits, to collect archaeological objects from sovereignty submerged lands for ownership or sale. Not only will the actions of private collectors result in the destruction of sensitive waterways and associated land, but also bolster an antiquities market that is already incredibly inflated and thus an inducement to collecting for profit. This bill is being pushed by those who hope to profit from the selfish collection and destruction of everyone’s heritage.

    You also can email Governor Rick Scott,

    His office has a similar email utility. If you are not a citizen you can still register a comment and I suggest you point out that one of the attractions for visiting Florida is its heritage resources, which will be compromised by private collection and commercialization.

    any help anyone can provide would be greatly appreciated!


  2. dover1952 says:

    I am a professional archaeologist who has a historical research interest in the esoteric subject of professional archaeologist/artifact collector relations (and also the lack of them). Archaeologists with similar research interests include Dr. Bonnie Pitblado and Dr. Michael Shott. Several comments come to mind on this subject:

    1) How are the Florida House of Representatives and Florida State Senate divided up politically these days in terms of Democrats, Moderate Republicans, Conservative Republicans, Tea Party Republicans, and Independents? It has been my experience that most artifact collectors tend to be Conservative Republicans and Tea Party supporters who gravitate strongly to the position that traditional English Common Law rights to private property ownership are paramount concerns that trump all other challenging concerns. These political head counts may predict the chances of this bill being passed or voted down.

    2) FPAN claims that 78 percent of the river divers who hunt for artifacts in the sovereign waters of Florida failed to report their finds under the old IFP. How they know the percentage who did report their isolated finds is obvious. Far less obvious is how FPAN came up with this 78 percent number for nonreporting divers and whether this percentage is scientifically credible in statistical terms. For example, how on earth would they know who all the artifact-hunting divers in Florida are to get a representative sample or a full sample? Moreover, how would you account for divers who simply lie by saying that they have not been diving for artifacts at all or that they were diving but found none? If you were an artifact diver, would you confess to a state official (holding a survey clipboard) that you had broken the law by not reporting your isolated finds? it seems unlikely to me that they would do so voluntarily.

    3) Most artifact collectors by far go about collecting artifacts simply for personal enjoyment and art appreciation purposes. A large number of them tend to keep the artifacts they personally find in fields and streams for their entire lives without ever selling them. In view of that fact, I would hesitate to use the term “artifact collector” to describe the very small minority of people who dive or dig for artifacts solely for the purpose of monetary value and sale. Better terms for these people might be “commercial artifact miner” or “commercial artifact trafficker.” Unfortunately, most artifacts in private collections do eventually make it to the commercial artifact market—but not always in the conscious, brazen, and callous ways we professional archaeologists like to imagine. I have known a number of artifact collectors across the span of my life, and more than just a few are unconsciously convinced that they are “going to live forever.” They do not keep written records on where they find their artifacts because they imagine themselves as being always alive and always able to tell someone orally—so no need to ever write it down. In a similar vein, they often hold onto their collections until they die in hopes that a close relative will love the artifacts as much as they did. Unfortunately, these collectors always do die, and their heirs (who more often than not have zero interest in the artifacts) put them immediately on the auction block, and by so doing, send them straight into the commercial artifact stream.

    4) It has been my experience that in the 50+ year old war between American professional archaeologists and artifact collectors, both sides have engaged in assorted propaganda exercises (lies, half truths, distortions of reality, omissions of key information, etc.) aimed at discrediting the other side in the eyes of the American people. One of the classic pieces of propaganda issued by the professional archaeology side is the notion that “all artifact collectors are only interested in the monetary value of artifacts and that they collect artifacts primarily for profit.” This is just plain not true in most cases. Artifact collectors engage in similarly classic propaganda claims aimed at embarrassing professional archaeologists in the eyes of the American public. For example, in one of the most famous, they tell the American public that any citizen who stumbles upon an artifact should never take it to a museum archaeologist for identification because the archaeologist will always find a clever way to steal their artifact and never give it back to them. This too is just plain not true. Many such examples of propaganda exist on both sides and can be historically identified in various contexts.

    5) Feel free to visit and participate on my new research blog, which was mentioned on page 38 in the November 2015 edition of “The SAA Archaeological Record” the link is as follows:

    My initial thinking was that professional archaeologists and artifact collectors would jump with rabies-like froth at an opportunity to confront each other and give each other a self-righteous piece of their minds in civil words on this new blog. Just like at the CERN research facility in Europe, I had hoped to observe the many atomic particles that would spew forth from these collisions and get a better feel for the full scope of the traditional disagreements between the two sides. Much to my surprise and consternation, the only preliminary finding I have to report is that neither side has much of a desire to either talk with or directly confront the other side. Instead, they wish to bury their heads in the sand and pretend that the other side does not exist.

    Another factor in play is a sense of peer pressure. Professional archaeologists do not want their peers to see them engaging in conversations with artifact collectors for fear of being branded as “looter lovers” On the flip side of that same coin, artifact collectors appear to be shying away from such engagement because they are afraid their fellow collectors will brand them as “traitors to the righteous cause of collecting.” Personally, I think both sides are silly gooses for behaving in this manner.

