Steve, Forrest and Spencer Phillips (Southern Skin Diver Supply of Birmingham, Alabama) ask US metal detectorists to support an amendment they have proposed to Alabama's archaeological resource protection legislation ("Please Support SB-81. Save our lost history..." - "Save" it that is by taking it away and adding it to a private collection). Militant anti-preservationist Dick Stout of Texas reckons its a good idea to help out, "these folks need our help and they need it fast. It will involve emailing quite a few state reps, but you can easily do that by copying your letter, and simply pasting it when contacting them. Let's get on it...".
The background to this effort is that Steven Phillips is reportedly the only person to ever have been arrested under the Alabama Cultural Resources Act:
At trial, Phillips was found not guilty of felony theft of a cultural resource but was convicted of misdemeanor third-degree theft. The charge stemmed from Phillips' 2003 expedition in the Alabama River near Selma in search of Civil War relics, which ended with his arrest and the confiscation of a Civil War era rifle he'd found.So, it looks like (Selma here for example) we have another case of somebody looking for collectables on a battlefield/site of conflict. And the metal detectorists of the US rallying behind such people asserting their "rights" (no mention of responsibilities) to plunder such sites of collectables such as rifles.
Steve, Forrest and Spence write that the new bill, SB-81, they have introduced in the Alabama Senate "will make the current law easier to understand". They have deleted three words from the definition of Cultural Resources. What in fact they intend doing is to remove any artefacts not part of a shipwreck from any form of protection in public-owned waterways. Note that in the new wording, Treasure trove which is not associated with a shipwreck is NOT protected from Treasure hunters working outside the permit system, hoiking it out and flogging it off would be legal under the amended law (Section 41-9-292 of the Code of Alabama 1975). The navigable waterways contain however much more than shipwrecks, artefacts lost, dropped, discarded, deposited for ritual purposes in antiquity or historical times. They may be traces of activities in the past using the rivers, they may be elements of sites on the river banks now submerged, there may be artefacts embedded in anthropogenic layers containing well-preserved organic materials which will be disturbed if divers start excavating for collectable items. they may be artefacts lying in situ from when they were dropped in the past during a documented event, such as an historic battle (like the battle of Selma for example). The proposed amendments to the bill aim to render the disturbance of these artefacts and their context legal and the artefacts themselves up for grabs by metal detectorists and unregulated divers. Permits would only be needed for removing collectables from (known) historic shipwrecks. (In any case what precisely does "associated with a shipwreck" mean in legal terms? Not defined in the proposed amendment)
Here are the amendments proposed to SB-81 (file 'aucrap')
Like Bangor's Raimund Karl discussed at the beginning of the month, and the other supporters of the PAS, Mr Philips thinks preservation is all about "finding things":
Divers should find isolated items and save as much of our lost history as possible, and we need them to not be afraid to tell what they find because they fear harassment. Significant finds will be made in the future and we all want to learn from these finds. Other states have friendly dive laws that encourage divers to search and share what they have found, and we don't want Alabama divers to feel they must keep their finds secret.The finds-seeking divers are incensed that "some of the professional archaeologists and their cronies" have been "emailing and calling the Senators and Representatives asking them to kill our bill". The same tired old arguments are used to justify this: "These items are rusting and eroding away and need saving", "We are the public and the public waters are ours individually as much as theirs", "Items that are found are often placed in museums", "All reference books identifying relics and artifacts have been written by authors using collectors", "We don’t want grants or contracts as the professionals try to get for anything they do". Note how they shift from being "divers who find things" ("finders" in PAS-speak) to "collectors" between the beginning of the page and its middle.
As Thomas Spencer reports:
Teresa Paglione, president of the Alabama Archaeological Society, said without legal protections, artifacts from the Civil War, the settlement of the state, the age of European exploration and thousands of years of Native American history could be extracted, kept privately or sold, and lost to history. Those artifacts in state waters belong to all the people of the state, Paglione said. "(The changes to the law) would allow divers like Mr. Phillips to conduct little more than scavenger hunts for relics -- like a game of finders-keepers, except individuals get to keep what belongs to the state of Alabama and its citizenry," she said.It seems gold-prospectors with metal detectors are about as bright as those who use them to hunt coins etc: "This affects gold prospecting as well" declares a poster on the Gold Prospectors Association of America Forum. He seems not to have actually read the proposed amendment and its definition of "artifact" as the subject of the legislation. So, no, no it does NOT. I expect gold prospectors will be writing in ignorant droves nevertheless, not having read the document either and thinking it through.
Note the name of the archaeology-insensitive proposer of the Alabama collectors' rights bill: Senator Cam Ward (R) [pictured above from his website]. He has apparently been told that there are "100 000" find-hungry divers in Alabama and obviously counting on their vote if he can get this archaeology wrecking bill through - hang the cost to the heritage.
Perhaps the resolution here is not to redefine archaeological artefacts to a much narrower field to allow their legal and unregulated harvesting for collection and sale by artefact hunters and collectors, but - as I pointed out in the case Raimund Karl was discussing - to make it easier - and broaden the scope of those eligible - for those whose real intent is to increase our knowledge of sites to obtain the requisite permits.
Thomas Spencer, 'New Alabama law could mean finders-keepers for historic artifacts found underwater', The Birmingham News , January 16, 2012.
Public Lands and Waters, Southern Skin Divers Supply: Blog of the South's oldest dive store, 1/21/2012.