Cemeteries as Cultural Resources

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Often when I give a lecture on historic cemeteries I ask if anybody in the audience has ever visited a cemetery for fun or enjoyment. The usual response from the audience is a bunch of blank and bewildered stares, but occasionally I come across somebody that raises their hand in excitement. We don’t often think of cemeteries as a place of enjoyment, but I am on a mission to change people’s attitudes towards cemeteries. In reality they are wonderful historic resources that can be seen as outdoor museums. There is a lot of information tucked away in those cemeteries, more than many people realize. As a little girl I can remember being fascinated by the art and motifs on the headstones in England, where my mother’s family lives. Now as an adult living in Florida I still harbor that same fascination and often visit local historic cemeteries or insist on stopping to look at cemeteries on road trips with my friends. I challenge anybody reading this to take the opportunity to visit a local historic cemetery and walk through it with an open mind and you may be surprised at what you can learn about the history of your community.

Lambs are often used as symbols on the graves of young children.

Lambs are often used as symbols on the graves of young children.

So now you are curious perhaps? Asking yourself what you can possibly learn from a bunch of headstones and monuments. Well, think about all the different decorations and motifs you see on the headstones. Perhaps there are different types of stones that are imported, maybe there are some stones that appear to be handmade locally, or perhaps you notice that there seem to be different sections of the cemetery that are dedicated to different religions. How would you know the religion of a person in a particular burial? Look at the iconography on the headstone. Does it have a Star of David, a cross or some other religious symbol? Even the various flowers that are carved into a stone can have particular meaning. There was an entire Language of Flowers that was used during the Victorian time period. Sometimes you may come across a flower carved into a stone that appears to have a broken stem. This symbolizes a life that was cut short, meaning the person interred there may have died at a young age. A lamb usually symbolizes a child. Certain symbols were popular during different time periods as well and can be used to gather information on the time period that the cemetery was utilized. These various styles, features, stones and manufacturing techniques provides us with valuable information about a community’s past and can provide information that may not otherwise be available in the historical record.

Florida has some of the oldest prehistoric and historic cemeteries in the New World. At the Windover site near Titusville, burials that were 8,000 years old were discovered! The oldest above ground historic cemetery in Florida is  Tolomato Cemetery located in St. Augustine (which by the way, is the oldest continually occupied European settlement in the New World!). Tolomato has burials that dates to 1737! St Michael’s Cemetery in Pensacola was established in 1810  but may have been used as early as 1786. Florida’s cemeteries also represent a wide array of cultures and religions, including Southeast Native American, Greek, Jewish, Minorcan, Cuban, and Bahamian…just to name a few! This provides historians, archaeologists and cemetery enthusiasts (yes, they do exist!) with valuable information on early ethnic populations throughout Florida’s history.

Extensive vandalism at the Old City Cemetery in Tallahassee.

Extensive vandalism at the Old City Cemetery in Tallahassee.

Unfortunately, the sad fact is that cemeteries, just like any other archaeological site, are subject to vandalism and other harmful activities. In some cases above ground features of a cemetery are damaged or even stolen. When this occurs the context of the burial is lost along with potentially significant information. Not to mention the fact that a person’s final resting place has been disturbed.  Cemeteries are one of the few sites in archaeology where cultural remains and information can be linked to a single known individual. When the headstone or other associated grave goods are stolen or damaged, gathering that type of unique information may no longer be possible. There is also the issue of cost. Repairing damage to a cemetery can be costly and often must be done by specialists to ensure that it is done properly so that further damage is not done.

But there is hope! Visitors and stewards of cemeteries can do a lot to ensure that these wonderful resources last and are protected. Many times the best security for a cemetery is for people to visit the cemetery or to be seen maintaining the cemetery. People are less likely to do harm when there are others watching them. It is important to note that there are laws that protect human burials, including unmarked burials. There are simple rules or “cemetery etiquette” that can help to ensure the cemetery is not damaged as well, which include:

-Taking only photos. Rubbings cause damage over time and eventually will make the inscription illegible. Many cemeteries no longer allow rubbings because of this fact.

-Clean only with water or a conservation cleaning agent (we use one called D-2). DO NOT USE BLEACH. Although bleach may make the stone look pretty right now, the salts found in bleach can damage the stone and eventually cause the stone to appear to have rust stains.

