Category Archives: Archaeology, Paleontology, History, and Indigenous Cultures

This category combines a few different scientific disciplines to create an understanding of all the forces that shaped the wild spaces in our area before European settlers developed and clearcut land.  This is a landscape that took millions of years to create, and only a couple of hundreds of years to radically change.  These stories compliment our coverage of ecosystem and watershed restoration efforts, where humans are trying to recreate what had once existed.

Our natural north Florida landscape contains many links to this area’s ancient past. Rivers like the Wacissa and Aucilla, for instance, are full of Paleo-Indian archaeological sites. One of those sites, the Aucilla’s Page Ladson, was recently dated to 14,500 years ago. This is earlier than people had been thought to have been in Florida, and is challenging notions about human migration into the Americas. Florida waterways may contain further clues to the early settlement of our continent.

We also explore more contemporary indigenous people, looking at native groups present during the first European contacts with our area to today. This allows use to try and paint a picture of how people lived and developed culture over the millennia.  By learning how people lived on our natural landscape over this time, we can create a fuller picture of what our ecosystems looked like in a time before they were altered by clearcutting and development.

In some cases, Florida waterways expose fossils from millions of years ago, as we saw along the Apalachicola River at Alum Bluff.

 

Refuge Archeology 2 | Discovering the Spring Creek Village

Earlier this month, we delved into archeological mysteries on the Saint Marks National Wildlife Refuge.  Today, we return to the Spring Creek section of the Refuge with the same archeologists as they predict the location of a village over a thousand years gone.

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Rob Diaz de Villegas WFSU Public Media

There are no ancient stone temples in the St. Marks Refuge.  It would be easier for archeologists if there were.  But the people who lived here for thousands of years lived in wooden homes that long ago turned to dirt. Continue reading

Weeden Island burial ceramic- recreation.

Byrd Hammock | Archeological Mysteries on the St. Marks Refuge

Byrd Hammock is an archeological site on the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge, Wakulla Beach Unit.  Here, archeologists with the Southeast Archeological Center (part of the National Park Service) are trying to solve a mystery…

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Rob Diaz de Villegas WFSU Public Media

How do you begin to know a person who died over a thousand years ago, and left behind no writing?  People lived in north Florida for at least 14,000 years before Hernando de Soto occupied Anhaica in 1539-40.  Through the Spanish, we know that the people who lived here then called themselves the Apalachee.  We know about their daily lives and religious beliefs, albeit through the biased lens of European witnesses.  But at least those clergymen and soldiers lived among and talked to the Apalachee.

There’s no such chronicle for the previous 14,000+ years of life in the panhandle.

Continue reading

Exploring Muscogee Culture Through Shell Carving

The art and iconography of Muscogee shell carving is a window into Native cultures, their beliefs, and connection to nature.  Thanks to Lynn Ivory for her photos of events at Fred George Basin Greenway and Park.

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Rob Diaz de Villegas WFSU Public Media

Chris Thompson is practicing an ancient art form, but with a power tool.  “Used to, you would carve with a stone, or another shell that was harder,” Chris says.  “Those take a lot longer to carve with.  That’s mainly why we use the Dremel.”  Artistically, the speed of the Dremel’s engraving tip lets Chris carve deeper into the shell surface, so that modern shell carvings have greater relief than those made by Muscogee carvers of old. Continue reading

Underwater archeologists excavate the Ryan-harley site on the lower Wacissa River.

Seeing the Ice Age Wacissa Through Artifacts and Fossils

Last week, we met Morgan Smith’s team and got to know their archeological sites on the Silver River.  Today, we’ll revisit their Wacissa River site, see some of the artifacts and fossils they’ve found, and learn what they can tell us about ice age Florida.   We’ll also look ahead to potential off shore digs.

