Looting history

Arrowheads on the Suwannee.

By Stephenie Livingston - Suwannee Democrat

For countless years divers have searched the pitch-black waters of the Suwannee River for remnants of the area’s most early inhabitants.

Authorities warn that collecting Native American and prehistoric artifacts is an illegal activity that has the potential to negatively impact local river ecosystems and archaeological research.

And officials are cracking down on offenders. Two arrests were made in December after two people were discovered collecting artifacts at Little River Springs, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission spokesperson Karen Parker said.

Last year, the agency made a total of 14 cases statewide. So far in 2011, the FWC has made five cases on illegal artifacts digging, four in Alachua County and one in Washington County.

“Archaeological sites consist of much more than the artifacts displayed in museums,” Parker said by email Wednesday.

The state’s view is that the artifacts are to be left alone - period.

“Also, the artifacts and sites are owned by the people of Florida, and cannot be studied or appreciated if they are removed,” said Florida Department of State Communications Director Chris Cate, who spoke in support of efforts by state archaeologists.

Those archaeologists, and others, piece together the past. When one piece is disturbed, such as an arrowhead or pottery shard, the entire puzzle can become compromised.

Parker said where the artifacts lay in relation to others in a site provide clues for archaeologists to follow that can help determine how the object was used, made and lost by Florida’s ancestors. Parker added that the fragile surroundings can sometimes provide more information than the artifact itself.

“When artifacts are moved, or the site disrupted, the context is destroyed, and unlike a pot that can be glued back together, when context is destroyed it can never be recreated,” she said.

And, most of the artifacts found by amateurs are lost forever.

“Many of the artifacts removed from Florida rivers are sold on eBay and other internet sites, leaving the state for good,” said Cate.

“Archaeologists and other members of the public have no opportunity to study or learn from these items. Our agency encourages preservation of artifacts and sites in place.”

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