    • Ramie Gougeon says:

      I will make every effort to write a longer reply to your comment, but wanted to reply to one of your points now as this information is not exactly public knowledge. Regarding your third point about the average collector, this particular bill reportedly originated from private collectors with direct ties to online artifact auction sites. These individuals felt particularly threatened after FWC’s “Operation Timucua” sting busted some of their fellow “collectors” – threatened to the point where they pressured their legislators to require Florida’s DHR to conduct a feasibility study for a one-time “artifact amnesty” program. This was just last year. Thankfully, the findings were in favor of preserving Florida’s cultural heritage, not opening up public lands and other archaeological sites to looting-with-a-loophole. This latest bill would be an unmitigated disaster for Florida archaeology.


      • dover1952 says:

        Thanks Ramie. I knew about that to some extent—although I am not familiar with their ties to artifact auction sites. I wrote to the President of FPAN and asked for some information to clarify their sources of information and their position on the matter. My request was promptly and thoroughly ignored—still have not heard a word from them and probably never will. Apparently, they expect to just whistle and hope all other American archaeologists will just line up blindly behind them. I was asked to write a letter to Florida elected officials to ask them not to vote for the bill, although I knew virtually nothing about the issues at stake and had never heard of Operation Timucua until the night I sent my inquiry to FPAN. Personally, if I am going to write a letter to someone, I like to know about the details of the issue on both sides of the argument. I have not written a letter to any elected official and will not until someone at FPAN responds to my inquiry.

      • Thornton Pyles says:

        Certainly disagree with everything your short post listed.

      • Shane says:

        Please explain why. Otherwise, people on here will simply write off your comments as mere internet trolling.

    • jmoates says:

      The 78% figure came from a 2013 report of isolated finds program authored by Florida division of historical resources staff. The report is available on FPAN website in faq section regarding HB803.

      • frogman says:

        This is all I can find, “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.”

        An admittedly informal survey. Would love to know more about how this number was determined. If there was known noncompliance, why was no one arrested for not reporting their finds? Laws are laws and have to enforced to be effective.

      • dover1952 says:

        Jim. I could not find this 2013 report there either. My question all along—and the question I asked directly to FPAN—is: Can you show me the RAW DATA that supports the 78 percent number and show me the details of the METHODOLOGY and any underpinning ASSUMPTIONS you used to collect this data. In science, there is such as thing as CREDIBILITY and REPLICABILITY of research. You have to be able to show in DEFINITIVE terms how you arrived at a particular number, interpretation, or conclusion. This is a question FPAN and the State Archaeologist need to answer—but appear not to want to answer. As a professional archaeologist, I want to know why they are refusing to answer this very legitimate question.

        I look at it like this. Both sides in this dispute need to quit pussyfooting around with this subject and just plainly lay their cards on the table like this:

        1) If the State Archaeologist and FPAN hate artifact collectors with a perfect hatred and want zero to do with them ever again in Florida—meaning total separation—purely as a matter of personal prejudice and individual philosophy, then quit the bullshit with numbers, past noncompliance, and so forth. Just state publicly that the Office of the State Archaeologist and FPAN are philosophically opposed to artifact collecting in all of its possible forms and permutations. State that you think artifact collectors are all immoral and reprehensible people who do evil and destruction consistently to the archaeological record—and they can never be trusted to do anything right with the archaeological record—and they should all be shunned forever. Just fucking say it!!!! You do not need to pretend. Just fucking say it!!!

        2) All you artifact collectors guys. You need to lay your cards on the table too so everyone can plainly see them. Are you really interested in contributing new knowledge to the archaeology of Florida, or do you just want to bring home as many really nice artifacts as you can to build your collection? Artifact collecting is not “archaeology.” It is “art appreciation.” In your mind, finding artifacts on the bottoms of Florida sovereign waters is about rescuing ancient art from oblivion so people can see it, appreciate it, and own “a piece of the past.” You do not have to pretend that it is somehow allied with American archaeology. Just fucking say it!!!! You do not need to pretend. Just fucking say it!!!


      • frogman says:

        I think that artifact collectors collect for three reasons:
        (1) Yes, there is a part that absolutely is art appreciation. Responsible artifact collectors greatly respect the people who made these artifacts and are very willing to share their finds with the public.
        (2) I also believe that their is a ‘rescuing’ element to the reason why collectors collect. With each flood more and more artifacts find their way into Florida’s rivers and are being damaged by the elements. Many bone artifacts that are found have ‘pock’ marks into them from the acid in the water literally eating the artifact. Don’t buy into the myth that all artifacts in Florida rivers are in their original context. There are three main stratified underwater early man archaeological sites in Florida’s rivers (Page-Ladson, Sloth Hole, and Ryan-Harley), these are located in two rivers (Aucilla and Wacissa) and seem to be the exception instead of the rule. Anyone who has ever dove the Suwannee River can recognize that nothing in that river is in its original context. In the Suwannee River a Clovis point, Pinellis point, 40 million year old shark tooth, and soda bottle can all be found within inches of each other.
        (3) Obviously many responsible Florida artifact collectors are interested in sharing their finds with professionals. All three of the sites referenced above were found by amateurs. Many of the publications produced by Florida archaeologists feature artifacts found by amateurs. For instance, in Dr. Jim Dunbar’s recent work “Mental Templates and a Revised Typology for Florida Paleoindian Points” virtually all of the artifacts used were found by amateurs.