Special thanks to Shawn Joy, Morgan Smith, and Matt Vinzant of Karst Underwater Research for letting us use their underwater footage.  Morgan’s research is sponsored by the Felburn Foundation, Center for the Study of the First Americans, Texas A&M University, and the PaleoWest Foundation. He would like to thank the Silver River State Park, Florida Bureau of Archaeological Research, and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

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Rob Diaz de Villegas WFSU Public Media

In the video above, we visit three archeological sites on two rivers.  When you watch footage from each sites, one sticks out as the most visually striking.  It’s an underwater cavern at the head spring of the Silver River, and it’s full of mammoth bones.  It looks like a cool place to explore.  But it’s also the site with the least scientific value. Continue reading

Morgan Smith, in full scuba gear, descends into Silver Springs' (Florida) head spring, also known as Mammoth Spring.

Underwater Archeology in Florida Part 1 | Silver River Mammoths

Last year, an archeological site on the Aucilla River made international news when an artifact was found in sediment radiocarbon dated to 14,550 years ago.  This makes it one of the oldest sites in North America, further evidence that people were here earlier than once believed.  We catch up with the research team behind that find.  Our area is a hotbed for underwater archeology; in fact, our many waterways might be our greatest archeological asset.

Special thanks to Shawn Joy, Morgan Smith, and Matt Vinzant of Karst Underwater Research for letting us use their underwater footage.  Morgan’s research is sponsored by the Felburn Foundation, Center for the Study of the First Americans, Texas A&M University, and the PaleoWest Foundation. He would like to thank the Silver River State Park, Florida Bureau of Archaeological Research, and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

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Rob Diaz de Villegas WFSU Public Media

“Ocala famous, baby!” Shawn says as he and Morgan look over the cover of the Ocala Star Banner.  In one photo, the two of them are beneath the Silver River in scuba gear, under the headline “Unearthing History”.  Excavating a submerged mammoth kill site might be as glamorous as prehistoric archeology gets, and it looks good on the newsstand. Continue reading

A Geologist’s View of the Apalachicola River | Shark Fossils and Rocks

MegaThis week’s musical guest on Local Routes is Taller Trees, who perform their song Old As Earth.  That’s kind of the theme of this video as well.  In it, we look at rocks and fossils with geologist Harley Means.  He shows us what the old earth around the Apalachicola River tells us about its ancient past.

Music in this video was provided by Chris Matechik.  You can catch his band, The Flatheads, playing in and around Apalachicola.  The RiverTrek kayak trip featured in this story is a fundraiser for Apalachicola Riverkeeper.

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Rob Diaz de Villegas WFSU Media

Alum Bluff was once Apalachicola Bay.  Currently, it towers above the Apalachicola River, 84 miles from the coast.  Florida’s largest geologic outcropping is a peek under the skin of the earth, eroded into view by the river.  Here, we can see millions of years of shifting shorelines and animals long gone.  And by we, I mean geologist Harley Means.  He sees these things, and he was nice enough to interpret them for us on RiverTrek 2016.

Continue reading

Is Artifact Collecting a Threat to Archeology?

In early November, WFSU-TV aired a segment titled “Amateur Archeologist vs. Looter: A Matter of Context?”  The video featured proponents of a program resembling the defunct Isolated Finds, which let avocational (amateur) archeologists purchase a permit to collect artifacts that had eroded into waterways from their sites.  Since the piece aired, new legislation has been introduced into the Florida House and Senate which would enact such a program.  In the video below, we talk to professional archeologists and an avocational opposed to rebooting the Isolated Finds program, including the man who oversaw its previous incarnation.


This segment aired on WFSU-TV’s Local Routes on February 4.

Rob Diaz de Villegas WFSU-TV
A Simpson point found in Wakulla Springs State Park. Such points have been dated between 8 - 9,000 years old, and have been found locally in the Wacissa and Aucilla Rivers.

A Simpson point found in Wakulla Springs State Park. Such points have been dated between 8 – 9,000 years old, and have been found locally in the Wacissa and Aucilla Rivers. Photo provided by Dr. James Dunbar.

