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A code of ethics is important, even when applied to a hobby as seemingly innocent as metal detecting. The Austin, Texas, Metal Detecting Club's very first entry in its code of ethics is "I will always check federal, state, county and local laws before searching." Considering the absolute nature of some Texas laws regarding metal detecting, it comes as no surprise the club puts such an emphasis on knowing the law.
The Antiquities Code of Texas
Although there are no laws specifically aimed at metal detecting in Texas, the Antiquities Code of Texas specifically aims to protect exactly what metal detectors detect.
After treasure hunters searched a sunken Spanish ship off the Texas coast in the 1960s and took many artifacts, the Texas Historical Commission, or THC, sprang into action and passed the Antiquities Code of Texas. According to the THC, this code protects historical buildings and archeological sites. Under this code, any agency or person intending to disturb at least 5,000 cubic yards of earth must first notify the THC.
Cultural Features or Artifacts
According to metal detector enthusiast Frank W. Pandozzi, it is an offense to take, remove, destroy or deface any artifact or cultural feature without permit. Pandozzi explains that if a person is detecting in Texas, he cannot dig up and take anything believed to be an artifact or anything more than 100 years old. This law is waived if the detection takes place on private land and the detector is given express permission by the land owner to find artifacts.
State Parks and Schools
According to Texas Parks and Wildlife, it is an offense for a person to operate a metal detector in a Texas state park unless he is authorized by permit. This also applies to national forests and federal lands, according to Broken Detector.
The legality of metal detecting on school property depends on whether or not the school is public or private. A person can use a metal detector on public school grounds unless there is a written notice displayed prohibiting it. However, private schools, colleges and academies require that a person acquires permission from the school before using a metal detector.
Metal detecting in Florida is governed by the State Laws of Antiquities, established by the Federal Archaeological Resource Preservation Act of 1979. While metal detecting itself is not outlawed in any sense, the main thing metal detector users must keep in mind is that particular areas may be protected from those hobbyists who consider themselves “treasure hunters.”
Metal detector use can be regulated differently within each Florida county. Some counties require the possession of a permit to use a metal detector within local parks or city property. Other locations, such as national parks, are restricted against the use of metal detectors. State parks require the written permission of a park officer. In Florida, metal detecting is allowed on beaches, but only in public areas and with the permission of a park manager. On a beach, a metal detector user must be careful not to stray onto private property or leased areas, unless given permission by the owner.
A metal detector operator must respect public property in the course of metal detecting. Public property cannot be harmed or defaced in any manner during a scan or retrieval of any discovered items. Metal detecting organizations such as the Federation of Metal Detector and Archaeological Clubs also have ethical codes they require members to uphold. This involves the refilling of holes made during retrieval attempts, the disposal of all discovered trash, and proper interaction with local authorities.
While discoveries made on a Florida beach can be considered under the general “finders-keepers” rule, anything within the water is subject to a different set of laws. Should a metal detector operator dive with his equipment, he must be cautious of the area he is in and of any discoveries made there. Objects that have been in Florida waters for more than 50 years are considered state property and illegal to retrieve by private operators. Also, waters adjacent to national parks are off limits to treasure hunters of any sort.
Under Florida’s State Laws of Antiquities, the breaking of any applicable laws concerning the abuse of public land, trespassing on private property, or the illegal removal of state property is punishable by applicable fines, imprisonment, and the confiscation of all metal detecting tools and equipment.