A collection of blogs and musings from the people that work at the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Museum - Florida's Finest Lightstation.

« Wind and Lighthouse Keeping | Main | Help Preserve Florida's Working Waterfronts: Vote YES on Amendment 6 »

ACTION ALERT!!! The Treasure Hunters are Coming!

Posted by: Chuck Meide in LAMPosts


Tomorrow (Tuesday 21 October, 12 - 4 pm) there is a public meeting at the Guana-Tolomato-Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve regarding proposed rule changes in the state's policy towards treasure hunting. We encourage everyone who cares about Florida history and archaeology to attend the meeting, and/or visit a public comment webpage the state has established in conjunction with their proposed new 1A-31 regulations for treasure hunting. These rules mandate an unprecedented new level of archaeological oversight for treasure salvage operations. While these rules are a step in the right direction, in our opinion 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. We have received word that as many as 100 treasure salvors are planning to attend, so their voice will be strong, but hopefully some of us in the archaeological community will show up to share our opinion that commercial treasure salvage has been and will continue to be a bad policy for historical resources that belong to all of us.

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 show up at this meeting and stand up to say that treasure hunting in state waters is bad for our archaeological heritage and bad for the citizens of Florida. More oversight is good, but an outright ban would be even better. Why is it legal for treasure hunters to sell our 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.

If you cannot attend the meeting, 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.

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, or else come and support us TOMORROW at NOON.

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.

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 (10)

Good morning Chuck, if I may be so informal. To a point I agree with you, but it isn't simply black and white.

If it wasn't for treasure hunters, how many new wrecks would ever be found or even end up with enough funding to complete an archaeological survey / recovery?

How many search and surveys has the state of Florida "ever" financed?
How many are they even contemplating?

No, my friend, while I sympathize with your ideas / ideals, I also sympathize with the practicalities of life.

You wish financing and the finding of new locations of still unkbnown wrecks, then let there be a marriage of both professions.They need each other, and each others skills and financial abilities, they compliment each other rather than being involved in a silly conflict..

This rather reminds me of the old adage "Divided they fall" in this case "Divided they both fail", together, they form an unbeatable, practical combination for the benifit of the World.

With your permission, I will post this reply in several other sites, both Archaeolgically and commnercial recoveries aligned.

Looks like no one showed up to support your socialist propaganda regarding commercial salvage rules. In the future I will not support you either. Focus on your light house rather than medeling in an area you know nothing about.

It's the treasure hunters who discovered most (all?) the known Spanish treasure ships.
This law is just wrong. It's more about power and control, than about responsible treasure hunting.

Joseph, I appreciate your civil tone, which often is lacking in this discussion. However, I must say that we have an honest disagreement. You suggest that if it weren't for treasure hunters then no shipwrecks would be found. Jay also points out that treasure hunters have found most Spanish treasure ships in the state. That may be true (though National Park Service archies did find the Populo and Rosario), however, it must be pointed out that most were found in the early days--60s and 70s--back when there were no nautical archaeologists working in the state.

Since that time we have increased greatly in numbers, and Florida now has more professional maritime archaeologists working in her waters than any other state or most countries, and dozens if not hundreds of sites have been discovered by these trained professionals. I also disagree that treasure hunters are providing any kind of public service. When a treasure hunter finds a ship, it is not necessarily a good thing, as that usually means that treasure hunters will be salvaging it, which means that serious amounts of information will be lost which would have been otherwise carefully collected if it had been scientifically excavated by archaeologists. If treasure hunting had never been allowed, then the dozens of wrecks utterly destroyed by salvage operations would still lie preserved on the seafloor, to be discovered one by one by professionals following scientific excavation and recording methodologies.

Contrary to your stated belief, the state of Florida HAS provided funding for many archaeological surveys in state waters. Projects that I know have been funded (off the top of my head) include the Pensacola Bay Shipwreck Survey (1990-92), Aucilla River Prehistory Project (1990s), the St. Augustine Maritime Survey (1995-97), the Dog Island and St. George Island Shipwreck Surveys (1999-2001), the PaleoAucilla River Prehistory Project (1999-2001), St. Johns County Submerged Cultural Resources Inventory and Management Plan (2000-03), the Santa Rosa Island Shipwreck excavation (1998-9), the Emanuel Point Wrecks 1 and 2 (1995,1997, 2006-07), the Tampa Bay Shipwreck Survey (2006-2007), Charlotte Harbor Shipwreck Survey (2005, 2007), the First Coast Maritime Archaeology Project (2007-2009) and many others. These projects resulted in many shipwrecks being discovered--over 50 in the Pensacola survey alone--and all were carried out with state money provided to archaeologists at universities and private organizations, not including operations conducted by state and federal archaeologists.

