Bill would issue archaeology permits to any citizen

Battle brewing over historic artifacts

A bill before the legislature – just introduced Tuesday – would let anyone get a permit to dig for artifacts in state waterways… and keep them.

St. Augustine is one of the leading cities in the country when it comes to having its own city-run archaeology department and staff.

The city commission recently heard about a Florida House and Senate bill, and commissioners don't like it.

The bill would create a citizen archaeology permit program. For $100, anybody could get a permit to dig for artifacts in submerged state-owned waters. They could also keep the artifacts.

The archaeology community is very upset.

"No one should be able to take a single artifact home and keep it as their own personal property. These things belong in museums and in collections," Sarah Miller said. She is the director of the Northeast and East Central Florida Public Archaeology Network.

However, hobby groups and collector groups, such as the Tri-State Archaeological Society, support the bill.

Richard Reed with the Tri-State Archaeological Society said, "We just want to be able to collect artifacts in the streams and rivers down there in Florida. For example, if your daughter or my son was at one of the boat landings down there, and they were to pick up an artifact laying in the water, they'd be violating the law if they took it with them."

The bill says tools could not be used to excavate for these isolated artifacts. However, it does allow for a trowel or other handheld tools.  That does not make archaeologists feel any better about the bill.

"You can do a lot of damage with a towel," Miller said.

The bill also says if a permit holder finds and keeps an artifact, he has to report its location.  Florida used to have a program like this, but it did away with it because "a small percentage of the people collecting were going through with the process to let people know," Miller said.

Big money is to be made with artifacts, online and at auction. Projectile points and arrowheads can be had for hundreds of dollars. One projectile point was even purchased for $100,000, according to Miller.

City archaeologist Carl Halbirt disagrees with the bill.

"I think if you have people going out there and looking for artifacts and removing them out of context is a bad idea. Archaeology is about understanding context," Halbirt said.

And so, the St. Augustine City Commission passed a resolution this week, opposing the bill. The resolution lets the legislature know the city doesn't dig the idea of heading out permits to anyone who wants to find and keep pieces of history.

 


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