Posts Tagged archeology

The World Famous Crystal River Site (Part I)

By Jason D. Moser and Richard Estabrook

For those that regularly follow Florida Public Archaeology Network (FPAN) blog and website, you’ve probably seen a few discussions about the events and activities associated with the Crystal River Archaeological Field School. This blog is the first of several to discuss the Crystal River archaeological site and some of the archaeological fieldwork that is being conducted at the site. For those of you that are unfamiliar with the Crystal River archaeological site, here is a little bit of background information.

The Crystal River site is probably one of the most famous archaeological sites in Florida. It is located in Citrus County, Florida and located within the Crystal River Archaeological State Park. It has long been a source of interest to antiquarians and archaeologists. Today, the Crystal River site is the subject of a new scientific investigation to understand the formation of the site and its development through time.

Over the past several years and again this summer, The Crystal River Early Village Archaeological Project (CREVAP) has traveled to the area to investigate both the Crystal River site and the nearby Roberts Island site. Dr. Tom Pluckhahn (USF), Dr. Victor Thompson (OSU) and Dr. Brent Weisman (USF) are leading students from the University of South Florida and Ohio State University in this study. Although the Crystal River Site has been investigated multiple times in the past, this new Phase of study is bringing new methodologies, scientific techniques and theories that were previously unavailable to earlier excavators.

Crystal River Site Description

The most obvious features at the Crystal River site are multiple earth and shell mounds located throughout the park. The most prominent of these mounds is a nine-meter high, shell platform mound located on the banks of the Crystal River. This mound, which was once 30-meters in length, was partially demolished prior to its acquisition by the Florida Park Service. Today, roughly half of the original shell mound remains intact. These mounds, as well as the other mounds, spaces, and stones located on the park were created as a form of monumental architecture. Monumental architecture is a term that is generally applied to public buildings, monuments and spaces whose construction is shared by members or segments of a community for civic or ceremonial functions. The Crystal River mounds are part of a unique group of prehistoric mound complexes that represent an early example of platform mounds.

Another remarkable aspect of the Crystal River site excavations were the artifacts that were recovered during the excavations (especially those of Clarence B. Moore). Many of these artifacts were similar to the types of artifacts that have been found in Hopewell cultures of the Ohio and Mississippi valleys. The Hopewell tradition occurred from 200 B.C. to A.D. 450 and was centered in the Midwestern United States. Hopewell is defined by the practice of burials in which the dead were buried in large cone-shaped earthen mounds along with exotic trade goods. Because of the shared similarities between some of the artifacts and the cultural practices of the Hopewell cultural groups and the people of Crystal River, archaeologists believe that the people of Crystal River were these Hopewellian cultural traits.

Previous Investigations

Photograph of CB Moore.

The Crystal River site has been known to antiquarians and archaeologists for more than a century, and yet is poorly understood. Clarence Bloomfield Moore (1852-1936) conducted the earliest investigations of the Crystal River site in early 20th century at the site. Moore was a wealthy antiquarian from Philadelphia. Moore traveled throughout the Southeast excavating archaeological sites from his steamboat named the Gopher. The Gopher was an 85 ft.-long stern wheel steamboat that Moore had built in Jacksonville in 1895. Working from the steamboat gave him access to many archaeological sites that were otherwise difficult to reach by train or by road. Moore published illustrated reports of his excavations in the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia. Over the course of 20 years Moore excavated countless sites in Florida. In many instances, his work is the only information about sites that have since been destroyed.

Map of CB Moore's interpretation of the Crystal River Site.

Moore excavated at Crystal River in 1903, 1906, and 1917. Moore created the first map of the site but focused most of his attention on excavating the burial mound complex (Mounds C-F).

In the early 20th century, archaeology was in its infancy. Many archaeologists did not employ modern techniques for excavating sites nor did they always publish the results of their excavations. Clarence B. Moore was unusual compared to his peers, he kept relatively good notes and maps and he was prolific in the publication of Monographs documenting his excavations. Consequently, he documented far more information than many of his peers of the period. At Crystal River, Moore was primarily interested in the recovery of “exotic” and unusual artifacts that were associated with burial mound complex.

