Letter from Jon Brandon by katiealibrandi


									                                 Letter from Jon Brandon

                                                                 John Brandon
                                                                 27 Harbour Isle Dr., West
                                                                 Unit 306
                                                                 Ft. Pierce, FL 34949

                                                                August 27, 2008

Dr. Ryan Wheeler
Bureau of Archeological Research
R.A. Gray Building
500 S. Boronough St.
Tallahassee, Florida 32399-0250

Dear Dr. Wheeler:

Please include the following comments in regards to the proposed rule changes to Administrative Rule
1A-31. Please ensure that these comments are properly posted and also read into the public record, if
future meetings or “work shops” allow.

First, In order to promulgate any rules and regulations regarding any state statutes, it is imperative that
there be a clear and concise understanding by the regulatory agency, based in sound and accurate
scientific facts, as would relate to the matters to be regulated. As regards to the Florida Bureau of
Archaeological Research (BAR) proposed changes to Administrative Rule 1A-31, as it applies to
regulatory issues concerning Florida Statute, Chapter 267, and the private sector recovery of historical
shipwrecks, there would appear to be a fundamental lack of understanding of historical shipwrecks lost
in Florida’s shallow water, high energy, marine environment, in which the majority of Florida’s historical
shipwrecks have occurred. Or, at the very least, an unwillingness on the part of the BAR to acknowledge
or even consider certain unequivocal historical, archaeological and scientific facts.

Further, it is this lack of understanding, or unwillingness on the part of the BAR to acknowledge certain
facts and hard data, which has driven and continues to drive many poorly reasoned rule changes and
regulations regarding Chapter 267 and the recovery of historical shipwrecks in Florida waters by the
private sector salvors, both in the past and in regards to the current proposed rule changes.

First and foremost is an apparent lack of understanding of the difference between a sunken ship, which
are extremely rare in Florida waters, and a shipwreck, which accounts for the vast majority of such sites
in Florida waters.

Many in the archeological/academic/bureaucratic communities tend to perpetuate a number of myths
that have little, if any, basis in sound scientific facts, regarding Florida’s shallow water, historical
shipwrecks. One of the most prevalent of these is the, “closed context/time capsule” theory, which
might be appropriate in some instances to a “sunken ship” but rarely can be used to accurately describe
a “shipwreck”, in which the word “wreck” is of primary importance and apparently misunderstood by

When the archaeological/historical record is examined in an unbiased and scientific manner it is readily
apparent that these theories are not generally applicable and do not hold up under rigorous scientific
scrutiny, as would relate to the majority of Florida’s historical shipwrecks. Rather, many in the
archaeological/academic community tend to expound on ideas based on a seemingly personal belief
system, with an almost religious zeal, in regards to historical shipwrecks, rather than relying on
supportable scientific facts. Further, these same academians, who are frequently in bureaucratic
positions enabling them to drive public policy, tend to disregard the wishes and opinions of the general
public as to how Florida’s historical shipwreck resources should be managed.

For instance, as these theories might relate to the known Spanish shipwrecks, that have been explored
and researched off the Florida coast over the last 50 plus years, we have an extensive data base from
which to draw, thanks primarily to the archival research, field explorations and recovery efforts of
Florida’s private sector historical shipwreck salvors.

We know that the vast majority these Spanish shipwrecks were engaged in primarily private sector,
commercial enterprises and were generally lost due to major storm events, primarily tropical storms and
hurricanes. These vessels were driven by high winds and seas into shallow, reef and shoal strewn
waters. In the majority of instances, once they were driven into these shallow water areas, and they
made contact with a reef and/or shoal area, there would typically occur a catastrophic loss of hull
integrity, generally followed by a rapid disintegration of the upper structures. Further, as the given
vessel continued to endure the effects of the initial storm event, the break up and scatter of the vessel
would become more complete and in most instances cover extensive areas of ocean bottom and even in
some instances the beach front.

