Thursday, February 03, 2005


History for sale on Web alarms state


News Journal Online
By Mark I. Jonhson
February 01, 2005

NEW SMYRNA BEACH -- A piece of Florida's history is up for grabs on eBay and archeologists aren't happy about it.
Someone, identified only as "kcnsb" on the Internet auction site, has posted three pieces of timber and some brass and iron hardware for sale.

The seller claims to have found the items while beachcombing for shells after they "had broken off and floated free from the main body" of an 18th-century British merchant ship buried under the sand near Third Avenue and uncovered in September by Hurricane Jeanne.

It's not as unlikely as it might sound.

In October, an archeological team surveyed the site, finding a wreck it identified as a British timber hauler built in the mid-1700s. Billy Ray Morris, executive director of the Lighthouse Archeological Maritime Program in St. Augustine, registered the site with the state Department of Historic Resources.

The eBay items have been posted since Wednesday. Although no bids had been registered for the artifacts through Monday morning, Morris wasn't happy to learn of the sale.

"This is a crock," Morris said. "That belongs to the state of Florida."

Roger Smith, Florida's underwater archeologist, said removing such items is illegal.

"What is happening here is someone is selling a piece of public property that is a historic resource and protected by law," he said by telephone from his Tallahassee office. "If it is on state-owned bottom land then it is on public property.

When people take public property they are stealing from the people of Florida."

According to Florida statutes, taking something from an archeological site without a permit is a first-degree misdemeanor. Excavating a state archeological site without a permit is a third-degree felony.

Smith learned about the auction Monday and immediately attempted to contact eBay officials.

Hani Durzy, eBay spokesman, said the only way his company can know if something is illegal to sell is for someone to tell them.

"Our overall policy is if it is illegal to sell, it is illegal to sell on eBay," he said. "But that calls into question how do you determine what is illegal?"

In the case of artifacts, he said the auction site depends on governmental and law enforcement authorities to notify the office if something is wrong.

If the item is determined to be illegal to sell, Durzy said it will be pulled from the site, but as of Monday afternoon that had not happened.

Durzy declined to identify the seller, citing privacy considerations.

Volusia County Beach Patrol Capt. Tony Sopotnick said the case has been turned over to the Florida Department of Historic Resources, Bureau of Archeological Research for investigation.

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