Concerned Collectors for the Future

Are you concerned about the future of collecting artifacts in America? Did you even realize there were some who oppose it and are pushing to take that liberty away from you?

Well many states already have groups that have strong anti-collecting agendas whether they have surfaced yet or not. In light of that, don’t be lured into thinking that fossils, metal detecting or other collecting hobbies are not on the radar as well, once popular opinion possibly shifts on artifacts and amateur archeologist. Many in the past have raised the bar in our favor, but currently Florida has regressed for amateur archeology, hobbyist and private collectors rights, and Florida is at this time a front line state for reshaping policies and procedures that could set a precedence either for the family of finders or for those who oppose our ‘pursuit of happiness’.

Current interpretations of the law in the Sunshine State are dark, and they shed an inaccurate slant on collectors and the collecting of disassociated, isolated finds in the state’s waterways. Amateurs have zero rights in Florida at this time other than on private lands, yet don’t be fooled, they are aiming to impose on that as well though many would say bring it on. We see these policies in nations where socialism prevails along with many European nations under their definitions of state sovereignty, but keep in mind with in our current events politically as a nation, artifacts is a light weight in the same breath with anti-gun agendas, but it is there. At some point, we have to see that some agendas to change laws are like crabs in a bucket not wanting any other crabs to be free. The biggest and strongest hold back any who want to escape the confines and these few impose on the whole to keep everyone in equal position yet everyone is held captive and controlled by the dominate few. Right now the state has aligned with some who want to hold down the privateers like the big crabs in the bucket.

The implication is that amateurs are uneducated and irresponsible history wreckers, and that the professional is supreme in education and optimally responsible for preservation of the past and public awareness. Yet it can’t be any further from the truth, since many fine, unique artifacts have been destroyed by the temporary loan to the professional by the amateur in the name of study and science. Also many artifacts are tucked away in basements never to be seen or encountered by the public.

In yester years, we as a community aimed to form a working relationship with the governing historic entities, we were instrumental and helped formulate the ‘Isolated Finds Program’ to which the up and coming, power hungry, academic elitist, big government minded leadership with anti-collecting agendas, shut it down in ’05 here in Florida. Even the Department of Historic Resources represented though the Historic Archeological Society did not have unanimous feedback from citizens on changing the policies at their so called town meetings, the meetings really didn’t serve to align a path for the future or to strengthen a working policy, or set forth a better policy but rather served as a public notice of the end in the current policy set to end by the leadership of a few, and it didn’t need our public approval to change; It was a public display that it was out of our control.

However, in the beginning of the zero tolerance posture, when Game and Fish was separate from FWC, Game and Fish made it real clear at that those meetings, they were not interested in prosecuting those collecting artifacts from waterways and saw it as waste of resources and man power. The current situation snuck up on many by this grey twilight period, for the policy shift was more significant and became polarized all of a sudden in the routine enforcement presence of a merged Game and Fish into the one entity, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation, and FWC are the prosecuting headliners of today.

Why is it now a priority and how did it even shift in the first place you ask? The priority has not been dormant, and the community of amateurs has targeted and been successful in counter measures to proposed bills with more restrictions on collectors. Though it has been ten years since IFP’s demise, we have not been able to set forth any significant changing of the laws to get us out of the zero tolerance category…..Yet… large part by our own fear of the state and each other and the disunity among ourselves. In the last few years, with significant momentum in some adjoining states, we are progressing in the right direction, rebuilding common alliances, and restoring the hope for a better future.

Many may feel we lost our privileges in ’05 by mishandling it. Look, there will always be a margin that will make poor choices, but the real nuts and bolts of how it even happened in the first place was not about misappropriation of data or information for the archeological record, not even Dunbar not wanting to log it all in and organize it, nor the poor job of amateurs to recover artifacts, conserve or find sites. The shift was by margins with in the professional academia who decided to partition off the public’s role in the Archeological record. They decided it was in their best interest and put forth the arguments with false pretenses misrepresenting the private collectors to move legislative opinions. After all, the amateurs are the ones who found all known sites in the first place. In reality, the ongoing relationship of amateur and professional is at the core of all the data as it stands.