As the vessel disintegrated as a result of the initial storm event, debris and ship remains were typically
scattered far and wide. For instance, in the case of the 1715 Spanish Plate fleet disaster we have archival
records that give eye witness accounts of debris from the wrecks being, “scattered as far as the eye
could see” and the,…”sea being covered with wreckage…”. This alone would tend to discredit the
“closed context/time capsule theory” for even at this early point there was no longer an intact, “closed
context” vessel left to be explored and /or interpreted in modern times. Not a sunken ship, but a

On the 1715 fleet wrecks, most exhibit debris fields covering many acres of ocean bottom, typically
extending for several linear miles. And this is only what has been documented to date. As private sector
explorations continue on the 1715 fleet sites, the boundaries of the individual shipwreck debris fields
are ever expanding. On the 1622 shipwreck site of the Nuestra Senora de Atocha, lost off Key West, her
debris field now is documented at over 11 linear miles! Many, if not most historical shipwrecks in
Florida’s shallow water, high energy, marine environment, exhibit similar break up and dispersal

Even after these initial natural circumstances and break up, the Spanish would have begun their salvage
efforts on these shipwrecks as soon after their sinking as possible. For instance, according to archival
documentation, in their focused efforts to recover the gold and silver lost on the 1715 fleet wrecks, they
dismantled any of the remains of the wrecks which impeded their efforts to recover the primary
deposits of gold and silver which they sought above all else. Sections of the wrecks were pulled apart
and left to drift away to parts unknown. In some instances, portions of the wrecks that protruded above
the water were even burned, to provide more ready access to the treasure. (It is also know from
historical documentation that many, if not the majority, of all historical shipwrecks lost in Florida waters
under went some type of period salvage, sometimes even by native Floridians, and in most cases this
resulted in a further destruction and dispersal of the remains of the wreck after the initial storm event
which wrecked the vessel.) The removal of large amounts of ship borne items by period salvage again
goes to contradict the “closed context/time capsule” theory.

We also know that in many, if not most instances, of shipwrecks lost in the shallow water, high energy,
marine environment, and in particular as it would relate to the majority of the Spanish ships lost in
Florida waters, all of this break up, dispersal and period recovery goes to a large degree to all but
eliminate firm conclusions that can be based on the spacial relationships of the recovered artifact
assemblages. Items from a specific area of a vessel may be found in one area, while other items from
this same area of the vessel may be found hundreds or thousands of feet or even miles away. Further,
other items from this same area of the vessel may have been recovered and/or destroyed by period
salvors or floated away to parts unknown, never to be found by period or modern recovery alike.

All of this activity goes to thoroughly negate the, “closed context/time capsule” theory. But even
further, after the initial break up of the vessels and the further break up and removal of items by the
period salvors during their salvage efforts, there have been centuries of storms conducive to the natural
degradation and decay of the shipwrecks and their contents.

Typically, the vast majority of the organic materials that existed on these shallow water sites, have long
since disintegrated as a result of natural processes during the intervening centuries. These would
include, but not be limited to, wood materials, including hull structures, furniture, containers of many
sorts and categories, etc., plus clothing, food stuffs, animal products and remains, etc., etc.

Even after all of these occurrences and events, over the intervening centuries storms have continued to
displace the artifact remains of many of these sites, or in areas of many of these sites, not only resulting
in the further loss of spacial relationships, but also in the continued degradation of many of the artifact
remains themselves, depending upon the location of individual artifacts upon a given site, which may or
may not be conducive to relative long term preservation to varying degrees.

If we were to accept the, “closed context/time capsule” theory, and drew our conclusions about period
Spanish shipping in the New World based solely on the recovered artifact assemblages from these “time
capsules” lost in their “closed context” conditions, then we would have to conclude that there were
predominantly no hulls to the vessels; they moved on a pile of rocks, with no sails, manned by persons
with no food, water, clothing or little else. Their ships were miles long, as that is what the debris fields of
these “closed context” shipwrecks typically indicate, and that there were few people involved in the
sailing of these miles long ships, as there are virtually no humane remains associated with these sites.

Once there is a basic understanding of shipwrecks in Florida’s waters, particularly as it relates to the
Spanish vessels lost in the shallow water, high energy marine environment, in the open waters off

Florida’s coast, based on extant scientific, archaeological and historical facts, there would appear to be
little historical, archival or archaeological data, which would support the, “closed context/time capsule,”
theory that some academians and government archaeologists continue to espouse and continue to base
unfounded rules and regulations on.

Rather, these shipwrecks might rarely, in some instances, provide some unknown insights into the
culture and shipping of colonial Spain in the New World and occasionally snippets of new information,
which has not already been substantially documented primarily as a result of the archival, historical and
archaeological research and explorations provided by Florida’s historical shipwreck salvors. By and large,
we have a substantially and predominantly complete understanding of not only Spanish colonial culture
and shipping, but also the maritime trade in general of the vessels lost off Florida’s coast during the 16th,
17th 18th and 19th centuries.

