Monday, 23 January 2012

Alabama, A Lootier State?


Sen. Cam Ward (R-Alabaster), has introduced a bill to amend the Alabama Cultural Resources Act; at the moment the underwater archaeological resources of the state are tendered much the same protection as those on land, in Ward's version, the law would allow treasure hunters to search state waters and keep what they find.

Ward said he found the wording of the current law ambiguous. He said he would be open to amendments that would be more protective of valuable historic sites. He doesn't want to lose valuable archeological sites, either. "That is not my intention at all," he said. At the same time, Ward said, it should be clearer what is permitted. Ward said he'd like to get suggestions from academics and Historic Commission representatives. "I'm glad to sit down and work with them," Ward said. "I don't want to give the divers carte blanche. I want to make the law better."
The current wording on permits for searching for artefacts underwater in Alabama is "ambiguous"? That's a laugh, what is ambiguous about it? What part of 'You need a permit to search for artefacts, whether or not they are associated with shipwrecks' does Senator Ward not understand? How does changing it to 'You do not need a permit to search for artefacts, unless they are associated with shipwrecks' help protect - for example the sort of battlefield finds which it seems Steve Philips (apparently one of the initiators of the amendment of the bill) is after? Or anything else that may have been deposited in the water in ancient or historic times?

If anything is AMBIGUOUS in what Sen. Ward suggests, it is "associated with/not associated with" shipwrecks. So how far upstream and downstream from a wreck site is and is not "
associated" - how will the permit system be applied if it is the finders say-so that they were "not near a wreck" that determines whether an activity is legal or not? I see no "clarification" of that point at all in Senator Ward's uninformed and cynical manipulation of the current wording. The CRUCIAL definition of "associated with" is wholly missing from this ill-conceived hatchet job.

It seems to me that this guy (see the 'Alabama can use the internet too' video) really is not the slightest bit interested in preserving Alabama's archaeological heritage. It seems to me that he is just counting on the support of "100 000 divers" in the state in return for handing them a large chunk of the archaeological heritage to take away and do what they want with. In fact he is so uninterested that when he decided to support this Treasure Hunters' bill, it never even crossed his mind for a second to consult it with archaeologists and people who know BEFORE proposing it. Now the media have picked it up, he declares "he'd like to get suggestions from academics and Historic Commission representatives" and "sit down and work with them". Now is a bit late, now he has declared himself. He's surely sensible enough to realise that one cannot try to "work with somebody" whose face you have just spat in.

Meanwhile (while he declares his willingness to listen), "A State Senator" (wonder who that could be) contacted Steve Philips by email "this week" (i.e., "this week" of 21st January):
Steve, another barrage of emails have gone out around the state today to legislators about our bill. I have had four committee members contact me and ask that we not even bring our bill up for a vote in committee because of such strong opposition they are hearing. We really need to get some people contacting their legislators to support this or I am afraid it will be soundly defeated in a committee vote.
"OUR" bill, "WE" really need? Senator+artefact hunters? What do "we need"? What this unnamed Senator thinks he "needs" is for artefact hunters, history grabbers and collectors to show "their legislators" that they are all behind the "state heritage up for grabs" amendment to the law? This is going to help Senator Cam Ward sit down with the "academics and Historic Commission representatives" is it? In what way?

When is the USA going to develop a national heritage agency (as required by article 10 of the 1970 UNESCO Convention) to look after the compilation of heritage policy and legislation on a country-wide scale rather than leaving it up to minor politicians sorting out local squabbles between artefact hunters and academics, seeing which side can shout the other down and secure them the most short-term political gains?

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