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ACTION ALERT!!! Help Stop Treasure Hunting in Florida Waters!


Word is spreading about an opportunity that might lead to the end of state-sanctioned treasure hunting in Florida waters, but the time to act is now!. We encourage everyone who cares about Florida history and archaeology to visit a public comment webpage the state has established in conjunction with their proposed new 1A-31 regulations for treasure hunting. While these rules are a step in the right direction, they do not go far enough. We’d like to send the message to Tallahassee loud and clear that treasure hunting is detrimental to our state’s great archaeological heritage and that it should be banned outright.

The public comment webpage is http://flheritage.com/archaeology/rule/

As any friend of Florida archaeology knows, our state has had an unfortunate legacy treasure hunting which has been legal since the 1960s. At that time there were few if any archaeologists who were divers and none were working underwater. But today in the 21st century, there are dozens of underwater archaeologists working in our state and we are known as a center for underwater archaeological research and outreach programs. That treasure hunting is still allowed by the state, when it is banned in almost every other state and in many nations, is a blemish on the otherwise fine reputation of historic preservation, research archaeology, and public archaeology in the state of Florida. Dozens of historically significant colonial shipwrecks have been virtually destroyed by treasure hunters, it is time this practice came to an end.

The goal of archaeologists is to generate knowledge and increase our understanding of the past. This is done by using scientific methods, much like a crime scene forensic scientist, when excavating a historic shipwreck site. All artifacts recovered by archaeologists are analyzed by specialists but remain the property of the people of Florida, and they are either put on display or remain intact as a collection forever accessible to scholars, students, and the general public. The goal of the treasure hunter or commercial salvor is to make money for a few individuals by recovering and selling artifacts belonging to the people of Florida. The methodology used by treasure hunters is non-scientific, not up to the standards used by archaeologists, and often destructive in nature. Salvors cannot make profits by spending time on meticulous recording and expensive analyses like archaeologists do. Artifacts sold away—artifacts which are the property of the people of Florida—are usually never available for scientific analysis or available for museums or classrooms. A shipwreck site worked by treasure hunters always means a loss of knowledge about our past that could have been recovered if it had been investigated by archaeologists.

Why are some private individuals allowed to sell state property for their private gain, at the expense of our understanding of history? This is not responsible management of our cultural and archaeological heritage. In the 21st century, Florida should no longer be in the treasure hunting business.

Please go to http://flheritage.com/archaeology/rule/ and let the state know that treasure hunting is bad for Florida. You can express yourself however you’d like, and you might use any of the topics I’ve mentioned above. Or, you can certainly keep it simple and write one to two sentences such as these: “Treasure hunting should not be legal in state waters. Treasure hunting is not the same as archaeology and should be banned in Florida. These new rules are a step in the right direction but do not go far enough, treasure hunting should not be allowed at all. Why is it legal for treasure hunters to sell state property using unscientific standards when archaeologists conduct their research responsibly and the people of Florida retain ownership of all artifacts? Florida history should not be for sale, commercial salvage of historic shipwrecks should not be allowed.”

Many of us in the archaeological community feel that this rule change may be the first step in outlawing commercial treasure hunting in Florida, especially if we can show them that our communities appreciate archaeology and history and are united against treasure hunting. It is important that you ACT NOW! Please take a minute RIGHT NOW, visit the webpage, and leave a brief comment. A public hearing will be held on this issue next Thursday (June 26) so we need these online comments to be coming in mass before that date—only days away! If we act together, we can all play a role in protecting Florida’s rich archaeological record, and finally put a close to this unfortunate chapter in the story of Florida’s historic preservation.

If anyone will be in the Tallahassee area on June 26, the meeting is at 1:00 pm in the R.A. Gray Building, Heritage Hall, 500 S. Bronough St., Tallahassee, FL 32399-0250. Attend if you can and show your support for Florida archaeology. But if you make your comments and send them in your voice will be heard now!

Please share this message with anyone you know who is interested in preserving Florida’s archaeological and historical heritage.