The issue of “humane remains” has also recently been brought up in regards to the proposed rule
changes. While many shipwrecks in Florida waters occurred with a loss of humane life, and again as this
might relate too many of the Spanish shipwrecks, these remains have long ago disintegrated in the sea
as a result of natural processes. In recent discussions with James Levy, chief conservator for the BAR, he
estimated that there have been less than two dozen human bones, or more particularly, primarily bone
fragments, ever recovered from Spanish shipwrecks in Florida waters, over the last 50 plus years of
explorations of these sites, both public and private sector! Certainly not enough to be a factor of
realistic consideration in ongoing explorations or in regards to proposed rule changes.

It should also be noted that there is virtually no mention in the archival documentation of the recovery
of human remains or their disposition, at the time of the salvage efforts by the Spaniards or others.
Apparently, at least as far as the historical record goes, little consideration was given to human remains
by the Spanish themselves, or others, verses the recovery of the lost gold and silver.

Further, a number of these bone fragments, while being discovered during the exploration of Spanish
shipwrecks, occurred in close proximity to the beach and may possibly represent native Floridian
remains that are a result of the erosion and scatter of native Floridian occupation sites located along the
beach front in close proximity to the scattered remains of some of the Spanish shipwrecks. An additional
source of potential native Floridians’ remains on the wrecks of Spanish vessels also occurred when the
Spanish ruthlessly forced native Floridians to dive on the wrecks in the Spanish efforts to recover the
gold and silver they had looted from other new world cultures. Archival evidence indicates that many
native Floridians were lost to sharks, exposure and accidents and their remains were callously discarded
by the Spanish on the sites. (Although these too would have readily disintegrated within the marine
environment and without DNA testing on the less than 24 bone fragments recovered, it is impossible to
know their sources. And again, there have been such few bone fragments ever found as not to be an
issue, in any event.) The Spanish completely exterminated the native Florida Ais Indians who lived along
the Treasure Coast, sending the last few to Cuba in the mid 18th century.

Also, the use of the terminology, “human remains”, tends to skew the impression of the general public
as to what this refers to, as relates to recoveries from historical shipwrecks lost in Florida waters. First,
the public is not provided with the pertinent data that fundamentally there are no human remains,
other than an extremely small number of bone fragments, which have ever been recovered from
historical shipwrecks lost in Florida waters. The terminology of “human remains” tends to conjure up
something more substantial that the general public might try and relate to, such as actual fleshy body

parts that would not be applicable or accurate as would relate to the historical shipwrecks lost in Florida

Another potential erroneous idea perpetuated by many in the bureaucratic/academic community
regarding historical shipwrecks, is the concept of ownership. While the primary ideal put forward by
these agencies and groups is that historical shipwrecks, “belong to the public”, there are a number of
fundamental flaws to this logic. First is that the collections from historical shipwrecks held by
governments and institutions are generally held out of the view and/or access of the general public, as
with the majority of the State of Florida’s collection of Spanish treasure and artifacts, recovered by
Florida’s historical shipwreck salvors.

It should also be considered that only an extremely small fraction of Florida’s population can dive. The
only way for the vast majority of the public to enjoy and learn from Florida’s historical shipwrecks is
through the recovery of their remains, and it has historically been the private sector historical shipwreck
salvors that have brought the knowledge and enjoyment of Florida’s historical shipwrecks to the
greatest numbers of the general public.

Even more telling, is the fact that Florida’s private sector historical shipwreck salvors sell the majority of
the redundant and thoroughly documented treasures and artifacts they recover to the public, after
donating the more historically and archaeologically important treasures and artifacts to the state, along
with also providing all of the on site archaeological data and historical information for all recoveries to
the state. This fact alone tends to provide irrefutable evidence that the general public supports the
ongoing efforts of the private sector historical shipwreck salvors of Florida and have no problem with
the concept of being able to actually own a piece of history, especially if that piece of history is well
documented and has ceased to contribute to the overall body of world knowledge. Without the publics
financial support private sector recovery would not be possible.

Indeed, when one looks objectively at the importance of shipwrecks in the evolution of our current
societies we see that these shipwrecks have little to offer. We have not found a cure to cancer, solved
the energy crisis, found an advanced technology applicable to today’s world or any other spin off benefit
to the advancement or betterment of our evolving cultures, except that the public, including historical
shipwreck salvors, archaeologist, historians and others, find it interesting to learn about history and
shipwrecks. Archaeology, as it relates to shipwrecks off Florida, would seem to relate much more to
entertainment than to science.

Indeed, the current level of world knowledge, gleaned from excavations, archival and historical research
concerning shipwrecks and Spanish galleons found or likely to be found in Florida waters, is at such a
level now, that we can predict to a very high degree of accuracy virtually every type and category of
artifact that is likely to be found on a Spanish shipwreck, or any other type of shipwreck, lost in Florida
waters including those items and materials that have likely decayed or been displaced and are no longer
represented in the artifact assemblages likely to be recovered from a given site.