-Don’t lean on the stones. This not only can damage the stone but is a safety hazard as well.

-Do not dig and be cautious when removing vines, and other small plant growth. If large roots or trees are damaging a stone or monument it is best to consult a professional.

-Do not remove or move monuments.

-Record your local cemetery. Protection begins with identification. Call the Florida Master Site File to see if it has been recorded. If not, you can record it. The folks at the Florida Master Site File or your local FPAN  office will be happy to assist you with this simple process.

CRPT Workshop attendees hard at work using D-2 to clean a headstone.

CRPT Workshop attendees hard at work using D-2 to clean a headstone.

Education is probably the most important step in cemetery preservation. The Florida Public Archaeology Network offers a one day training to the public and those tasked with maintaining historic cemeteries. This training, Cemetery Resource Protection Training (CRPT) will give you the information you need to proactively protect historic cemeteries, memorials and unmarked burial sites. Attendees spend one portion of the training learning about the laws that protect cemeteries, management and maintenance techniques and much more. The second part of the workshop consists of hands-on instruction where you will have the opportunity to record a cemetery and clean headstones using D-2. If you are interested in having FPAN host a CRPT Workshop in your area, please contact your local regional office or check the calendar of events on our website to see if any are scheduled near you. Once a year we also organize a CRPT Conference. This conference is designed to further the education of those that have attended our CRPT Workshops.



Archaeology in the Classroom

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It is that time of the year again! FPAN  would like to wish all the students and teachers good luck with the new school year! It is always an exciting and a busy time. Even here at FPAN we feel it. We start to get a lot of requests

Student doing an activity from one of our curriculum guides, Timucuan Technology.

Student doing an activity from one of our curriculum guides, Timucuan Technology.

from teachers around this time of the year asking us to visit their classes. We love to visit classes, but unfortunately there are very few of us and very many of you. We recognize this, and so we have created and keep adding to our resources section on our website. Here you can find videos, virtual field trips, curriculum guides and so much more that you can use in your classroom. We also offer teacher workshops and are more than happy to work with your school district to ensure that teachers who attend receive in-service credit. We have staff that are Project Archaeology facilitators, and would be willing to share their knowledge of this great educational resource as well and conduct a Project Archaeology In-Service Training for the teachers at your school.

Students can learn about prehistoric hunting techniques and the physics behind it in Atlatl Antics, which can be found in "Beyond Artifacts" in our resources section.

Students can learn about prehistoric hunting techniques and the physics behind it in Atlatl Antics, which can be found in “Beyond Artifacts” in our resources section.

The great thing about archaeology is that it is multidisciplinary! This means that no matter what subject area you teach, you can use archaeology to teach it! Archaeology incorporates math, reading, science, social studies, ethics, history, law/government, art and so much more! And have you ever met a child that was not intrigued by archaeology? If so, I can guarantee that they are the exception! Most kids are fascinated by archaeology and the concept of discovery. It is all about how you present it to them. Archaeology is hands-on and engaging! So if you are an educator, we hope that you will use our FREE online sources to assist you with incorporating archaeology into your curriculum. You will enjoy it as much as your students will! And if you ever have any questions regarding any of our resources please don’t hesitate to contact your local FPAN center. We put a lot of time and effort into developing these resources, so we also welcome feedback.

Archaeology and the Civil War

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Our new Battlefield on a Tarp activity!

Our  Battlefield on a Tarp activity!

This weekend is one of my favorite events of the year, the annual reenactment of the Battle of Olustee! FPAN will have a booth there all weekend with information about the Civil War in Florida. We also have a hands-on activity we call “Battlefield on a Tarp”, which is a favorite on school day. Many people do not make the immediate connection between archaeology and the Civil War and I receive a lot of questions about why FPAN  feels it is necessary to have an educational booth at these battle reenactments. My first response is always, “Well, archaeology is one of the main reasons we know that the battle took place on this piece of land”. Yes, it is true that there is a plethora of documentary evidence of battles that have taken place from any given war in our history, but if you have ever studied them then you know that they can be full of inconsistencies and biases. I often tell children that archaeologists are the detectives of history. We use historical documents as clues to help us find the actual evidence that can provide us with definitive proof of what actually happened at an archaeological or historical site. This is exactly how battlefield archaeology contributes to our understanding of the Civil War (and any other battle or war for that matter). The artifacts and features found in the ground provide archaeologists and historians with non-biased evidence of what actually happened out on the battlefield. It also helps to tell the story of the everyday person who took part in the battle.

