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 InvestigationsThe 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. 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.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 http://www.crystalriverarchaeology.org/ or “like” their Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/crystalriverarchaeology. 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 http://www.facebook.com/FPANcentral. Finally, for those of you that tweet, you can follow along on twitter at http://twitter.com/FPANcentral. 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 http://www.floridastateparks.org/crystalriverarchaeological/default.cfm
Stay tuned to our next blog in which we will discuss some of the remarkable artifacts at Crystal River.