    • Jeff Whitfield says:

      Dover, what you say is not entirely true and you should have done some research before you wrote this article.
      Many collectors maintain journals of their finds, I for one. Thanks to Professional Archaeologist that believe in public archaeology who held events for locals and collectors to educate and encourage the sharing of information between the two.
      And yes, not much thought was applied to the wording of the bill. The bill allows the seller to continue the practice, for they are the ones that can afford the $$ for a permit. Will I buy everyone in my family a permit so that my kids can pick up and keep a broken, water worn, out of situ piece of pottery or a old mountain dew bottle? NO!
      As a river diver, I have found no underwater, in situ sites. And everything is all jumbled up. Mastodon teeth lying on top of a beer can, for example. This all started with FSU and their greed to control sites when they wanted to get there underwater archaeology program started which, I may add, was from a site that a collector told them about.
      As far as that goes, I know of not one Archaeologist that does not owe their career to amateurs. Without them, most of the sites in Florida would still be unknown and MOST archaeologist can give a damn about our history. I once reported a large site being demolished and arranged for the State Arch. to meet me there. He came early and left before the appointed meeting time. I had another arch. friend contact him and he replied that nothing was there. When I arrived on site, waiting for him, I picked up a 5 gal. bucket of artifacts within 10ft. of my truck! That is just one of many but it still continues today. One collector could not find his collection from the state museum. A state office several blocks away had it on display on the supervisors wall, whom claimed he found them!
      The state decided once to collect everything from the ____ River. They had several 50 gal. barrels full of projectile points. These also are missing from the state museum.
      To finish this off, a simple android phone app such as Arrowhead Collector could do much more than the old I.F. program ever good and provide immediate information to the state. The old I.F. program was doomed from the start. It was impossible for a average person to use and several of us complained from the start, to no avail.
      How about we just fine/arrest those that are selling on the internet, etc. and leave us hobbyist alone so that we can continue finding sites and informing Archaeologist of them? It is sooo simple!

      • dover1952 says:

        Uh-h-h-h. I didn’t write an article—just a response to a response.

        I did not mean to imply that no artifact collector ever keeps written records. Some do. However, I grew up in the Nashville area the first 18 years of my life, and this was an area where there were no locality-focused professional archaeologists. Small town public libraries had almost zero information on archaeology. If a kid wanted to know anything about Tennessee archaeology, he had to go to a local avocational archaeologist or artifact collector to learn. Therefore, I grew up with avocational archaeologists and artifact collectors all around me—nearly everyone in the area—maybe 50+ people. To the best of my knowledge, maybe three people kept the kind of records you are talking about—and the rest just remembered (talking brain cells alone here) where their really nice artifacts were found or bought—and had probably forgotten where hundreds of their small pp/k’s were found. So, I guess what I am saying is this. The notion that most artifact collectors keep great written records on what they find is pure hogwash—because I have actually lived it front and center in my own personal life for many years, and know for a fact it is just not true in most cases—and that is one of the really big problems professional archaeologists have with most artifact collectors.

        Here is some more news for collectors:

        A nice, close-up photograph of the big point you found when you went hunting for artifacts last Saturday not an adequate record for archaeological purposes. Collectors go to places like the Arrowheadology forum, post a photograph of a point they found, and say that they “took this photograph to record their find.” In most cases, all by itself, a photograph of a point you just found is not worth a bucket of piss, archaeologically speaking. About all you can say is, “Yep, that’s a pretty one all right.” I can honestly say that I have never seen an archaeological site report where the entire text of the report was simply:

        “We found 10,000 artifacts, and a lot of them were right pretty ones.”

