The Board of your Pensacola Archaeological Society (PAS) is asking for your help in voicing our opposition to House Bill 803, “An act relating to historic and archaeological artifacts (see also Senate Bill 1054, “Historic and Archaeological Artifacts”). This bill seeks to change the last line of Florida Statute 267.115 by requiring the Division of Historical Resources (DHR) to develop a program to issue permits to individuals for purpose of collecting artifacts from publicly owned lands. The individual would then be allowed to keep these artifacts and sell them for personal gain. You may recall that the previous Isolated Finds program (1996-2005) was overturned after only a small number of collectors actually reported their finds. It is unknown just how many sites may have been damaged or destroyed during this nine-year period.
We ask that you take a few moments to write to your elected officials in protest of this latest legislative assault on the archaeological and cultural resources of Florida. Our collective voices are heard – look at the backlash to the National Geographic and Spike TV metal detecting/looter shows, and remember our recent success in seeing the “artifact amnesty” program feasibility study conclude with an appropriate negative response to the Florida legislature. Your letters and calls are important, particularly as interested members of the public. The legislature must see that it’s not just archaeologists who are against this! To this end, we are providing some language you might adapt to suit your needs. We encourage you to make only one or two strongly worded points in your correspondence – legislators respond to cut-and-paste form letters the same way we do (they don’t read them!).
- First, find your senators and representatives!
- Supporters of the bill frequently evoke the image of a “grandfather taking a hike with the kids” who find an arrowhead and are at risk of arrest. This program is not intended to protect the casual collector who may not comprehend Florida’s current cultural resource protection regulations. Rather, this program would only benefit individuals with the ability to pay a $100 permit fee.
- This bill may put existing cultural resources in jeopardy by requiring DHR to divulge site locations (protected information) in order to keep divers and collectors off these sites. Unscrupulous permit holders can easily reveal these locations, leaving fragile and non-renewable sites vulnerable to looting. State-funded agencies like DHR and Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) will incur added expenses related to policing these currently appropriately protected resources. Relatedly, a $100 permit fee will likely be an inadequate source of funding for the personnel needed to process the permit requests and information generated by the program, as stipulated in the bill.
- Many sites start off as “isolated finds” (think about the anchor from the first Luna shipwreck!), but with careful investigation and advances in field techniques they can develop into incredibly important archaeological sites. Allowing our shared heritage to be removed an artifact at a time would be like a death by a thousand cuts for many a site.
- This bill is about the commercialization of a shared, public, and unrenewable cultural resource. Commercial sellers of artifacts collected under the permit program stand to profit considerably – a $100 permit may yield artifacts worth several hundred to literally tens of thousands of dollars in the collector market. A $1000 fine might be viewed as simply a “cost of doing business” for the unpermitted collector who gets caught.
- This bill gives the next wave of looters a legal loophole and will only hasten the loss of nonrenewable resources on public lands. The Florida Fish and Wildlife’s “Operation Timucua” revealed that looters are plundering archaeological sites all over the Southeast and selling our shared cultural heritage for personal profit.
- Florida’s cultural heritage is irreplaceable, and should not be auctioned off in $100 chunks. These artifacts and the places where they are found belong to ALL Floridians, and only truly benefit all of us when they are preserved.
Should you need additional inspiration, we might point you to several recent blog posts which summarize keys points against passage of this bill. We hope that this information can be shared with your elected officials and fellow voters so they too will know why this particular bill is short-sighted and fails to protect our shared cultural and historical heritage.
Be aware: looters and their allies are being very proactive in voicing their support of this bill. We need to be just as vocal. Educate your representatives, write letters to your local papers, call in to your local talk radio shows, and share your opposition to HB803/SB1054 wherever and whenever you can. Have a Twitter account? Use this hashtag: #OpposeHB803.
This bill is a threat to the integrity of the cultural history of our region; it profits a select few and harms the vast majority of Florida’s citizens; it undermines all that cultural resource professionals and our citizen allies and friends work to preserve every day. Please take this threat seriously and write to your representatives today.