It seems to be a perceived fear along with a need for exclusivity for some professionals, that somehow working with amateurs today doesn’t perpetuate ongoing legislative budget increases for their professional interest. Professionals may feel they cannot argue as productively nor lock in and secure their roles in gaining grants and funding for archeological endeavors when the amateur could do it without needing government funding, and they may fear the push would be, if it isn’t really about ownership of artifacts but rather information, then work with the free hands of the public instead of asking for more money to cover the expenses of new studies.

The real problem between professional to amateur seems to be in methodology and need for a sort of professional hierarchy. Most professionals are professionals by being able to put their name on some significant find thus granting them career mobility. The amateur tends to down play that and they may fear we take away the possible new discoveries out there. So this notion that restraint on the public will prolong the possible discoveries out there to become famous from is foolishness. All throughout our history, the amateur puts the professionals on the discoveries. It is common understanding that fame is used by universities to lure new students to colleges, by having reputable professors made reputable by their unique discoveries. The problem here in Florida, and everywhere, is that progress and expansion are moving much faster than the pace of science and our progress can shift the erosion of lands and displace many artifacts to unsafe vulnerable places, and we the people want to be able to save them.

It is a shame that we are made to be spectators of deteriorating artifacts rather than salvage preservationist collaborating with our respective states. Alaska for example, has many eroded ancient ivory tusk that are illegal to save yet nobody in government finds it significant enough archeologically to save them. For the professional, there is no fame to be acclaimed in it. Here in areas where hurricanes and flood waters annually erode, expose, and unearth artifacts we are equally restrained from preservation in the current laws. And though they do not want to study isolated finds they do not want anyone else recovering them. Is it artifacts or control?

Bottom line, it seems to be response by anti-collector professionals from a place of envy and inferiority covered up with liberal rhetoric. They even may fear they will lose any and all control if it is not zero tolerance. Professionals who may feel vulnerable, that at the roots, amateurs more broadly educate, propagate public awareness to artifacts, retrieve objects out from under ever expanding developmental zones, fight to conserve key sites and places, and aim to salvage and preserve the past more proactively than they. Many professionals seem to be like politicians, always posturing for either their own or their field’s job security, personal resume enhancement, or sights on a bigger prize further up the ladder in a favor system, and though it gets pitched as benefiting us all, most of these sort of professional efforts tailor fit personal aspiration and selfish notoriety alone. For me, I feel we need both and each has a specialized role, and a healthy partnership helps us all, but there are many authorities in the subject of Archeology who are not professionals.

With regards to civil rights, the thing to pay attention to for anybody not in Florida and to become more proactive in your state for the future, is to look for loose language in your current laws. I would get ahead of the plausible vulnerability no matter how well the public and state relations are, and organize a restructure before it is in a defensive stance and takes more time, hardships and money to turn it around. For instance, let’s answer this. So how did this shift in policy happen in Florida anyhow? Well this answer starts with a name, Judy Bense, who used loose language to change the tide.

She got her way and manipulated the end of the IFP policy and gained support by other areas in Government. It has been said, she used legislative intimidation of her brother being in office at the time for the dissolve of IFP, but money and funding tends to motivate those whose livelihood comes from increased budgets. It appears she and others were able thru the influence of the Historic Archeological Society to then influence the Department of Historic Resources to pair with FWC to impose anti-collecting enforcement. It was all based on a decision to stop the permitting procedure and dismantle all further procedures going forward by defining the response on (one word) ‘MAY’ into a detrimental and negating way with in the current statute, 267.115. What the state may or may not do became subjective to one side, the states. Since in the meetings the pitch was ‘supposedly’ the funding couldn’t support the IFP program any longer though, however, it could have asked for granting, they contradicted their position by revealing it was never about getting funds but rather what they wanted to fund. Also, the task force that was once the collectors’ partner in alliance, then turned on the public and used the in tel from the previous program to target people, places of frequency and times of trade with an increased budget aimed at prosecution.

So the shift really came down to values on governmental role made distinct by special interest composed of Bense. The debate became, find funds for permitting or find funds for prosecution? Bense was zero tolerance for amateur collecting in general and had an easy sell with FWC who went along with the prosecution side of finding funds instead of the permitting side, for they were looking for ways to increase their budget for their militant equipment foot print….ie… armored cars, tanks, and military style gear and weaponry, and this paired nicely with that budgetary agenda.