        For it to be valuable archaeologically, we need a whole lot more information about that point. Where did you find it? Okay, you found it in Mr. Gomer Homer’s field. Well, where in the hell is that? Down on Highway 25. Well, where in the hell is Highway 25? Can you show me the location of this field on a map or a Google Earth aerial photograph? Thanks. Okay now, just exactly where in Mr. Gomer Homer’s field did you find it? Somewhere down near that south corner of the field. Great. Was the field plowed? Yes. Okay. Was it lying there all by itself or did it have a whole bunch of debitage and other artifacts around it? What’s debitage? Sorry, flaking debris from making stone tools. Yes. Okay. Was the debris sparse, or was it dense per unit area? Dense I guess. Did you see any evidence of subsurface features where you found the point? What’s a feature? Was the soil different in any way? Yeah, now that you mention it. There was this circular thing with black, greasy soil, and my arrowhead was stuck right in the middle of it in a big hunk of bone that went underground deep into that black circle. What was the diameter of the circle? Aw, I guess maybe a yard. I like to have never gotten that point out of that bone—took some real doing. Okay. Did you see anything else nearby? Well, that black circle had a big cluster of rocks close by. How close by? About 75 feet away. What kind of rocks? The tops of the rocks were limestone slab edges jutting out of the ground here and there—and by God—some of those rock tops seemed to be forming rectangles—thought my eyes must be playing tricks on me. No tricks. Being as how this is the Nashville area, those were probably stone box burials. You mean humans? Yep!!! Did you see anything else unusual? Well, there was bones scattered on the ground surface in a lot of places. What kind of bones? Not sure. I figured they were all animal bones from Indian meals. A couple of them were long, heavy, gently curved bones about 18-24 inches long, and they had balls on one end—you know—like on trailer hitches. Those were probably femurs from humans. Yeah, it looked like plowing had ripped some of those rectangular boxes apart in past years. Why didn’t you record all that on paper along with the photograph of the point? Well, I didn’t know it was important—meaning the important thing was to get the artifact. Why would you think that? Because that’s what you archaeologists do—right? You dig up artifacts, wash them off, set each one on a table by itself, and ask the artifact to tell you what it knows about the past—right? Wrong!!! All that other stuff you did not think was important and did not bother to record was the most important part of all. The Madison point you found told me that the people in the Mississippian stone box burials also created that sticky black feature the point was found in.

        What if that feature and the stone box burials were right next to a river bank in the headwaters of the river? What if part of that site is slowly sloughing off into the river. If divers are finding Mississippian artifacts on the river bottom immediately downstream from that feature and the stone box burials, you know damn well they are artifacts from that site They may be out of “specific context,” but they are still definitely in “site context” because you know they came from that site. Now, what if a collector is sitting in his boat and starts shoveling out the river bank there? That’s right!!! He is destroying site-specific archaeological context that goes all the way to the river bank and is part of the river bank. You cannot just assume that every artifact lying on the bottom of a river or stream is totally out of context. It is just plain not true—and shoveling the river bank is just going to destroy a portion of the site-specific context that is still left. Sure, you can say the river is eventually going to destroy that context—but in the Nashville area—artifact collectors often dig way deep into the river bank—instead of just scratching around on the loose immediate surface of the river bank—far enough in that the river will likely not get it for quite a long time.

        And then there was the guy on an Internet artifact collector forum who said this directly to me (paraphrased the best I can remember it):

        “I’m surprised that a smart archaeology guy like you does not know why most of us collectors do not keep good written records of what we find. It’s really pretty obvious. We don’t keep written records because a lot of us are afraid those records will one day be used against us in a court of law. The absence of written records on our artifacts is what keeps us safe.”

        Been there. Seen all that. Deal with it.

      • Jacob says:

        One point I would like to throw in here for the hobbyists is that not every site needs to be or even should be excavated. Hobbyists love to think of archaeologists as ‘greedy’, but they are not in the game for the long haul the way professionals are–yes that’s condescending, but it needs to be accepted. Professionals are limited by time, budget, and/or technology constraints, so they tend to blow off many more sites than they take interest in. Just because an archaeologist does not want to immediately excavate the site that Farmer Joe found, does not mean it’s not important to the point that it should be fair game for amateurs. Archaeological sites are a limited resource, and even with unlimited time and money (never, ever the case), they should not all be excavated now as there will be new, important technology in the future for which we need to save undisturbed sites.

        What really needs to happen is that amateur archaeology needs to lose its national pastime status and be seen for what it is–needless destruction for sport. While I think there is a special place in hell for people who loot commercially, I DO have a soft spot in my heart for hobbyists–it’s a rare professional that didn’t start as such. The problem is it’s an unethical hobby, but you don’t really come to accept that until several years into becoming a pro. It’s like recreationally hunting an endangered species that does not reproduce–it might be fun, but you need to admit that you’re kind of being a jerk. Go to a museum, volunteer, or become a professional if it’s that important to you, but don’t call people who have devoted their lives to archaeology ‘greedy’ because they don’t want you to collect. Most archaeologists are not paid well (I put in 40 hours a week and still need a side bartending job to cover student loans) and almost none ‘own’ a collection.

      • dover1952 says:

        Jacob. We archaeologists define certain kinds of artifact collector behavior as “unethical” and have done so for many years now. The problem with that, though, is that I can sit here in my upstairs study as a “majority of one” and establish Yard Clean-Up Ethics, Garbage Can Handling Ethics, Book Treatment Ethics, and all sorts of similarly conceived lists of ethics. Any person or organization that cares about a particular thing or activity in life can draw up a list of ethics to control how that thing or activity is treated or affected by some outside person or action. If I were to present the above ethics lists to a group of 100 randomly selected people and make a presentation on each one, I would most likely be laughed out of the focus group room. The reason is simple. An authentic set of ethics has to be underpinned by broad-spectrum cultural and social “buy-in” by the general populations that make up a major cultural or social entity—like a nation state—and the most authentic and broadly accepted sets of ethics tend to be the ones that involve actions or failures to act that end up in serious physical injury or death to a living person (e.g., medical ethics).