Photograph of Ripley Bullen at the Crystal River site.

Another prominent Florida archaeologist that excavated the Crystal River site was Ripley P. Bullen who began investigating the site in the early 1950s. Bullen was an archaeologist for the Florida Board of Park and Historic Memorials and later was the first archaeologist in the newly established Anthropology Department at the Florida Museum of Natural History. His excavations at Crystal River were the first scientifically documented excavations at the site. Later, Bullen was instrumental in the establishment of the Crystal River Archaeological State Park.

Crystal River Archaeological State Park

The Crystal River Archaeological State Park was initially formed in 1962. Later, other parcels were acquired and incorporated into the park. Today, the park is comprised of 61.55 acres of property. It is located adjacent to the Crystal River Preserve State Park and St. Martins Aquatic Preserve which manages an additional 27,000 acres. The park is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and was listed as a National Historic Landmark in 1990.

Today, University of South Florida and Ohio State University archaeologists and students are continuing to investigate. They are trying to understand how and why the Crystal River site became one of the first culturally complex societies to develop along Florida’s Gulf Coast.

To follow the archaeological investigations at Crystal River this summer, then check out or “like” their Facebook page at The Florida Public Archaeology Network (FPAN) Central Regional Center is assisting the field school with some of the outreach for this project and we will be providing periodic updates. For more information about the project and to follow the day-day-updates from the field you can follow along on Facebook at Finally, for those of you that tweet, you can follow along on twitter at The park is located at 3400 N. Museum Point Crystal River, Florida 34428 for those of you that might wish to visit. The park museum is closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. For more information about the park go to

Stay tuned to our next blog in which we will discuss some of the remarkable artifacts at Crystal River.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Florida Archaeology Month

by Jason D. Moser

Next week is the beginning of 2012 Florida Archaeology Month. It is an annual event that is sponsored by the Florida Anthropological Society, the Florida Archaeological Council, the Department of State, Division of Historical Resources, the Department of Environmental Protection, Division of Recreation and Parks, and the Florida Public Archaeology Network. Together, these and other organizations from across the state will bring the story of Florida’s rich archaeological heritage to the state’s citizens and visitors. This month-long event is part promotional, part educational, and part advocacy-oriented. It is designed to bring attention to some of the things that most people don’t often think about—the past—and more specifically—the past which lies beneath their feet.

There are many reasons why people don’t pay much attention to archaeology. Many of the folks that live in Florida today have moved here from other states and they are unfamiliar with the state’s cultural heritage. Also, many Florida residents receive only an overview of the Florida history and archaeology in elementary school, and later in school they occasionally revisit the subject. For the most part, Florida students spend more time studying the rise of civilizations in Mesopotamia, Egypt and Greece than they do studying the indigenous cultures of the Americas. Humans have lived in Florida for over 12,000 years and Europeans have been in Florida for just over 500 years. In order to know about the majority of the human occupation of Florida, archaeological excavations are the only way that we will ever know about Native peoples.

Currently, Florida has 187,000 previously documented cultural resources. These include over 150,000 historic structures, 32,000 archaeological sites and 1,000 historic cemeteries. Some of these resources have been painstakingly recorded over the last four decades-while others were quickly recorded before bulldozers arrived to begin construction.

Each recorded site contributes to our knowledge of the past. Some of them are very significant and have contributed knowledge in ways that have helped to “write” or “re-write” what we knew, or thought we knew about Florida’s past. A few examples of these excavations include the Windover site, the Crystal River site, Warm Mineral Springs, and Key Marco site. Similarly, important excavations at historic sites such as Ft. Mose, Presidio Santa Maria de Galve, and Mission San Lois have also greatly expanded our knowledge about living on the frontier and interactions with the European and American Indians, and the formation of new cultural groups and ethnicities during the Spanish, British, and American settlement of Florida. Together, the information that excavated and collected by archaeologists aggregate to form greater knowledge than the simple sum of all its parts.

