United States v. Shivers
96 F.3d 120 (5th Cir. 1996)
Shivers found some buried
treasure using a metal detector. He was looking in an abandoned town that
happened to be located within the Angelina National Forest.
Shivers found a cache of
tokens used to pay lumber company employees.
The government stepped in and
confiscated the tokens. Shivers made a motion to have the tokens
The government argued that
Shivers did not own the tokens because the Archeological Resources
Protection Act (ARPA) (16 U.S.C. §§470ee) said that no person may remove an
archeological resource from public lands without a permit.
Shivers argued that he
should get to keep the tokens because they were not " archeological
resources" as defined by ARPA.
§470aa(b) defines archeological resources as items
older than 100 years (which the tokens were not).
Shivers argued that §470kk(b) implies that private individuals are
authorized by ARPA to
remove items less than 100 years old and retain ownership.
§470kk says that things that are not archeological
resources are not covered by ARPA.
The Trial Court found for the
government. Shivers appealed.
The Appellate Court affirmed.
The Appellate Court found
that ARPA is silent on items
newer than 100 years old. Therefore, it cannot vest Shivers with an
All it says that is that
you don't need a permit for the collection of certain artifacts, it says
nothing about transferring property rights.
In the absence of a
controlling Statute, the Court applied the common law of finds, which
holds that the United States is the rightful owner.
The common law of finds
generally assigns ownership of abandoned property that has been buried
to the owner of the property.