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Think you found a prehistoric artifact? Please leave it alone.

Updated: Jul 3

Piece of a turtle shell taken from Lake Beresford, DeLand Florida. Photo by Robin Mimna

While taking Florida Archaeology at UCF, a friend and I found what we thought was an ancient pottery sherd on the shore of Lake Beresford. Convinced we had stumbled upon the next fascinating Florida archaeological site; we pondered what we would name it… perhaps a combination of our last names? I quickly cleaned the artifact, (Ouch, I know, I know) and took pictures of the “sherd” from every possible angle and sent it to my professor. She quickly responded with a glowing response for my "delightful enthusiasm" for finding what was obviously a piece of old turtle shell. To compound my dashed hopes, she gently questioned and lectured me on the importance of not disturbing sites or artifacts, particularly in state and federal parks., but it was an important lesson.


Volusia is a wealth of historic and prehistoric materials. It’s not hard to stumble onto spear points, arrowheads, pottery sherds or even iron tools brought by Europeans while hiking or enjoying waterways. These artifacts tell important stories about our past. However, some of the finer details of those stories can be lost when green history hunters (like myself) disturb or completely remove artifacts from their resting places.


Why does it matter if I remove a possible artifact? Well, for starters, it could be illegal. Federal law protects archaeological sites and artifacts on federal lands. You may not dig, or collect artifacts, use metal detectors, or deface rock images in national parks. Violations could result in jail time or fines. But more importantly, preserving artifacts in its original context is crucial for the following reasons:


1. Cultural and Historical Significance: Ancient pottery provides valuable insights into the artistic, technological, and cultural practices of past civilizations. By leaving found pottery undisturbed, archaeologists can study it in its original location, contributing to a more comprehensive understanding of ancient societies and their cultural heritage.


2. Archaeological Context: The context in which artifacts are found is essential for understanding its significance. The location, position, and association within an site can provide clues about its use, function, and relationship to other artifacts and features. Removing artifacts from their original context disrupts these relationships and diminishes the amount of information that can be gleaned from the discovery.


3. Dating and Chronology: The position of artifacts within a stratigraphic sequence can help archaeologists establish a relative chronology of an archaeological site. By analyzing the layers in which artifacts are found, researchers can determine the sequence of occupation and the relationships between different cultural periods.


4. Preservation and Conservation: Ancient artifacts are often fragile and prone to deterioration. Moving them from their original location increases the risk of damage, breakage, or loss. By keeping artifacts in their original context, it can be better preserved and protected through appropriate conservation methods.


Okay, so what should you do if you stumble upon the next great historic or prehistoric site in Florida? Resist the urge to dig up whatever you can find and post it on social media. Instead, contact organizations who specialize in handling these kinds of sites and artifacts for direction and guidance.

The National Park Service's Heritage Preservation Services

Helps citizens and communities identify, evaluate, protect and preserve historic properties.

National Register of Historic Places

National Register, History and Education

National Park Service

1201 Eye St., N.W., 8th Floor (MS 2280)

Washington D.C., 20005

(202) 354-2213

Florida Trust for Historic Preservation

906 E Park Ave. Tallahassee, FL 32301

Florida Anthropological Society, Inc. (FAS)

P.O. Box 608

St. Petersburg, FL 33731

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