Friday, January 13, 2012

We received this letter today and thought in light of recent events many of you would be interested in reading yourself:

Dear FPAN Northeast staff,

Recent articles in the St. Augustine Record about artifact collecting make it clear that protection of our archaeological sites is an on-going and often strained effort.  Though the articles offered an “archaeologist’s viewpoint”, they did not illuminate the broader commitment that our communities have to the public value of archaeological sites.  

This commitment is clearly observed in the existence of research and education programs like FPAN and the City of St. Augustine’s Archaeology Program, and in the many volunteers (or just interested citizens) who support such programs.  And in a more preventative sense, the commitment is also reflected in the laws enacted to protect these publically-owned resources.

While metal detecting to find lost items and random, isolated objects is a wonderful source of recreation, metal detecting or digging to methodically collect objects from an archaeological site on public lands in St. Johns County is a crime.

On state-owned and controlled lands, including sovereignty-submerged lands, digging for artifacts without a permit from the Division of Historic Resources is a third degree felony (Chapters 267.061 and 267.12-13, Florida Statutes, and Rule 1A-32 of the Florida Administrative Code). Digging on Federal land, such as the beaches within Fort Matanzas National Monument, also requires a permit, and illegal digging is a felony offense with first time offenders potentially subject to a $20,000 fine and a one year jail sentence (Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979). Finally,  St. Johns County’s cultural resource laws make it illegal to knowingly disturb an archaeological site on county-owned or managed lands (Land Development Code 3.01.07), and our County park laws prohibit digging on any archaeological site (Ordinance 2005-114).  These laws apply to all our beaches, parks, waterways and recreational and conservation lands. 

Far from restricting, these laws were created to protect the public’s rights to their heritage from people who would take it from them for personal gain.  Many curiosity seekers or history buffs discover sites on public lands without removing artifacts and report them to those who work to protect the publics’ resources.  Their exciting recreational activity leads to public benefit and gives us all a long term return on our national history and our investment in public lands. 

Of course, education will ultimately be the most important tool and your staff’s efforts in this arena have been outstanding. As an FPAN Board of Directors member, it has become clear to me that the Northeast office is helping to set the bar for the State. Thank you and please keep up these innovative and effective programs!  

Robin E. Moore, MA/RPA
St. Johns County Historic Resources 

Thank you Robin!  We've been sending out lots of links and resources this week.  To view original Record articles and responses, see:

January 24th City Resolution for Protection of Artifacts

Other resources we've sent around this week on archaeology ethics:

Dr. Della Scott Ireton's post on ethics and treasure hunting

Advisory Council on Underwater Archaeology - Ethics Press Kit

Society of American Archaeology's Code of Ethics

Society of Historical Archaeology's Code of Ethics

Register of Professional Archaeologists Code of Conduct

UNESCO 2001 resolution against treasure collections

Text: letter by Robin Moore with supplemental text by Sarah Miller
Image: Sarah Miller and Amber Weiss, FPAN staff

Fragile maritime resources recorded in Ponte Vedra, St. Johns County.

4 Responses so far.

  1. Brenda says:

    Robin reminds us that our laws demonstrate public interest in our past, and our individual and collective right to have access to the resources that inform us on it. When an individual or group infringes upon that right, they offend our archaeological sensibilities. Though we (archaeologists) understand the importance of the resources and the need to protect them, the reactions of the public to metal detecting and the TV show concept remind us that many do not, even in a place like St. Augustine, where public archaeology is more active than in many places,thanks to the efforts of the city, county, and FPAN Northeast. Only a dent, despite all our efforts, or so it seems. There will always be those we can't reach, but we can increase our percentage! Don't get me wrong. Public interest and understanding of professional archaeology has come a long way through the passage of federal, state, and local laws and the efforts of archaeologists who realized they needed public understanding to support what they were doing and to protect the irreplaceable archaeological record from destruction. But, as we have seen, our job is far from done. We should take theses opportunities to critically examine the effectiveness of the current methods of public archaeology. Rather than taking the stance of telling people (through public days, activities, presentations, school programs, talks, events, publications, etc.) that the archaeological record is important to them, it might be more fruitful to ask ourselves what society needs and how archaeological resources and the profession of archaeology can meet the needs of society. I'm not saying, “What are we doing wrong,” but rather, “What can we do better,” or “Do we just need to do more of what we already do?” I think the time has come (or is past) when public archaeologists come together to establish best practices for public archaeology based on our experience and expertise, which is increasingly becoming specialized within the field archaeology. One way to start this would be to start a professional organization of our own, separate from an archaeological organization such as SAA or SHA, etc., where we discuss, share, and learn about how to do public archaeology the right (best) way, the skill sets needed, and establish standards of our own as a unified profession. We have a responsibility to the archaeolgical profession and resources to ensure we continue to stay important to society. Who's with me?

    Brenda Swann, MA
    Director of Collections, Interpretation, and Programming
    St. Augustine Lighthouse and Museum

  2. I'm with you!

    I think there are many different brands of public archaeology and a conference would foster deliberation over approaches; we're not all talking about the same thing when we say public archaeology. I'd also love to see more professional development opportunities for people who do what we do, like conflict management or developing press kits in response to ethical issues.

    I'm sure others have thought of this...any good names out there? Public Archaeology Conference (the PAC!), or Global Public Archaeology Network (GPAN!).

    Sarah Miller, FPAN-NE

  3. Brenda says:

    How about a combo, GPAC. :) I agree. Defining what "Public Archaeology" means would be a first step. Look forward to putting our heads together on this!

  4. Anonymous says:

    Archaeology wants to leave items from the past left in the ground. Until a select few decides to search a small area, for them.
    Work with metal detectors find more items. All would benifit. Unfound items from the pass benifit no one. Working together would bring a lot more unfound items out of the ground for everyone to enjoy. The State could offer to purchase what was found by metal detectors, or give them ownership of the item as long as they let the State inspect and log it. The State could also supply a place to show what was found. Most Metal Detectors want to show found items more than sell them. WORK TOGETHER

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