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 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