In early November, WFSU-TV aired a segment titled “Amateur Archeologist vs. Looter: A Matter of Context?” The video featured proponents of a program resembling the defunct Isolated Finds, which let avocational (amateur) archeologists purchase a permit to collect artifacts that had eroded into waterways from their sites. Since the piece aired, new legislation has been introduced into the Florida House and Senate which would enact such a program. In the video below, we talk to professional archeologists and an avocational opposed to rebooting the Isolated Finds program, including the man who oversaw its previous incarnation.
A Simpson point found in Wakulla Springs State Park. Such points have been dated between 8 – 9,000 years old, and have been found locally in the Wacissa and Aucilla Rivers. Photo provided by Dr. James Dunbar.
“We’re not in the artifact collecting business,” says Dr. Glen Doran. “We’re in the information collecting business.” To Dr. Doran and the two men seated next to him, a well preserved paleolithic spear point is a puzzle piece, just like the seeds, bone fragments, and chert flakes around where the point was found. While it might be exciting to be the first person to hold it in several thousand years, to archeologists, the story of that tool’s creator is more exciting. New bills would allow Florida citizens to take and keep artifacts found underwater and “out-of-context,” that is, not buried in an archeological site. If passed, Doran and his associates fear an ensuing “gold rush” that would decimate the state’s rich historic and prehistoric resources.
The WFSU Ecology Blog was built on two pillars- communicating scientific knowledge about the natural world, and encouraging people to actively participate in it. When it comes to archeology in Florida, these ideals are at odds. Below is an attempt to stimulate discussion on the role of amateur- or avocational- archeologists in our state. It is a first attempt to capture the full complexity of the issue, which we’ll continue to explore as we cover archeology in the area.
Rob Diaz de VillegasWFSU-TV
Much like citizen scientists often lead researchers to new finds, the video above originated not with the producer, but with the audience. It was part of a larger response to a pair of blog posts I wrote on underwater excavation in the Wacissa River. Many people were excited about the potential new information gained on the lives of early Floridians. Others were less happy about quotes I included from the researcher and a retired FWC officer about protecting the site from looters. Looking over the comments section of that first post, there was a sense that many of them felt that archeology in Florida had become the domain of a privileged few. These people feel that they should not be criminalized for pursuing their passion. I felt that this rift was worth exploring. I interviewed two parties for whom Florida’s paleo-history is a passion. Their argument: not all artifacts found in the water are of scientific value, and citizens have a right to collect those pieces. Continue reading →