More than 32,000 sounds like a large number of archaeological sites—but there are many more sites out there. There are thousands more sites that have not yet been found. Also, just because an archaeological site is recorded doesn’t mean that it has been excavated. Most archaeological sites are never completely excavated. Indeed, many of the recorded sites are often later destroyed by development, erosion, and sometimes even by looting.
Florida archaeology month highlights some of the important archaeological excavations within the State. It helps tell the story of those people that were here before history was recorded in writing, people who were excluded from the history books, and about many of the things that have been lost from history. We hope that you will join us for one of the many archaeology month events that will occur in your region.

The following is a list of archaeology month events in FPAN’s Central Region;

March 3rd and 4th Silver River Knap-In and Stone Age Arts Festival. Please join the Silver River Museum & State Park from 9 AM to 4 PM. Expert flint knappers, archaeologists, potters, hide tanners, bow makers and other specialists in prehistoric skills will demonstrate and sell their arts. Admission is $5.00 per person. For more information call 352.236.5401 or visit

March 3rd Competition and Cooperation at Crystal River, a presentation by Dr. Tom Pluckhahn, Dept. of Anthropology at USF. Join us Saturday, at 10:30 AM at the Crystal River Archaeological State Park. This presentation will discuss recently completed field investigations, including geophysical survey, coring, and excavations. This event is free and open to the public. The talk will be followed by an exclusive guided tour of Roberts Island at 12:00 PM (weather permitting). Contact Beverly at 352.795.0208 to reserve your seat on the boat (space is limited).

March 9th Join the Florida Public Archaeology Network (FPAN) at the Crystal River Archaeological State Park on Friday, March 9th, 2012 from 4:00 and 6:00 PM for atlatl demonstrations (an early prehistoric weapon). Afterwards, the Friends of Crystal River State Parks will host a Moon over Mounds Event (torchlight tour of the Crystal River mound complex) from 8:00 and 10:00 PM. The park is located at 3400 North Museum Point, Crystal River just north of the Crystal River Mall. This event is free and open to the public.

March 10th Tatham Mound: Hernando de Soto in Citrus County and Tatham Mound Revisited: The Rest of the Story, presentations by Dr. Jeff Mitchem, excavator of Tatham Mound. Join us Saturday at the Old Courthouse Museum to see and hear the highlights of the 1980s archaeological excavations at the prehistoric Tatham Mound near Lake Tsala Apopka. At 10:30 Dr. Mitchem will discuss the archaeological evidence of the encounter(s) between native Floridians and Hernando de Soto expedition. At 1:00 PM Dr. Mitchem will discuss older components of the mound and their reburial. This event is free and open to the public. For more information call 352.341.6427 or visit

March 9-11th Nature Coast Civil War Reenactment The 2012 Nature Coast Civil War Reenactment will be held on the property of the Holcim Mine, located 7 miles north of Crystal River (just south of the Barge Canal bridge). Reenactments for the general public will be held on Saturday and Sunday, March 10th and 11th. Gates open at 9:00 AM and activities are continuous throughout the day, culminating in a clash of forces each afternoon at 2 PM. For more information on this event please visit

March 17th and 18th Fort Cooper Days. Fort Cooper State Park will host a Second Seminole War re-enactment and living history exhibit from 9 AM to 4 PM. Re-enactments will be held twice daily at 11:00 AM and 2:00 PM. There will be period arts & crafts, exhibits, demonstrations, entertainment, great food and refreshments. Visitors should arrive an hour prior to the reenactment times to ensure full viewing. For more information call 352.726.0315.

March 17th Ancient Shell Cities of the North Gulf Coast of Florida, a presentation by Dr. Ken Sassaman, Univ. of Florida Anthropology Depar. Please join The Florida Public Archaeology Network (FPAN), Central Region, and the Lower Suwannee and Cedar Key National Wildlife Refuge on Saturday March 17, at 2:00 PM at the Cedar Key Library to hear Dr. Sassaman present the results of his most recent investigations of the archaeology of the Lower Suwannee and Cedar Key National Wildlife Refuge. For more information, call 352.493.0238. This event is free and open to the public.

