Some Utah archaeologists are concerned that an amendment passed this week by a legislative interim committee inserting a "Boy Scout clause" into an archaeological resources protection bill could damage archaeological resources.
The clause, similar to language in federal antiquities laws, would permit the casual collection of arrowheads from the surface of archaeological sites on state lands. No subsurface collection is allowed under the federal law.Sen. Craig Peterson, who proposed the amendment, said it would prevent the father and son innocently collecting plentiful archaeological artifacts on state lands from being in technical violation of the law.
But some Utah archaeologists said the law could severely damage the state's valuable archaeological resources and ultimately cost taxpayers money.
"There is such a thing as innocent collection (of artifacts), but there's no such thing as harmless collection," said Winston Hurst, curator at the Edge of the Cedars Museum in Blanding.
"Basically, what (collectors) would be doing is eliminating part of the archaeological record, in many cases making it impossible for anyone to go back and learn anything," he said.
But Joel Janetski, chairman of the Antiquities Advisory Committee that helped draft the proposed legislation and also a Brigham Young University anthropology professor, said the law could be worded to prevent any damage.
"Our intent is to to distinguish between people who inadvertently pick something up and people who are looters," he said.
"It's fairly restrictive," Janetski said of the federal law on which the state bill is modeled. "It does allow for some casual collection but we would not want to consider encouraging active collecting of antiquities off public lands."
"I don't know how you do that," Hurst said. "There are very important archaeological sites that are only important as long as the arrowheads on them are still there."
Another Utah archaeologist said the law could cost taxpayers more money because archaeologists are often required by law to conduct environmental impact studies - including archaeological surveys - on state land.
"A single arrowhead on a site can tell you how old it is and what kind of people lived there," said Alan Schroedl of P-III Associates, a consultants group.
Loss of an arrowhead through casual collection could mean the state would have to pay for an entire excavation to determine information otherwise found in the discovery of a single arrowhead.