Thank you for your support of good archaeological stewardship,

Chuck Meide,
Director, LAMP

Comments (7)

I'm on the fence on this one.
I think if it wasn't for treasure hunters, nobody would ever have known about ships like the Atocha, etc...

I think treasure hunters like the Fishers have done a great job at preserving the past and bringing history to life for many people.

I believe there's a middle of the road solution to satisfy both the archaeological society and responsible treasure hunters.


Thanks for commenting, Mike. I stand by my opinion that treasure hunting is among the least informative ways to better understand the past. Atocha was indeed found by the Fisher's persistence, but on the other hand we would have known much more about this ship and its history if it had been excavated by archaeologists using scientific standards standard to that discipline. It is an easy conclusion to draw if one compares archaeological reports from a similar vessel (say, the Emanuel Point wreck, a 1559 galleon excavated by the state and U. of West Florida) to all of the publications produced on the Atocha. That's just one of many examples. We just learn much more when archaeologists excavate scientifically than when salvors recover and sell off the data.

It's great to talk about using "scientific standards" for excavating, but let's not overlook the fact that the Atocha never would have been located without Mel Fisher's self interest and the self interest of his investors. Educational Institutions often lack resources to search for and properly (meaning comprehensively) excavate archaeological sites. My father was a responsible part-time treasure hunter who acquired a Federal Admiralty lease for the San Jose de Las Animas (1733) and a dredge and fill permit from the State of FL for over 20 yrs. He worked within the law and methodically logged and reported the location of every artifact he found on that wreck. He's now writing a book about his personally funded "20 year excavation" which will be an important addition to information available on the 1733 Spanish treasure fleet. He gave many valuable artifacts to the State including a 6000 lb canon he recovered which was preserved by the State of Florida and is on display in the keys. The State of Florida has benefited from my father's collaboration with them. In addition to the yearly excavation reports provided by my father the state has acquired many significant artifacts they would not have otherwise acquired. There is a middle ground.

Hi, Just a personal opinion, I think that if treasure hunting is stopped, so will the hobby of metal detecting, There is more too look at than making a few archaeolgist happy, and putting a few thousand people out of a hobby. Modern treasure hunters or as intent on perserving history as anyone else, The difference is that they dont want too put all Archaeolgist out of business, Thanks Bob


I am not making any judgment call on metal detectorists, many of whom have worked with archaeologists with great results. But still, if modern treasure hunters are truly interested in preserving history, wouldn't they just become archaeologists? There is a difference, and even "responsible" treasure hunters are not doing archaeology, which is the most effective way to learn about the past that we have yet to come up with. Selling artifacts means losing information, and there's no reason to impact a wreck site if we don't wring every bit of information out of it that is possible.

In my opinion, the state has hurt many hobbyist who use detectors and other simple tools to accomplish their results. If it were left to "archeologist only" we would see very little progress and much bureaocracy and red tape to reveal the past. I also disagree with the sale of permits to salvage given to mostly one group. There should be a limit on the size of a claim area for underwater salvage.

The laws you seek would one day stop even fossil hunting from rivers,modern lost gold from the beaches,bottle hunting,coin collecting,and maybe antiques as well.My question to you is where can I go study whole collections of any piece of history in florida? I would bet if I did not know alot of you guys I could not even get to view some of what I have seen NOT ON DISPLAY Im sorry I dont feel as you! I agree Florida does have a problem with looters in all fields,But passing laws to protect what? Most major archeological sites are owned or protected by the state! And those of us that collect respect the laws,and the booksmarts any way! What we need are laws that protect collectors of all artifacts,be they fossil,ship related,native,or just plain bottles. Anybody in the fields owes a debt to thoes of us without a degree,And needs to rember they were once like us!! My grandmother once told me a story of St Augustine before Flaglers time when it was just a fishing community back when she was known as Veranna Zeldora Menndez! Before she married T.J.Pellicer a time in history that is more lost than what you seek to protect a time before all the houses, stores, hurricanes,you get the point! Things are lost to history its your job to take on the hunt not to set idle by posting web pages in your spare time trying to buy time with laws! History happens every day! Go find it and record it!

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