Friday 29 March 2013

A "Citizen-Collectors' Archaeology Permit" in Florida?

A group of artefact hunters (and 'citizen archaeologists')  in Florida are trying to effect a change in the law. They want to see the introduction of a "Florida Citizen Archaeologist Permit (CAP) program" to allow individual private citizens to legally recover historical archaeological artefacts from "state sovereign submerged lands, including lakes, rivers, streams, and coastlines". Currently, under Chapter 267 of the Florida Statutes, all archaeological materials found on state lands or submerged in state waters belong to the people of the state (see The Heritagist: "Archaeological group objects to proposed Florida Citizens Archaeology Permit", Posted: 28 Mar 2013 ).  They propose that such permits would be available upon payment of an annual fee and agreement to certain conditions.
In the past, Florida had an Isolated Finds Program (IFP) that allowed individuals to collect artifacts from state submerged lands, but the program was discontinued in 2005  [partly] because of the failure of many private collectors to report their finds.  The proposed CAP program would essentially reinstate this same program, and thus give rise to the same reporting concerns.  
It is noted that the effects of the "Isolated finds" programme were much the same as is happening with the Portable Antiquities Scheme in England and (for the moment) Wales: "only a few reported locations and they were the same people (harvesting multiple artifacts, not singular finds)". The proposed CAP is not an archaeology permit, but rather merely a collecting permit ("to better regulate artefact collecting in public waters [...] to obtain a permit to legally recover and curate..."). Archaeology is rather more than simply collecting old artefacts.

Not surprisingly some archaeologists are opposing these moves. Sarah E. Miller, Director of the Florida Public Archaeology Network Northeast Regional Center for example argues against the implementation of the proposed CAP program. The Florida Public Archaeology Network believes this proposed program is contrary to the public trust."
The Florida Public Archaeology Network (FPAN) is rightly concerned about the loss of archaeological context and information about the recovered materials that would occur if they were not properly reported.  Unfortunately, as shown by by the previous experience with IFP, such reporting requirements prove extremely difficult to enforce.  FPAN has issued a statement on its blog explaining in more detail its objections to the proposed CAP program.
There are seven really good points on the blog, worth reading, too, by supporters of the PAS over here in Europe.

A few years ago however Robert L. Knight and Donald L. Munroe published a text (available here on archaeologynet) "The Florida Isolated Finds Policy – Opportunity and Responsibility for River Divers". Here they conclude PAS-like that the important thing is the information and "partnership":
Florida’s IFP is neither a success nor a failure, instead, it is a good alternative to open hostility between avocational and professional archaeologists. Whatever the outcome of the IFP, Florida’s laws governing artifacts in submerged lands, and future enforcement of those laws, artifacts in Florida’s rivers will continue to be extracted. Those artifacts may be in private collections or in state-owned collections and actually may migrate from the former to the latter sometime in the future.  
This seems a suitable cause for the US Collectors' rights organization the ACCG to get involved in. They are always banging on about how, instead of asking US collectors and dealers to clean up their act and avoid buying smuggled artefacts, the source countries should be facilitating the reporting of artefact hunting activities (voluntarily of course) through setting up in countries like Bulgaria, Greece, Italy and Egypt clones of the English (and for the moment, Welsh) PAS. Those of us with a more developed sense of justice and fairness than that possessed by the average US collector of dugup antiquities would argue that if the US were to impose such a requirement on a (sovereign) foreign state, it should at least adopt such a measure itself. Lead by example. Here then is a solid opportunity for the US advocates of the PAS-clone solution to looting problems to see that it is introduced in the USA. Now they have lost their Baltimore Illegal Coin Import Stunt case, they can turn their attention to other ways of supporting US collectors' rights by encouraging this model of dealing with the archaeological record through a citizens' initiative closer to home.

I am sure in good time we will also hear - though more likely it seems on a metal detecting forum or blog - from Archaeologist "Lisa" over in Florida (who seems otherwise to support the FPAN) how such a citizens artefact collecting activity would benefit the people of Florida. I am sure it will make as edifying a read as her dismissive take on the long-term effects of artefact hunting on the UK's archaeological record, and the training of artefact hunters in the elements of archaeological recording to fend off criticism of the hobby (to "eliminate the rebuttal archeologists fall back on, “Destroying Context”..."). 

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