This posture of prosecution produced many adverse setbacks along with a two year undercover sting named ‘Operation Timicua’ costing tax payers hundreds of thousands for 13 arrest to which some still have open cases. They used and publicized the sting in an effort for increasing their militant budget and all arrest were militant, swat team style for publicity, yet their report for the media was nothing like the facts of each of the cases. Not a single person was charged with looting graves or ceremonial complexes nor did they find and sell items to support a drug habit, yet that was the public pitch. Even some of the evidence used in show casing the success of the operation was not in the case but made for good, rich camera footage.

Unfortunately, since this shock and awe campaign, the presence has had after math momentum of others being reeled in to a new heightened scrutiny of the law, and many cases though not as militant in arrest are coming up crooked, missing evidence and Monsanto like drawn out legal proceedings for nothing more than to drain the financial ability of the accused thus forcing them into a plea deal.
Listen, the word ‘may’ is now a negative auxiliary verb, it is now proven language that can remove your rights and entitle government the ability to change policy without consent as they see fit, and then shift enforcement against the citizen and prosecute accordingly whether you are aware or not aware of the laws. They have showed no common sense enforcement and extended no grace in recent prosecutions. No first time offender warning citations to educate the public but rather full blown arrest with zero tolerance taking all artifacts without a warrant from the accused’s property whether it was part of the case or not.

We have met with some House Representatives lately who are going to question Pam Bondi, our Attorney General, to see if first she knows about these cases, and if this is truly and transparently the state’s position for lawyers to be targeting this matter as they have. If so, it appears the State has decided it is in our best interest to move in a ‘may not’ posture with the Department of Historic Resources paired and enforced by FWC as her staff prosecutes current cases and will continue down this path until the statute is amended. The subjective catch in it is this. It is a contradicting position for the state legal side since the statute is the same as from 95 to 2005 where the ‘may’ prompted an implemented program and was our state wide IFP reality. Now citizens are outlaws because the state removed a means to be legal but never adjusted a law to read, ‘shall not’.

Currently, citizens are in pigeon hold and in this limited position, it is against the law to recover any historic artifact from waterways since there is no procedure to acquire permitting…. thus….zero tolerance. Theoretically one can be arrested for cleaning up waterways if their trash includes objects older than fifty years and could be charged with a misdemeanor for disturbing a historic-era artifact since you would then be stealing from the state sovereignty submerged lands. The compounding irony, is that folks currently getting charged, are also losing their whole collections unrelated to the event of their charges, and they have the burden of proof put on them to prove artifacts confiscated in the militant style raids were not from Florida waterways in a time of the current interpretations and enforcement of the law… i could be helping in a river clean up, be charged with a ring-tab beer can, and the state come and confiscate my whole private collection of artifacts with claims it all came from state lands specifically submerged.

Needless to say, many do not have their stuff back yet from Operation Timicua, and the enforcement has no specialist helping the collector recover their artifacts. With no amnesty clause grandfathering items in a collection setting forth ownership to the individuals, this gives entrance for state wide pilfering of people’s property under the wiggle room in statute language and is the over reach and byproduct of an anti-collecting agenda. But we are organizing to unite and stand up against these injustices.

For our kids’ sake, it needs to be stopped! Enough is enough! It is our hour for unity, so collectors, I beseech you to unite, and not only on a local front but also on national scope. Even if you would say, it is still legal here, I would advise anyone who has not already, to begin to form relationships with lawmakers and let them know how you feel about other states injustice and campaigns to fight for their rights back. Collectors take your Capitol. Many of you may have connections with law makers already with other topics and political interest, so why not begin to discuss this as well. Get ahead of the curve, and educate those outside of our community that you not be next in loss of permission to obtain artifacts legally.

Lastly, if you would like to help the push for progress in Alabama, Georgia and specifically in Florida at this time, please join and show your support with us, TriState Archeological Society.

We have an advocacy fund specifically supporting personnel that they can have an ongoing presence with our district representatives at the Capitol, so if you would like to help us in that way as well, the time has never been more important.
Right now in Florida, governmental over reach and misuse of sovereignty could set a tone for other states in the future. Please consider helping us strike out, and adjust the laws here. It could have lasting impact for us all, everywhere.

TSAS President
Teben Pyles