March 20th Words from the Earth: Uncovering Our First Colony through Archaeology, a presentation by Dr. Kathleen Deagan, Ph.D., Florida Museum Distinguished Research Curator, Historical Archaeology. Join the Florida Museum of Natural History on Tuesday, March 20, from 6:30-8:00 PM at Leonardo’s 706, Gainesville, Florida. Space is limited; please contact Stephanie Kelley or 352.273.2085 to reserve your space.

March 29th Historic Archaeology at Second Seminole War Sites: What’s New, What’s Important, Why Bother?, a presentation by archaeologist, Gary Ellis, Director of the Gulf Archaeological Research Institute. This presentation will discuss the archaeology of Second Seminole War Period sites. Please join us Thursday March 29th, from 4:00 to 6:00 PM for the Silver River Museum Open House followed by the presentation at 6:00 PM. Space for this event is limited. Please call 352.236.5401 to reserve seats for the presentation. This event is free and open to the public.

March 30th The Invisible Sex: Some Thoughts on the Role of Women in Prehistory, a presentation by Dr. James Adovasio, Director, Mercyhurst Archaeological Institute. Please join the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA) on March 30th at the University of Central Florida, Psychology Building, Room 108, Orlando, Florida. For more information about this event visit This event is open to the public.

March 31st Sweet Cane—Florida Sugar Prior to the Civil War, a presentation by Dr. Lucy Wayne, archaeologist and architectural historian at the Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs State Wildlife Park. Dr. Wayne will give her presentation at 10:30 AM and 1:30 PM. and will discuss a presentation which will include a brief history of sugar, and an explanation of how it was raised and processed in Florida prior to the Civil War. The presentations will be followed by Sweet and Sour, a guided tour and presentation at the Yulee Sugar Mill State Park between 11:00 and 3:00 PM. For more information about this presentation or other Homosassa Heritage Day events, please contact the Homosassa State Wildlife Park at 352.628.5343. These events are free and open to the public.
If you are interested in a schedule of Florida archaeology month events in other regions then go to

Other sites of interest
Florida Department of State
If you want to follow archaeology events in the FPAN Central Region!/FPANcentral

Florida archaeology

If you live in another state and want to find out more about archaeology month events in your state then go to

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Optically Stimulated Luminescence (OSL) Dating Basics

By Jason D. Moser

This summer during the height of the University of South Florida/Ohio State University field school at Crystal River Archaeological State Park, I had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Jack Rink about a new technique that he using to determine the age of the Crystal River archaeological site. Dr. Rink is a professor and researcher at McMaster University, McMaster Institute of Applied Radiation Sciences. He began his education in Florida where he received his Ph.D. in Geology at Florida State University. After working on projects in Africa, Europe and Asia, Dr. Rink returned to Florida several years ago to work on the Salt Springs site near Palatka. He has since worked at sites around the state including several shell middens on St. Joseph’s Bay in Florida.

Dr. Rink and his associates specialize in a special type of geochronology called Optical Stimulated Luminescence—or OSL for short–that is used to date archaeological sites and geological features. OSL dating is a system of sampling and measuring the amount of energy that is trapped within soils. Quartz and quartzite accumulate energy in them through time. This energy comes from the breakdown of very small quantities of radioactive materials that are locally present in the earth’s crust. The rate of breakdown and energy release is relatively constant. However, some environmental factors such as moisture can affect the accumulation of this energy.

Interestingly, both quartz and quartzite lose their accumulated energy whenever they are exposed to sunlight. When you measure the amount of energy that is present within individual sand grains, it serves as a proxy measurement for the amount of time that the quartz grains have been buried since they were last exposed to sunlight. Currently, quartz is the only material that can easily be dated through this technique although some other types of materials may be used in the future such as feldspar.

