Treasure hunting in Florida

In a communication from Chuck Meide, LAMP Director, that was received by Historic City News this week, we were asked to show our support in preserving Florida’s archaeological and historical heritage.

In Meide’s letter, he writes:

Word is spreading about an opportunity that might lead to the end of state-sanctioned treasure hunting in Florida waters, but the time to act is now!. We encourage everyone who cares about Florida history and archaeology to visit a public comment webpage the state has established in conjunction with their proposed new 1A-31 regulations for treasure hunting. While these rules are a step in the right direction, they do not go far enough. We’d like to send the message to Tallahassee loud and clear that treasure hunting is detrimental to our state’s great archaeological heritage and that it should be banned outright.

The public comment webpage is http://flheritage.com/archaeology/rule/

As any friend of Florida archaeology knows, our state has had an unfortunate legacy of treasure hunting which has been legal since the 1960s. At that time there were few if any archaeologists who were divers and none were working underwater. But today in the 21st century, there are dozens of underwater archaeologists working in our state and we are known as a center for underwater archaeological research and outreach programs. That treasure hunting is still allowed by the state, when it is banned in almost every other state and in many nations, is a blemish on the otherwise fine reputation of historic preservation, research archaeology, and public archaeology in the state of Florida. Dozens of historically significant colonial shipwrecks have been virtually destroyed by treasure hunters, it is time this practice came to an end.

The goal of archaeologists is to generate knowledge and increase our understanding of the past. This is done by using scientific methods, much like a crime scene forensic scientist, when excavating a historic shipwreck site. All artifacts recovered by archaeologists are analyzed by specialists but remain the property of the people of Florida, and they are either put on display or remain intact as a collection forever accessible to scholars, students, and the general public. The goal of the treasure hunter or commercial salvor is to make money for a few individuals by recovering and selling artifacts belonging to the people of Florida. The methodology used by treasure hunters is non-scientific, not up to the standards used by archaeologists, and often destructive in nature. Salvors cannot make profits by spending time on meticulous recording and expensive analyses like archaeologists do. Artifacts sold away—artifacts which are the property of the people of Florida—are usually never available for scientific analysis or available for museums or classrooms. A shipwreck site worked by treasure hunters always means a loss of knowledge about our past that could have been recovered if it had been investigated by archaeologists.

Why are some private individuals allowed to sell state property for their private gain, at the expense of our understanding of history? This is not responsible management of our cultural and archaeological heritage. In the 21st century, Florida should no longer be in the treasure hunting business.

Please go to http://flheritage.com/archaeology/rule/ and let the state know that treasure hunting is bad for Florida. You can express yourself however you’d like, and you might use any of the topics I’ve mentioned above. Or, you can certainly keep it simple and write one to two sentences such as these: “Treasure hunting should not be legal in state waters. Treasure hunting is not the same as archaeology and should be banned in Florida. These new rules are a step in the right direction but do not go far enough, treasure hunting should not be allowed at all. Why is it legal for treasure hunters to sell state property using unscientific standards when archaeologists conduct their research responsibly and the people of Florida retain ownership of all artifacts? Florida history should not be for sale, commercial salvage of historic shipwrecks should not be allowed.”

A public hearing will be held June 26 so Meide is asking for online comments before that date. “If we act together, we can all play a role in protecting Florida’s rich archaeological record, and finally put a close to this unfortunate chapter in the story of Florida’s historic preservation” said Meide.

If anyone will be in the Tallahassee area on June 26, the meeting is at 1:00 pm in the R.A. Gray Building, Heritage Hall, 500 S. Bronough St., Tallahassee, FL 32399-0250.

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