        As I have written elsewhere, I have gotten laughs and amazed disbelief over the years when I bring up the SAA and RPA ethics lists to people in conference rooms or on conference calls who are not archaeologists. They are amazed that anything so “unimportant” as archaeology could even have such lists, and they think the lists are downright silly. These people often refer to American archaeology concerns as a—and this is a direct quote: “No, Never Mind.”

        I think the point I am trying to make here is that the notion of archaeological ethics does not have broad-spectrum cultural and social “gravitas” and “public buy-in” in the United States—meaning enough gravitas for them to be taken as seriously as we would like by most of the American people. So, whenever I see my fellow archaeologists quoting archaeological ethics to artifact collectors, I usually kind of cringe because it comes off looking like an attempt to overtake a medieval castle with peashooters and kazoos. I just do not think these ethics lists of ours have any broad-based public recognition or support from the American people as a whole. We archaeologists have done a really poor job of trying to sell our own unique version of “Table Top Toaster” ethics to the American public. We can follow those ethical principles and standards ourselves within our own professional circles, but I think we have to understand that they are an “engineered morality” that does not fit in so well with the already existing and overarching moralities and ethics the American people have shared more broadly for the past 400 years. Even as a matter of basic Christian theology, many Americans think that any new, man-made morality (like our ethics lists) are an affront to God himself because the establishment of “real and authentic ethics” is the job of the deity alone—or such man-made ethics should at the very least be closely related to something most Americans think would meet with their perception of God’s likely favor and approval.

        Then there is the flip side of that coin. Artifact collecting is a very old and well-established American hobby that goes back at least to the time of Thomas Jefferson here in the United States. I think we American archaeologists live in daily psychological denial of that simple fact. In my 63 years, I have never seen an ordinary citizen on Main Street or any other street go after an artifact collector because they think his collecting is evil. Far from it!!! They want to go over to his house and take a good look at all of the amazing items in his collection. The local school system wants him to bring some of the artifacts down to the schools and give talks to the kids about ancient American Indian life and culture. Artifact collectors are often the people who are most looked up to in small towns: attorneys, medical doctors, prominent businessmen, etc.

        While we American archaeologists set a goal about 50 years ago to put an end to all artifact collecting in the United States, the raw truth of the matter is that we have failed miserably and we are continuing to fail. Most artifact collectors agree that their hobby is—right now today—-growing by leaps and bounds. One of the key factors in that growth has been the Invention and widespread availability of the Internet, which began in about 1994. Up until that time, artifact collectors often existed either as loners or as small, geographically isolated groups that had little contact with other such groups nationwide. With the advent and evolution of the Internet, all American artifact collectors gained the means to be in touch with each other and what they were doing. Moreover, it created a huge national “market space” for buying, selling, and trading artifacts on-line. Economically speaking, It both created commercial demand for artifacts and it simultaneously met that demand—which is why artifact collecting is booming rather than receding. I think we American archaeologists need to understand that we are on a hopeless mission to put an end to golf, volleyball, tennis, and 10K runs. We are like gerbils running on the wheels in their cages. No matter how hard or how fast we run—we get virtually nowhere—and the archaeological record spins down the drain with each passing day as we run on our tracks to nowhere.

        Some archaeologists believe the answer is to just bury their heads in the sand and refuse to admit the artifact collector exists. Bird heads buried in sand never solve problems. I am not there yet—not totally—but it is becoming increasingly clear to me that we professional archaeologists need to forge some kind of better and more cooperative relationship with artifact collectors nationwide to salvage what information we can before the day comes when we no longer have an archaeological record in the United States. We need a new approach. A new paradigm. Call it whatever you will—for dealing with artifact collecting and artifact collectors. We also need a new approach for dealing with commercial land development—one that bridges the gap between Donald Trump and “I am Dorothy Archaeologist the small and meek.” I am not the only American archaeologist who feels that we need a new approach. Others do too. This does not mean that I support the two proposed bills in Florida. However, it does mean that American archaeologists and artifact collectors need to find ways to cooperate more in doing research. As we did prior to 1960, each side needs to put itself into a position of learning from the other side. We American archaeologists have a world of knowledge we need to impart to artifact collectors. They have much that they could teach us. However, I do not think that any such exchange is possible in a climate of fear and loathing, which is what we have now, a climate created by both sides in this 50-year-old argument.

  3. frogman says:

    Here’s an interesting point that needs to be made: The site referenced in the article above, currently being worked by Morgan Smith was discovered by an amateur under the former Florida Isolated Finds Policy (IFP). If it were not for the IFP, archaeologists would not know about that site and others. I feel it’s time to end the discord between amateur and professional archaeologists and allow amateurs to participate and report to professionals their findings.

    • dover1952 says:

      You said: “I feel it’s time to end the discord between amateur and professional archaeologists and allow amateurs to participate and report to professionals their findings.”

      How would you go about ending the discord and what do you mean by “allowing amateurs to participate”?

