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In Plain Sight: State Archaeological Collections

Archaeological fieldwork involves the careful documentation and discovery of the remains of the past. Once the fieldwork is over, what happens to the artifacts? As scientists, archaeologists are obliged to carefully document and store the artifacts collected during excavations. Properly-curated archaeological collections can have great research and educational value. Ensuring secure access to collections is one of the greatest opportunities in 21st century archaeology.

Artifacts collected on Florida’s state lands and waters are curated at the Florida Department of State, Division of Historical Resources, Bureau of Archaeological Research (BAR) collections facility located on the grounds of Mission San Luis in Tallahassee. These centralized collections provide researchers and museums access to materials from throughout the state and from all periods of Florida prehistory and history, all under one roof.

The BAR currently curates over half a million groupings of artifacts ranging from tiny chevron beads to prehistoric pots and pottery sherds to large 16th century cannon. Of the artifacts cared for by BAR, over 71,000 are on loan. Some are out as research loans to institutions of higher learning, but many of the artifacts are on loan to museums across the state and country and are seen by thousands of people each year.

Numerous requests for data from our collections, or inquiries about artifacts loans come to BAR Collections professionals each year. BAR Collections has built a solid reputation among professional archaeological and museum communities by providing access to both artifacts and data. Some queries are easily answered via email or phone call, while many researchers and curators are provided direct access to the collections.

The BAR has loaned gold and silver coins and jewelry from Spanish plate fleet wrecks to venues such as the Museum of Florida History, The Museum of Natural History in New York, and the St. Augustine Treasure and Pirate Museum. State parks and educators have also used BAR Collections for hands-on educational materials. FPAN’s Destination Archaeology Resource Center displays artifacts on loan from BAR in its exhibits, as do numerous other local museums through the state. Although BAR Collections is a curation facility and not a museum, we do occasionally provide behind the scenes tours, especially during Florida Archaeology Month in March of each year.

Also in an effort to make the collections even more publicly accessible, we are excited to be currently working to develop 3D virtual images of select artifacts where internet users can virtually experience Spanish shipwreck artifacts and learn about life onboard a 17th century ship.

So, you see, the state’s artifacts are anything but hidden!

Do you know of a museum or historical society interested in borrowing artifacts for exhibit? We are here to help! Please direct them to our web site:

Marie Prentice
Senior Archaeologist
Bureau of Archaeological Research Collections

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Visitors to St. Augustine Pirate Museum viewing artifacts from the state’s collection (Photo courtesy St. Augustine Pirate Museum)

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Secretary of state Ken Detzner discusses artifacts specially selected from the State’s collection for King Felipe VI of Spain (left) during a visit commemorating the 450th anniversary of the founding of St. Augustine. Dana St. Claire, with the City of St. Augustine, looks on (Photo Courtesy Florida Department of State)

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Location of BAR artifacts on loan throughout Florida (Courtesy of Florida Department of State)


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