The science behind this dating technique is interesting; quartz that has been exposed to sunlight experiences an atomic level energy change that causes electrons to become un-trapped from the crystals. The crystals serve as a geologic stop watch. Whenever the quartz grain is exposed to direct sunlight, electrons are released—effectively setting the elapsed time clock back to zero. When the sand grain becomes buried, by events such as floods carrying sediment across a site, or when the ground becomes covered by a midden, or prehistoric people create a sand mound, the grains become buried in the dark, and then begin to accumulate electrons. Once you know the rate of energy accumulation in these quartz grains over a given time period, then, by measuring the amount of energy the grain still contains, you can calculate the amount of time that has elapsed since it was buried. The measurement process is actually much more complicated…but, for now, I’ll will just leave it at that.

OSL dating is potentially very useful for archaeologists. It can identify soils exposed to sunlight as recently as 5-10 years ago to between 150,000 to 200,000 years ago. Dr. Rink’s lab is also currently developing new techniques that will allow them to date sediments ranging from 2 to 5 million years ago. It will be a major breakthrough; however, dating such ancient soils will require an extremely long exposure to sunlight in order for this technique to be useful.

One interesting thing about collecting OSL samples is that they have to be collected so that they aren’t exposed to sunlight. How can you do this—you ask? Do you work at night? Well, you could collect your samples at night, but then it becomes difficult to see your work and write your notes! The Crystal River field school used an opaque container to capture samples collected from the Geoprobe. On some projects I’ve seen the samples collected by pounding an opaque PVC tube into the wall of an excavation unit. The ends of the PVC tube are capped, preventing the sample from exposure to light. Theoretically, only one end of the tube is exposed to sunlight—therefore the scientist analyzing the OSL sample can then select grains that were from the middle of the tube. The greatest drawback to this method is the issue of bioturbation.

Bioturbation is the process through which living things move the soil around in the ground. Roots, ants, worms, gopher tortoises, tree falls all continuously move soil up and down through the soil column. Other process such as wind, rain, frost heave, erosion and deposition can all work to expose soil to sunlight and then cover it back up.

Photograph illustrating the effects of tree falls on soil stratigraphy (the light gray overlying soil filled in the hole that was left by a tree when it fell over).

These factors make the use of OSL dating both a science and an art form. Although, it is relatively easy to distinguish some types of disturbances to soil stratigraphy–it is much more difficult to see the types of disturbances created by insects and worms. These organisms are constantly burrowing through the soils and continually moving grains of sand up and down. This movement of soils is one of the reasons why Dr. Rink is interested in the Crystal River site. Many of the mounds and midden that are located at the site are composed of alternating layers of shell and soil. This combination provides an advantage in OSL dating. The thick layers of shell tend to prevent natural processes such as erosion and re-deposition from churning up the soil. The shell also prevents organisms and roots from smaller plants from moving the soil around quite as much.

To take advantage of all the shell, the soil cores from the Crystal River site were collected with a specialized mechanical coring device called a Geoprobe (see previous blog article). The Geoprobe was necessary in order to penetrate the thick layers of shell that were present on the site. The Geoprobe team comprised of Dr. Rink, Dr. Glen Doran (Florida State University) and Grayal Farr, collected cores from across the site. Each core was collected using opaque black tubes to prevent its exposure to sunlight. Using this technique, the investigators will use the OSL dates to develop a chronological framework for different parts of the site. This information will really help the archaeologists to understand how and when the site was formed. These dates can help identify when a mound was first built, when it was expanded or rebuilt, and when it was abandoned.

Hopefully, when the results of the investigation are completed this information, combined with the information collected by the USF/OSU field school will provide a detailed history of the Crystal River site and its prehistoric inhabitants. Tune in again, as the investigators begin to release the results of these investigations.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Geoprobing into the Past

by Jason D. Moser

It’s springtime, and you know what that means—fieldwork time! Yes, that’s right; an archaeological field school has arrived in Citrus County. This year, the University of South Florida (USF) has begun an archaeological field school at Crystal River Archaeological State Park. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the park it is a 61-acre site located just north of the town of Crystal River. The park encompasses a large part of an American Indian ceremonial mound complex located on the banks of the Crystal River. The complex includes two burial mounds, two shell temple/platform mounds, a plaza area, and substantial shell middens. Shell middens were dump areas created from the accumulated waste and debris of a community over the course of many generations.