Our grant-funded research not only entails work carried out to the strictest archaeological standards, but also has a heavy emphasis on public education (for example, in the first 8 months of this year we gave or sponsored 67 public presentations related to our project). Again and again the folks I meet are supportive of our research and dozens have written the state in support of continued funding.

So there is no shortage of professional archaeologists, and no shortage of funding to carry out work to the highest standards. These shipwrecks are unique, non-renewable resources that belong to the people of Florida. As a life-long Floridian, I feel that if they are to be excavated, it should be done in a way that produces the most information about our history, and that all artifacts should remain property of the citizens of Florida.



Good morning Chuck: I will concede to a bit of erroneous statements, sigh, even my wife doesn't consider me an infallible Saint despite my personal opinion. Life can be brutal.

I do have a few points which I wish that you would discuss though.

A) Just why can't both work together for mutual benefit? Remember, many TH /Salvors are College educated also, so don't look down upon them. They can compliment and pool knowledge for mutual benefit. Each has their special field of expertise, one that is needed by both for success.

Also, "never" equate a formal education with Intelligence, it is mainly a matter of economic situations in many cases.

Yes, I am college educated.

B) Just how many wrecks of the same era and type, are needed to know basically all there is to know of that era?

C) Where are / is the space and viewing areas for the public to enjoy the present vast accumulation of duplicated / repeated artifacts, let alone the future accumulation?

Remember, we are talking of shiploads of artifacts with nothing going to the salvor.

D) I am not a salvor, but a land hunter. I have had success, which culminated with the finding of rhe lost TAYOPA Jesuit mining Complex.

This has frustrated hundreds of seekers over the past 300 years, many of whom died in the search.

This was the result of many years of research, land explorations, lost personal earnings, and yes, confrontations with bandidos which resulted in shooting - I, obviously won.

Regarding Archaelogical findings, I once spent 6 months living off of the jungle between Mexico and Belize looking for Mayan ruins. I was partially successful in fndng a small Pyramid which was duly reported to the Dept in Mexico city.

To date, I have not heard of any expedition going to the area to examine / excavate it ?

Franky, I doubt that I can return to the location since the country has changed soo much.

I know closely the location of a Manilla Galleon, a WW-2 German submarine that was on an espeonage mission, the location of the ship carrying the Zimmerman gold of WW-1, the location of the English pirate Cromwell's ship, and many others.

These all took time and money, even though they were side issues. Should I merely forget them since I may be unable to recoup either time or money under you present belief? If such is the case, they will be forgotten forever.

Frankly, on some, I am now the only living source of information.

I am perfectly willing to work within the hierachy, but, I certanly do not intend to be excluded, or not compensated, since I found them, not the various depts.

What would you reccommend?

Incidentally, I am a duly elected member of the EXPLORERS CLUB


Joseph Curry (Tayopa)
alias Don Jose de La Mancha

Hi Joseph (or should I say Don Jose . . .),

I thought I’d provide a few answers to your questions:

A. I will work side by side with anyone who is willing to use accepted archaeological standards to ensure the maximum amount of historical information from a site is saved for posterity. This includes painstaking recording efforts on the seafloor, paying for scientific analyses in the lab, and retaining the entire assemblage of artifacts intact so that it will be available for other scholars to study now and in the future. These are the professional ethical standards that I and other archaeologists must subscribe to. The problem is that for a treasure hunter who is not interested in following these standards, there is no “benefit,” mutual or otherwise, for archaeology or our understanding of the past. I do not dismiss the knowledge or intelligence of any particular treasure hunter, and I have certainly benefited hundreds of times from the knowledge of non-archaeologists that I have worked with over the years. In our own research program, we encourage and often work with volunteers from a variety of backgrounds.