      It occurs to me that both sides would have to compromise on some things to make that happen. What would your side be willing to compromise on and what is nonnegotiable?

      For example, on the professional side, I think random, spatially uncontrolled digging on intact archaeological sites (on both public and private lands) would be nonnegotiable.

      However, if the artifact collector side is ever genuinely willing to learn how to excavate properly and record findings properly, there might be some space for a meeting of minds. However, we at the University of Tennessee (UTK) tried that on a site in Loudon, Tennessee, in 1977 and we learned three things quickly:

      1) Collectors get disillusioned quickly with real archaeology because most of the excavating for information that we do yields very little in the way of museum grade artifacts.

      2) The collectors seemed to be intellectually incapable of absorbing what they were being taught—and quickly lost interest—or it was just plain too boring.

      3) The entire effort blew up in everyone’s face. The University of Tennessee was teaching and guiding the collectors during the day. When the UTK people (I was one of them) would leave, the collectors would sneak back onto the site and do random crater holing to “get the good artifacts” for their collections. I was helping out with human burial excavation and recording, and the leg bones had been uncovered. The collectors were not interested in learning about femurs, tibias and fibulas and what they can tell you about the deceased. They were getting impatient and frothing at the mouth to get into the sternal areas of the burials to see if a shell gorget was present. In the 1970s, finding a shell gorget or monolithic ax was the Holy Grail for tennessee artifact collectors.

      All cooperation ended and the Tennessee Archaeological Society was soon dissolved because of the collector betrayal of the trust that was put into them on the front end and their inability to live up to their side of the agreement—an agreement that the collectors requested on the front end—if memory serves.

      The collector side needs to understand that if any sort of “meeting of the minds and cooperation” is ever going to occur and be sustained, they have to 100 percent keep their side of the bargain—and the professional archaeologists have to be similarly responsible in keeping their side of the bargain.

      • frogman says:

        At the First Floridians Conference in Monticello, Florida in October it was said that if collectors were unhappy with the current Florida laws to engage in the political process and try to get the law changed and “you would certainly have our support”. See Now that collectors have engaged in the political process archaeologists are fulling opposed to our bill.

        Every major archaeological site in Florida has been reported by amateurs. Every single day there are sites eroding and archaeological data is being lost. Under the Isolated Finds Policy and due to amateurs being embraced by the archaeological community three of the foremost early man sites (Page-Ladson, Sloth Hole, Ryan-Harley) in the southeastern United States were reported to the state, without the Isolated Finds Policy and a good working relationship between professionals and amateurs the state would have never known about these sites. Remember, under the Isolated Finds Policy over 10,000 artifacts were reported to the state that the state otherwise would not know about. The only archaeological value that these artifacts had was to study distribution, the state determined that there was no other archaeological value to be gained from the artifacts so ownership was transferred to the finders. I’ve heard it said that there was a 72-78% noncompliance under Isolated Finds, however, I have yet to see any data to substantiate this number beyond pure conjecture.

        The archaeological community has not requested for any compromise to take place regarding this permit bill, they have simply called for the wholesale ban on any process that allows amateurs to collect displaced artifacts from Florida waterways. This is not about digging on archaeological sites. In fact, under this bill known archaeological sites would be BETTER PROTECTED than they are today. I know of someone who was issued a citation during the Isolated Finds Policy because he was collecting in the river near an archaeological site. However, he had no way of knowing that there was a site nearby because it was not marked and the site list is not available to amateurs. Under this bill it would be clear where is off limits and where it is okay to collect displaced artifacts.

      • Shane says:

        “The archaeological community has not requested for any compromise to take place regarding this permit bill, they have simply called for the wholesale ban on any process that allows amateurs to collect displaced artifacts from Florida waterways.”

        That’s the problem – this proposed law gives collectors the leeway to displace artifacts from primary context and call them “isolated.”

        I don’t know the answer with the archaeological site issue, but I think making the locations of archaeological sites public would be a disaster.

      • frogman says:

        “That’s the problem – this proposed law gives collectors the leeway to displace artifacts from primary context and call them “isolated.” ”

        If you simply look at the facts, there is zero evidence that anything of that sort took place under the Isolated Finds Policy. When a stratified site was found (Ryan-Harley) it was recognized by the amateur and properly reported to the state. Furthermore, if the reports of finds are properly cataloged a potential site should be clearly evidenced by the artifacts being found. For instance, if an amateur finds 15 Bolen points in a small area, that area obviously needs some additional professional investigation.

        “I don’t know the answer with the archaeological site issue, but I think making the locations of archaeological sites public would be a disaster.”

        Anyone with the desire to do so can figure out where many sites are in Florida, just based on descriptions. However, if the law is going to be if I pick up an arrowhead here I’m fine, but if I pick up an arrowhead three feet away I’ve committed a felony, that line needs to be clearly known.

        This bill is not going to increase or decrease looting activities. Looters obviously don’t care about the laws and will continue their activities whether this bill passes or not. The sites still need to be monitored and protected. There’s an extreme difference between looters and responsible amateur collectors, many archaeologists make the mistake of lumping the two together.