Eroded and exposed shells on the surface of Mound A.

The Crystal River site was used for 1,600 years making it one of the longest continuously occupied sites in Florida. Perhaps, due to this long occupation, extensive midden deposits are found throughout the park. They are composed mostly of shells, but they also contain broken pottery, discarded, broken shell and stone tools, and the bones from many of the birds, fish, mammals and reptiles that the inhabitants trapped and hunted. The presence of so many-well preserved artifacts make the midden deposits, some of the most interesting places that archaeologists can investigate.

The USF field school is part of a new investigation of the site called the Crystal River Early Village Archaeological Project (CREVAP) which is funded through a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant. The investigation is designed to address previously unresolved questions about the formation of early village societies and the dynamics of relationships between the prehistoric people in the Crystal River area. The project is being carried out under the direction of Dr. Thomas Pluckhahn (USF), Dr. Brent Weisman (USF), and Dr. Victor Thompson (Ohio State University). Additional information about the project can be found at

To assist with these investigations USF has brought in several experts to conduct highly specialized investigations that are often beyond the expertise of typical archaeologists. This week I had the opportunity to speak with two of them while they were working at the park and to find out exactly what they were up to!

Grayal Farr (left) and Dr. Glen Doran (right)

First, I spoke with Dr. Glen Doran–an archaeologist at Florida State University ( Dr. Doran and his team brought a specialized piece of equipment that is designed to take soil cores from the ground. These cores are a way to sample the layers of shell and other material, or stratigraphy of the site without large scale excavations.

Geoprobe machine during a rest break.

Site stratigraphy is a layering effect that occurs over time on archaeological sites. To visualize stratigraphy, imagine a multi-layer cake, with alternating layers of icing and cake. Just like making a layer cake—the first layer of the cake is located on the cake plate—and that layer is then covered with icing and subsequent layers of cake and icing are added. On an archaeological site, the process is very similar—the oldest layers of the site along with the oldest artifacts are located at the bottom of the site (Usually!). The layers that are on top of base layer are not as old, and contain more recent artifacts. Once you understand the stratigraphy and the processes that might ruin the stratigraphy—then you can understand exactly when the site formed, the periods in which it was used, and when the site was abandoned. Widespread excavations—which are both time consuming and expensive to undertake would also significantly impact the archaeological site and limit the types of information that might be recovered in the future.

Dr. Doran’s team used a powerful machine to collect soil cores that were approximately 2-inches in diameter. The machine is a custom made 540 RT/D direct push coring system manufactured by Geoprobe ( Geoprobe has also generously provided technical assistance and additional equipment for this project. The geoprobe machines use a high speed hammer to rapidly pound the steel core into the ground. The device will penetrate shell, clay, or the types of soft rock that are present in Florida. The soil cores are collected within a clear PVC tube which is fitted inside the exterior core sleeve. Once a core section has been pounded into the ground the operators withdraw the core from the ground using a hydraulic system. Getting the sample out of the ground is relatively easy, getting the clear PVC liner out of the sleeve, is actually much more difficult than it sounds!

Students and professors from USF, FSU, and McMaster University and Florida Park Service Staff at work on Mound H.

After the core is out of the ground, the steel core is withdrawn from the machine and opened. A nearly perfect profile of the soil on the site is contained within the interior clear PVC tube. The plastic tube is removed from the machine and capped with color coded caps to mark which end is up and which end is down. Each tube is marked with relevant information about sample such as the location and depth of the test core. The process can be repeated as many times as necessary to create a cross section of a soil that is up to 10 meters in depth. However, most of the cores sampled at Crystal River are only three to four meters in depth. The cores were collected on a grid pattern at locations across the site and on some of the shell mounds.