B. Each shipwreck represents a complex synergy of social behavior, economic activity, and contemporary technology, and each has its own unique story. No matter how many wrecks are excavated from any particular era, there is always potential to make significant gains into our understanding of the past from careful excavation, recording, and analysis of any new find. There is never any point at which we would stop seeking to further our knowledge of history; as professional historians and archaeologists we always seek new perspectives and interpretations of our understanding of the past.

C. You raise a very good point that there is limited space to store and display artifacts, as well as limited resources to pay for these expensive processes. We do not advocate one total wreck excavation after another because of this reality, and also because we acknowledge that future archaeologists will have tools and techniques that are not available to us at this time, so it is a good idea to leave portions of any site unexcavated and to regularly monitor the sites to ensure long-term preservation. Archaeologists rarely espouse the total excavation of a shipwreck unless there is a compelling reason to do so (and an appropriate source of funding in place). A better way to seek a broader understanding of the past is to formulate meaningful research questions and perform limited excavations on a wider variety of wrecks. This way we can best use the limited resources available to us while preserving sites for future research and educational activities.

D. If there are folks like yourself that invest personal time and money into the search for historic resources, what seems to me to be the best outcome is a partnership with archaeologists. Ideally, new sites may be discovered by private individuals who would then share this information with archaeologists, who can then include the discoverers in further archaeological examination carried out to professional standards. I have worked many sites with such partners who were happy to work side by side with archaeologists and contribute to new understandings of the past and perhaps the tangible goal of a museum exhibit open to the public. If you tell no one of the finds you make, then the sites will certainly remain “forgotten,” and as such will likely stay in a similar state of preservation that they have retained for centuries, though there is always the chance that they one day will be discovered either during an archaeological survey, through deliberate search by interested avocationals, or by sheer accident by private individuals who ideally would bring the site to the attention of local archaeologists. If you did know of historic sites in my area, I would hope that you would consider bringing them to our attention, in which case we would be happy to invite you to participate in a preliminary archaeological investigation designed to generate a basic assessment of what exactly the site is and in what condition it is in. From there we might develop a research strategy for further joint investigation with some excavation and artifact recovery, if funds can be procured, or else a regular program of monitoring to keep an eye on the site, make sure it remains in good shape, and give us warning signs if we think excavation might be necessary to save information that might be endangered by natural or man-made threats. I would never, and I don’t think most of my colleagues would, seek to exclude a particular individual (especially the discoverer) from working on a site as long as the methodology followed acceptable archaeological standards. My program worked with someone like yourself, an avocational who has dedicated immense amounts of time and research towards the discovery of a particular wreck, as recently as last month (stay tuned to the blog for a posting on the search for the steamboat Alligator), and I always find such joint efforts to be very rewarding, not just because of the aid in finding a new site, but in the perspectives gained by working with a dedicated individual working outside my own discipline.

Good morning Chuck:

I agree in esence with all of your posts and points. Well put.

Up at Tayopa, there is a small room, still sealed, with records and maps from The 1630's.

I insist on having certifeid copies of all, and exclusive rights to utilize any information regarding any other operations, both in mining or financially applicable in other ventures.

Archaeological data and work to be shared equally.

I believe that we could both work together nicely, if you didn't mind narcotic growers and plain bandidos as bed room companions. sheesh.


p.s. You have posted a remarkably correct and acceptable answer with no ovetones of superiority, I appreciate it.

Joseph (Don Jose),

I'm glad we reached a good place of mutual understanding. I do appreciate your comments, and always try to eliminate any overtone of superiority which probably has been more common from archaeologists in past decades (and may explain part of the problem we sometimes have with the public--though this has changed dramatically in more recent years I think). Anyway, great discussion and it sounds like you have a really amazing site--a Jesuit mining complex, what an amazing early industrial site! Good luck to you, and watch out for banditos!

Good morning Chuck: You will find references to the TAYOPA /Jesuit mining complex in the -->


Scroll down on the left side to Tayopa,

Also go to, (horrors, hehehe )


Scroll to TAYOPA.

We also have identified the location of ATLANTIS, as also posted in both sites.

I am sure that regardless of your particular views on the subject, you might find the story and search for Tayopa fascinating.

As for Atlantis, get to cracking my friend, it is being handed to you on a figurative silver platter heheh.

Don Jose de La Mancha

regards chuck for your ethics bu with children and charity begining atr home yoiuy loose the argument over econamy verses ethics nic try twentyth century pirate

Post a comment

(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)