This is not to say that there are not potentially significant discoveries left to be made. There clearly are.
For instance, numismatic knowledge may be, and in recent years has been, advanced by the discovery
by the private sector of previously un-cataloged or extremely rare coins. But when recovered artifacts
are viewed against the backdrop of the current world body of knowledge, little in recent years has been
recovered from shipwrecks in Florida waters that was not readily identifiable and well documented
through other extant sources and could have been predicted as likely to have been aboard a given vessel

prior to its excavation and recovery. This would include all recoveries from the De Luna sites, Emanuel
Point one and two, which were excavated at considerable expense to the tax payers.

Rules and regulations regarding the recovery of historical shipwrecks in Florida waters need to be
gauged towards ensuring that no relevant or truly significant unknown historical and/or archaeological
data is lost. Not geared towards putting the private sector historical shipwreck salvors out of business,
which seems to be the aim of the BAR. Further, some shipwrecks of truly historical importance (not
imagined historical importance) may need additional oversight and protection, such as the DeLuna sites
in Pensacola Bay, which represents the first concerted efforts by a European nation to colonize the
North American continent.

Another issue is the concept of “sovereign immunity”. According to U.S. law and accepted international
maritime law, for a sunken vessel, or any vessel for that matter including those plying the high seas
today, to claim sovereign immunity it has to be or had to have been, “owned or operated by a
government on military non-commercial service” when it sank. The vast majority of shipwrecks lost in
Florida waters, including the vast majority of Spanish shipwrecks, were unequivocally being used for
commercial service, with the majority of their cargos and treasures belonging to the private sector, and
thus, will not fit this criteria, although a few may. The BAR should adhere to this legal definition, as
stated in federal law, HR 4200, the “Sunken Military Crafts Act”.

Additionally, the efforts, over the last 50 plus years, by the private sector historical shipwreck salvors of
Florida have lead to Florida’s accumulation of arguably the most extensive archaeologically and
historically important and intrinsically valuable collection of historical shipwreck treasures and artifacts
in the world, particularly as it relates to Spanish colonial shipwrecks lost off the Florida coast. Further,
Florida’s private sector historical shipwreck salvors have done more than any other group to bring the
knowledge and history associated with these shipwrecks to the general public and academia alike
through every venue imaginable, including but not limited to, books, magazines, newspapers and
periodicals, archeological reports and papers, TV shows and documentaries, videos and DVD’s, news
reports, traveling displays, talks and presentations, museums, etc., etc. (All of this done at little cost to
Florida’s tax payers.) All of these efforts have enjoyed and been supported by an overwhelming majority
of the public. Unfounded rules and regulations should not be implemented that would impede the
potential acquisition of possibly new archaeological and historical knowledge, and treasures and
artifacts, and the benefits that have and continue to accrue to the public through the ongoing private
sector recovery of historical shipwrecks in Florida waters.

There are additionally many other problems with the way Florida is presently managing its shipwreck
resources, to many to enumerate within this letter, to which the BAR seemingly turns a blind eye and to
which the proposed rule changes to 1A-31 will only continue to compound.

In 1994 a draft “Submerged Cultural Resources (SCRs) Management Plan” for Florida was written by the
BAR as suggested by the Abandoned Shipwreck Act of 1987. This initial BAR plan once again ignored
many of the archaeological and historical facts surrounding Florida’s historical shipwreck resources. As
the public, and particularly the private sector historical shipwreck salvors as represented by the Historic
Shipwreck Salvage Policy Council (HSSPC), gained input into this plan through then Secretary of State
Sandra Mortham and her staff, the SCRs plan underwent significant changes as to what the BAR had
originally written, based on sound and supportable scientific, archaeological and historical facts. As the
SCRs plan evolved into an accurate and realistic management plan, far different to what the BAR
originally had envisioned, the BAR chose to table the plan after five years of hard work!

I would submit that it is time for Florida, as recommended by the Abandoned Shipwreck Act of 1987, to
complete this SCR management plan with appropriate input from all stake holders and the public and
based on the realities and supportable facts surrounding Florida’s shipwrecks. Then rule changes to 1A-
31 could be suggested and implemented to support the actions recommended in a sound SCRs plan.


                                                John Brandon
                                                Historical Shipwreck Salvor


Governor Charlie Crist
Lt. Governor Jeff Kottkamp
Secretary of State Kurt Browning
Senator Ken Pruitt


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