The clear PVC tubes enable the team to immediately view the results. Because the cores are sealed they can later be submitted to labs for all types of additional processing and analyses. Soil grain size and composition can provide information about how the soil was formed such as whether the soil was formed from human activity, or whether it was blown in by the wind. Pollen and phytoliths samples can help reconstruct what the environmental and climate conditions near the site were during the past. Soil chemistry can indicate how specific parts of the site were used. For example certain activities leave specific types and combinations of chemicals in the soil. Radiocarbon dating of charcoal recovered during the coring can help establish a timeline for individual layers of the site, and provide specific information about the building sequence of the mounds.

As you can see–soil coring can often provide a huge amount of information about the people at Crystal River and how they lived. The cores that Dr. Doran and his team recovered from Mound A (The big mound) surprisingly indicate the presence of shell completely through the mound—with midden soil below the mound, and then clay, sand, limestone below the midden.

Dr. Jack Rink (left) McMaster University capping a soil core.

Once the remainder of the testing is completed—Dr. Doran’s team will hand over the soil cores to USF and move on to work at other sites in the area. USF will begin analyzing the soil cores after the field school is over. This will take quite a long time to complete. Hopefully, we will have some of the preliminary results by March 2012 when Dr. Pluckhahn will speak at an event during next year’s archaeology month. If you are interested in the Geoprobe work of Dr. Doran and his team, check out their website at

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

A Tale of Boats and Builders: Part I

Skiff ready for trial launch

When I began writing this, the (CRBB) ( had recently returned to their boat shed at the Crystal River Preserve State Park in Citrus County, Florida. For the past six weeks they had been absent from the park and have taken their exhibit on the road. They have been building a model at the County Courthouse Museum in Inverness, Florida ( This isn’t your typical boat model. It is a 1/6 scale (approximately 6’x 2’) replica of a sailing scow. The scow being built by the boat builders is part of a demonstration project. The project accomplished two major goals. First, it gave visitors first-hand knowledge of historic woodworking tools by allowing them to participant in some of the “hands-on” boat building activities. Second, the model, once completed will be used as a traveling education exhibit.

The boat builders themselves are volunteers that have formed a non-profit group dedicated to the preservation of maritime heritage on the Florida Gulf Coast. Many of them are retired and now live on the Nature Coast. They draw membership from all walks of life; however, they all share a long-time interest in sailing and the sea. The organization includes some people that are experienced while others are inexperienced at using traditional woodworking tools. Their goal is to “build a collection of watercraft representative of the central gulf coast’s unique and multi-cultural history that can be shared with both boat enthusiasts and the general public.” The Central Regional Center of the Florida Public Archaeology Network (FPAN) has been involved with the CRBB because of the similarities in purpose and interests in education and outreach. Since their formation, the members of the CRBB have been quite busy completing four boats including the Annie, a “flatty”, a “skiff”, and a “punt” that were among the types that were used by local watermen in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The model represents the fifth vessel that CRBB has worked on.

The scale model of the sailing scow is but a trial for the full sized example that they hope to build. Most people hear the word scow and many think of the garbage scows or barges. The sailing scow is a different kettle of fish. A sailing scow is a large flat-bottomed, broad, shallow draft boat which was relatively easy and inexpensive to build. One of the most important design characteristics of the scow was its light weight and shallow draft. Such characteristics made the scow an ideal boat to travel throughout the shallow rivers of the Big Bend and Nature Coast. The scow was primarily used in the transport of bulk commodities in shallow and near shore environments. Anybody interested in participating or observing the construction of the boats while can come out to the boat basin on Wednesday and Saturdays from 9 AM to Noon at the Crystal River Preserve State Park. ( The most recent efforts have revolved around building boats from recycled materials that will race in the Reuse-A-Palooza at Lowry Park, on Saturday March 26th from 9:30 to 1:00 PM. Stay tuned to next week when Steve and I will walk you through the background of their next major boat building project.

You can follow the activities of the Central Regional Center of the Florida Public Archaeology Network at on facebook!/FPANcentral and on twitter

Tags: , , , , , , ,