      • Shane says:

        “This bill is not going to increase or decrease looting activities.”

        I’m not sold on that, especially considering that (from what I gather) would severely lessen the penalty for looting significant sites.

      • frogman says:

        I agree 100% that the penalty for looters and failure to report should be increased. Raise the fine to $5,000 or more, give people an incentive to participate. Hit them where it hurts, their wallets. And unlike the Isolated Finds Policy, enforce it! I believe the penalty could easily be amended at this point in the bill process without scrapping the whole thing.

      • Shane says:

        By the way, frogman – even though we disagree, thank you for sharing your thoughts in a constructive way.

      • frogman says:

        I agree, I think this dialogue has been helpful to both viewpoints.

      • dover1952 says:

        Frogman. My thanks to you as well.

        But what is to prevent a diver from taking artifacts off a stream bottom and never reporting them under the new law? You know as well as I do that once an artifact is taken home, washed off, and placed in a collection with other artifacts, there is no way on earth to independently determine where it was found. It does not wear a sandwich board that says “I was found on a stream bottom.” A guy could pull 100 artifacts off a stream bottom, never tell a soul where he got them, and who would be the wiser? No one as long as he kept the secret because there is no way to independently determine where those artifacts were found. He might have a state permit, but at the end of the year, he can just yawn and say that he had not felt very good for most of the year and was unable to do any river diving. He has 100 new artifacts—and no one is going to be able to prove that he found them river diving—and if he hides them for a while—and slowly sifts them into his display collection over the years—who would be the wiser. I guess the thing that bothers me most about these two proposed legislative bills is the absence of a workable system to prevent cheating—as the bills are currently written. It depends on artifact collectors to be 100 percent honest in all things. Ronald Reagan famously said, “Trust but verify.” These bills call for trust—with no workable means to verify. It is like putting a python in an aquarium to live in peace with a mouse—and the python says: “Trust me.”

  4. Thornton Pyles says:

    No wonder this place has a name associated with “UNDERGROUND”. So many misstatements and untruths in the article at top. Any Florida Citizen I would encourage one to do some simple fact checking for yourselves, versus taking any of the peoples words above as all truths. Ah and then once again I see Mr. Morgan’s supposedly life changing finds recently discovered…….”not”! if his small finds excites our state history people, then the state is in very sad shape and looking for anything to make it look like they are really doing something, jmpo from all I see going on. They need all the amateur help they can get ! This short video is more truthful in the facts and what is needed in this state for amateurs to partner with the state.

    • Shane says:

      “So many misstatements and untruths in the article at top.”

      Please elaborate.

      • Derek says:

        From a FB post today (I mistakenly attributed the above comment to Gomer Pyles, but he was kind enough to respond):

        Gomer Pyles: Not sure what needs to be expanded??. Anyone who is “really” interested as what these bills are all about in true wording they are easily found to read them for their selves….just Google. The bills do not read quite what these prima donna organizations wants it followers to believe. The “Undergrounds comments and F Spans comments portray things that may or may not be in a finished format of the bill. The short of this bill is to change the wording of a law already on the books from the word “MAY” to the word “SHALL”. As in any goverment job folks are a lil slow to get off their butt and finish something (spoken from experience), they hoped would just go away. The state here has dragged their feet for the last 10 years on the word “MAY”. No one person needs to stand at the podium trying to convince anyone of anything. Just like prohibition days….their law stopped nothing….the same today….so in actuality it is the state that looses. Before they had over 10,000 artifacts reported to them in a five year period that changed”nothing” that was previously known in ANCIENT HISTORY OR ANYTHING THAT WOULD MAKE OUR WORLD TODAY A BETTER PLACE TO LIVE. They also did nothing with those 10,000 plus artifacts for the public. In the 10 years since just think about all the artifacts that have been found they know nothing about or will ever know about. They themselves are the big looser. It is pure greed on their part and the training of what I term the new guard..frown emoticon

    • dover1952 says:

      Thornton. Can you explain why Morgan Smith’s finds are unimportant and then state what a truly important find is in your mind and what makes it so important?

    • dover1952 says:

      Thornton. I agree with Shane. If a person disagrees with a specific statement, it is customary to list each specific statement you disagree with and then write under it the reasons why you disagree with it. Otherwise, no one learns anything about the details of your perspective on the issue at hand. I think people here are genuinely interested in hearing your side of the issue and in stating the other side of the issue.

  5. David Cranford says:

    I would certainly agree with your statement that professional and amateur archaeologists or collectors could benefit from working with one another. The problem with the proposed legislation from my point of view is the transfer of ownership of “isolated finds” from public lands. I believe there is an unnecessary risk that this legislation would create a monetary incentive for individuals to mine archaeological sites without properly reporting their activities. I recognize that this is a worst-case scenario and many collectors share the same interest and love for archaeology that professionals have, but at the same time I don’t think that we ought to be relaxing protections of cultural resources that are in the public interest. I do hope that constructive collaborations between professional archaeologists and amateurs will continue to expand our understanding of the past, but this bill is not the way to do it.

