Posts Tagged Dr. Victor Thompson

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.

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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

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