The Public Needs to Know the Truth, not just the Professional’s Pitch.

Did you know that it is against the law to pick up and take home any item that is older than 60 years from the waterways here in Florida without a permit? In light of the current events that wrench our nation, this might seem like a side line issue for some. However, I am publicly asking that you help.
Many people know how fun it is to find shells and sharks’ teeth on the beach but don’t realize that if at the same time they find an artifact knowingly or unknowingly, they could be charged with breaking the law. Though not everyone is an avid, get out the door collector, many of us know of family members or people in our community who find great pleasure in recovering and saving items from the past to showcase and teach others with. For instance, as a retired Duval County public school teacher, I still often serve the public by teaching, and just recently taught sixth graders all day at Charles E. Bennett Elementary on a comparison and contrast of Woodland period America and Greece. I showcased artifacts alongside woodland technology practices and bring some relevance to the historic study with the tangible, local prehistoric record.
You may not realize or be aware, but currently an abundance of tax dollars is being funneled into undercover surveillance to prosecute the public for collecting artifacts. From spears, tools and arrowheads to early settler wine bottles, jewelry and weaponry, many are racking up some serious charges by trying to save the past from the future.
The motivation of groups who are against the public from rescuing items from the waterways base claims on peer influenced bias, generalizations and mistruths and is birthed from an elitist, out of touch, job security response of the academic community. It has been said by some professionals that the popular academic mindset would rather see a bulldozer destroy a site soon to be developed just so amateurs don’t get any of the artifacts. They feel that the commercialization of antiquities should not be allowed and it is best stopped by cutting off supply. The only portion of supply they can influence is what can legally be described as State Sovereign Lands and right now they are utilizing that language to keep the public from a permit to legally obtain objects from the past.
They have an alluring pitch if a person didn’t know any better with their claims that sites are being ruined by divers, that all waterways are interconnected underwater sites, and there is still lots to be recovered, but these claims can’t be further from the truth. There are only a few spots on low flow rivers in our state that should be protected and preserved for future Archaeological Science and technology, but the majority of all other areas may have artifacts still eroding out with modernity’s artificial impact on watershed, but as to the Archaeological record, the majority of areas do not have any new history altering evidence to reveal. The divers can only help compound the record with repeat evidence from areas and sites and with a healthy partnership, new sites found by the self-funded amateur, can only help, as they have all throughout history, to get the academic onto those areas for closer study as need be.
As I see it from being well integrated in the collector community, the diving community and after diving close to thirty years myself, it is not about underwater site preservation, but rather a territorialism and exertion of power from a portion of academics who don’t otherwise have much say. These same folks make claims that they do not care the least with what you do on you own private property not because they don’t truly have concern but because they know in our country it is a losing proposition to set forth legislation to grant them easement onto private property. So, they have been taking their stand on public lands which includes all of the underwater territories of any navigable waterway and pitching themselves as the true guardians of the past all the while miscasting the Avocational Archaeologist as looters who are stealing from the public.
The true irony is that a citizen can purchase a Treasure Hunter Permit which is specific to sunken vessels and their cargo and or random pockets of concentration, a citizen can purchase an underwater logging permit and recover old sunken logs from past logging transport by water, and lastly citizens can get a fairly inexpensive Fossil Permit and recover fossils under some set reporting guidelines without limit……..but while doing any of these activities, a person had best leave the other artifacts where they lay. With no permit for that portion of what lay under water, the public has no basis to protect that portion of our past. Policing to protect in this way only produces outlaws.
I overview all of this to say, there are many of folks in this area and all over the nation that have a hobby of collecting artifacts, and we are putting forth legislative initiative to have the state reinstitute a program where one can buy a permit to recover artifacts that range from prehistoric to historic from the bottom of rivers, lakes and their embankments. From 1996 to 2005 there was a permit yet with the loose legislative language of one word ‘may’ implement a policy, the state withdrew the implementation of the policy. With grass root efforts, the collector community now has a bill in the House and in the Senate here in Florida that will set back into place what was removed. I am asking for your help to reach out to your district’s representation with a quick email to let them know that you are in favor of Bill HB803 and SB1054