A letter from Theresa Schober, President of the Florida Anthropological society:
Dear FAS members:
On November 30, 2015, Representative Charlie Stone of Ocala introduced House Bill (HB) 803 relating to isolated historic and archaeological artifacts recovered in Florida by private individuals on state lands. The bill currently has nine co-sponsors (Representatives Baxley, Grant, Latvala, Murphy, Perry, Pilon, Plasencia, Smith, and Van Zant). An identical bill has been filed in the Senate (SB1054).
HB803 and SB1054 create a permit process that allows people to remove artifacts from state owned submerged lands using hand-held excavation equipment to dislodge them. This is currently illegal under state law. Unlike the previous Isolated Finds Program that was redacted in 2005 based on evidence of wide-spread non-compliance, the current bills provide for the transfer of ownership of the recovered artifacts. The Division of Historical Resources is provided the opportunity to inspect, photograph and analyze the artifacts, but it is required to provide detailed information on site areas to be avoided. Currently site location information is exempt from Florida Sunshine Laws due to its sensitive nature and the propensity for looting to occur on known sites.
This distinction between the previous Isolated Finds Program and the proposed legislation (HB803, SB1054) is significant. The organizations that have hired lobbyists to see this legislation enacted are engaged in the artifact trafficking business. This bill would allow them to dislodge artifacts from Florida river bottoms and immediately sell them for private gain. The organizations with a vested financial interest in these bills recently held a private event in Tallahassee – Collectors at the Capitol – with Rep. Stone as their special guest. This legislation is not intended to support casual hobby collecting although it might be characterized as such. The key individuals involved are based throughout the Southeast and are the principal operators of an antiquities market supplied by Florida’s submerged cultural sites. After the Division of Historical Resources discontinued the Isolated Finds Program in 2005 and after the Florida Fish and Wildlife Service engaged in Operation Timucua in 2013, this illicit antiquities market was significantly curtailed. The current legislation will reverse the progress made in protecting Florida’s cultural heritage for all of its citizens.
It is important that FAS chapters, members, and individual chapter members speak out against this legislation. Please educate your delegates about this legislation’s source and special interests, as well as the irreparable damage this will cause to Florida’s unique, non-renewable historical and archaeological resources. The organizations involved in lobbying for this new legislation, such as the Tri States Archaeological Society or the Sunshine States Archaeological Society, may sound like FAS chapters but they do not meet FAS’s ethical requirements for membership.
The Legislature convenes on January 9, 2016. Please provide the following information to your chapters and other groups and individuals concerned with Florida’s archaeological and historical resources. Please call or email your legislators, particularly those on the Economic Development and Tourism Subcommittee and the Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Tourism, and Economic Development in the House. Lonnie Mann of the Panhandle Archaeological Society at Tallahassee (PAST) has put together a table showing which districts of subcommittee representatives are within FAS chapter areas to assist in this effort (included at the bottom of this email). The state legislature also has online tools for finding your district representatives. These tools and links to additional information can be found below.