  6. Jacob says:

    I understand that people take an interest in archaeology–it led me to become a professional, but as a professor of mine used to say, “If you’re an amateur archaeologist, then I’m an amateur brain surgeon. Ready for surgery?”

    The fact is any citizen CAN get an archaeology permit…right after they get an accredited archaeology education and commit to approved methods of collection, reporting, and curation. Anyone truly dedicated to history, art appreciation, collecting, etc. should be willing to commit to going through the proper channels. If a person can’t handle the commitment or the schooling, but still wants to participate they can volunteer their labor with projects run by qualified people. Plus, it’s legal to loot private land with the landowner’s permission, so people are also free to buy their way into destroying sites if they must–thanks Obama ;). This permit would plain and simply be a looting permit–it allows unqualified people to dig up and keep public property and cultural history for non-publicly-beneficial purposes.

    So, clearly I’m of the opinion that ‘amateur archaeology’ is at least a slightly absurd concept.

    But if we are going to drop some standards and be okay with an amateur IFP as a compromise, then strong reporting procedures should be upheld. The permits should come with a very limited number of tags to insure reporting (with additional tags available for purchase). That way people who failed to report on spent tags when they reapplied or who were found with untagged artifacts could be held accountable (If that sounds strict, amateurs should keep in mind that when professionals default on a permit, they’re not allowed to get another one until it has been resolved–that sometimes results in people ceasing to be professionals). And NO tools other than scuba gear and gloves should be allowed. Buried artifacts should be off limits even when in secondary context–amateurs are not qualified to make that determination even with the assumption of honesty. Given that we’re dealing with non-renewable cultural resources, legal collecting/looting as a hobby should be at least as expensive and regulated as hunting and fishing, and it could stand to be more so. Obviously, all proceeds from permits and fines should go directly to state archaeological interests.

  7. dover1952 says:

    You said:”Plus, it’s legal to loot private land with the landowner’s permission, so people are also free to buy their way into destroying sites if they must–thanks Obama ;)”


    • Jacob says:

      The Obama part was a joke. The other part is true in most states as long as a burial is not present–and even then, there is not much to keep people honest. Thus, landowners are free to dig up sites on their own land and/or run pay-to-dig operations. So, for amateurs desperate to collect artifacts, there is already a legal pathway to do so that doesn’t involve the destruction and/or taking of public property on public lands and waterways.

  8. Craig Garrison says:

    Archaeologists in South Carolina already work with hobby divers and avocational enthusiast, and have since the 1970s.
    Compliance was definitely an issue with the Florida Isolated Finds Program. The program might have succeeded if it had been more efficient with better organization, tighter standards, and self-sustaining on a financial level. Like the model that South Carolina employs.
    I certainly believe the Bill could be better written to address important and legitimate concerns. For one, it should only apply to artifacts that are found in waterways without the original context intact. No excavation or “mining” with tools of any sort should be allowed.
    People will still collect artifacts alongside fossils. It is naive of archaeologist to think otherwise.
    How can Florida possibly police all of the sovereign waterways in the state.
    It only seems logical to build a bridge of oversight, trust, and cooperation, than simply relying on suspicion and separation, as has happened.
    Increase the penalties for noncompliance, and destruction of known sites.
    Place heavy restrictions on the permitting process. In the meantime collect the distribution data. Science only gains from this type of program.
    It is rather odd to read fellow archaeologist using scare tactics typically employed by politicians to drum up support. As an aspect of anthropology the truth should always be the bottom line.

    The follow information is from website of the Maritime Research Division of the South Carolina Archaeological and Anthropological Institute.

    The Hobby Diver License program is a State-mandated program that began in the 1970s to manage the artifact and fossil collection activities of South Carolina’s sport divers. Although the program is intended for Scuba divers, anyone wishing to search and recover submerged property on a recreational basis must obtain this license. The Institute’s Maritime Research Division works closely with the South Carolina State Museum concerning the collection of information on fossils and other ecofacts found in State waters by licensed individuals.

    A Hobby License is required for persons wishing to conduct temporary, intermittent, recreational, small scale, non-commercial search and recovery of submerged property. It is a state-wide license. Recovery of submerged property must be by hand and must not involve mechanical devices or excavation, Hobby Licensees are never permitted to dig or move sediment to expose material. Hobby Licensees may recover a reasonable number of artifacts and fossils from submerged lands over which the state has sovereign control, but may recover only ten artifacts a day from a shipwreck site. Each Hobby Licensee must report his/her finds to the Institute (for artifacts), or the Museum (for fossils) on a quarterly basis and, within 60 days of receipt of each report, the Institute shall release title to all finds to the licensee. Please see the Hobby License Frequently Asked Questions page for more information about the program, licenses, and licensee reporting obligations.

    • dover1952 says:

      Thanks Craig. I have to honestly say that my professional archaeology friends and acquaintances in South Carolina have said good things about this program to me. I did not know it existed until a couple of weeks ago. Just sayin’.

  9. Craig Garrison says:

    Sorry, I meant the South Carolina Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology.

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