“We’re not in the artifact collecting business,” says Dr. Glen Doran.  “We’re in the information collecting business.”  To Dr. Doran and the two men seated next to him, a well preserved paleolithic spear point is a puzzle piece, just like the seeds, bone fragments, and chert flakes around where the point was found.  While it might be exciting to be the first person to hold it in several thousand years, to archeologists, the story of that tool’s creator is more exciting.  New bills would allow Florida citizens to take and keep artifacts found underwater and “out-of-context,” that is, not buried in an archeological site.  If passed, Doran and his associates fear an ensuing “gold rush” that would decimate the state’s rich historic and prehistoric resources.

Continue reading

Amateur Archeologist vs. Looter: A Matter of Context?

The WFSU Ecology Blog was built on two pillars- communicating scientific knowledge about the natural world, and encouraging people to actively participate in it.  When it comes to archeology in Florida, these ideals are at odds.  Below is an attempt to stimulate discussion on the role of amateur- or avocational- archeologists in our state.  It is a first attempt to capture the full complexity of the issue, which we’ll continue to explore as we  cover archeology in the area.

Rob Diaz de Villegas WFSU-TV

Much like citizen scientists often lead researchers to new finds, the video above originated not with the producer, but with the audience.  It was part of a larger response to a pair of blog posts I wrote on underwater excavation in the Wacissa River.  Many people were excited about the potential new information gained on the lives of early Floridians.  Others were less happy about quotes I included from the researcher and a retired FWC officer about protecting the site from looters.  Looking over the comments section of that first post, there was a sense that many of them felt that archeology in Florida had become the domain of a privileged few.  These people feel that they should not be criminalized for pursuing their passion.  I felt that this rift was worth exploring.  I interviewed two parties for whom Florida’s paleo-history is a passion.  Their argument: not all artifacts found in the water are of scientific value, and citizens have a right to collect those pieces. Continue reading

Underwater Archeology | Excavating the Wacissa River

We dive into the Wacissa River with a team of scuba-diving archeologists.  What did they find?  And what do their findings mean within the larger picture of prehistoric Florida?  Read on.  Big thanks to David Ward and Robert Daniels of the Aucilla River Group for helping us arrange the shoot and transporting the crew to the site.  And thanks to Hot Tamale, whose music is featured in the video.

Rob Diaz de Villegas WFSU-TV

Some time ago, possibly about 12,000 years or so, a group of hunters stopped by the Wacissa River and made some tools.  They’re not likely to have self-identified as members of the Suwannee culture group, though that’s how archeologists classify them based on the way they crafted their spear points.  These paleolithic humans left a mess of bone and rock on what may or may not have been a riverbank at the time.  That refuse is of interest  to Morgan Smith, a PhD. student at Texas A & M University. Continue reading

Archeology on the Wacissa: Solving Underwater Mysteries

The video for this EcoAdventure will air in September as part of a new WFSU program.  What segments will air alongside this and other EcoAdventures?  That wasn’t a rhetorical question.  Come in and have a meal, on us, here at the station.  We want this to feel like your show, and we’re listening to your suggestions.  Conversations start in two weeks.  Spots are limited; we want small groups so that we can hear what you have to say.  Visit the WFSU Listens page to sign up for one of five sessions.
Rob Diaz de Villegas WFSU-TV

We were traveling down an undisclosed section of the Wacissa River.  Robert Daniels, the retired Florida Fish and Wildlife game warden who transported us in his jon boat, thought our hosts should have been less explicit in describing their location.  He preferred to say “the Aucilla River basin” on camera.  He was taking us to an archeological site being excavated under the clear water of the river, and he’s fiercely protective of the watershed’s sites.  There are dozens of them in the spring-fed Wacissa and black water Aucilla, many of which, along with other Florida sites, are challenging notions about early human settlement in North America.  Robert worries about looters, and it’s a legitimate concern.  He caught his fair share of them while working with FWC. Continue reading