boothThis leads me to another “teachable moment”. During the “Battlefield on a Tarp” activity I slowly start to pull items off of the battlefield and then have the observers tell me what information they are able to gather about the site. As I take more items off of the battlefield it becomes more and more difficult to discern what was taking place during the battle. So many of our battlefields are now situated within the boundaries of state or national parks, and thus are preserved for future generations. However, this doesn’t mean that people still don’t try to “loot” these sites for artifacts. When these artifacts are taken out of context we lose the ability to learn the true history of these historic battles. This is true of any archaeological or historical site, not just battlefields and this is one of the main reasons we find it valuable to attend these battle reenactments. We want to strengthen that connection between archaeology and battlefields. We hope that you will take some time this weekend to attend the Battle of Olustee reenactment. You can find detailed information about the battle reenactment on their website. I hope that you will stop by our FPAN booth, but if you can’t make it then I hope you will check out our Destination: Civil War resources.

Dr. Kenneth Sassaman will be Presenting to PAST on February 3!

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The Panhandle Archaeological Society at Tallahassee (PAST) is  very excited to be welcoming Dr. Kenneth Sassaman,  Hyatt and Cici Brown Professor of Florida Archaeology at the University of Florida, on February 3 at sassaman_414-224x3007pm. The meeting will be held at the Governor Martin House (1001 DeSoto Park Drive, off of Lafayette Street between Myers Park Drive and Seminole Drive). You do not have to be a member of PAST to attend, but membership forms are made available during the meeting if you would like to join. PAST is the local chapter of the Florida Anthropological Society (FAS). Dr. Sassaman specializes in Archaic and Woodland periods of the American Southeast, technological change, and community patterning. His lecture is titled, “The Lower Suwannee Archaeological Survey: Results of the First Five years of Documenting a Drowning Record of Coastal Living”. The abstract of his lecture is below:

“An archaeological record of coastal living along the northern Gulf Coast of Florida is disappearing rapidly as the shoreline recedes with rising sea. Encased in this record is the material evidence of how people and ecosystems responded to sea-level rise over millennia. Since 2009, the Lower Suwannee Archaeological Survey of the University of Florida has been working to salvage vulnerable sites while developing information relevant to future challenges with environmental and social change. Among the results is increasing understanding of the integration of coastal communities through ritual practices that had practical value in mitigating the adverse effects of coastal change. Their solutions to uncertain futures are materialized in terraformed landscapes of mounds, ridges, and rings, as well as cemeteries and ritual objects that were relocated landward as communities responded to rising sea.”

We hope you will join us next week for this exciting lecture! Come early and join us for some light appetizers and refreshments!



October is American Archives Month!

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October is American Archives Month and the State Archives of Florida has several events planned to celebrate!

On Friday, October 11 visitors will be treated to free food, drinks, and a slide show in the lobby of the R.A. Gray Building. The slide show will feature images from the Tallahassee Democrat, many unpublished, showing scenes of Tallahassee life from the mid-1950s to the mid-1960s. Refreshments for the slide show event, which will run from 6-8pm are being provided by the Friends of the State Library and Archives of Florida. On October 12 the Archives’ Imaging Lab will be open to the public. Residents of Tallahassee and the surrounding area are encouraged to bring in their Florida-related family photographs for possible inclusion in the collections of the State Archives of Florida. Many of these images will eventually be made available on the Florida Memory website as part of a special “Big Bend Area” photographic collection. During the scan day, trained staff will scan photos for possible inclusion in the State Archives’ Florida Photographic Collection, and then return the originals to the donor. The Archives will not take permanent physical possession of the images unless the donor requests otherwise. During the scan day stall will be on hand to discuss the process as well as address questions.

Educator In-Service Training: Archaeology in the Classroom

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Teachers, school officials, youth leaders! Here is your chance to learn about ways you can incorporate archaeology into your curriculum and programming. On August 10th at Wakulla Springs FPAN is offering a workshop that will do exactly that! You must register online in advance. Check out the flyer below for all the details and a link to the registration. If you cannot get the link on the flyer to work, here it is as well, uwf.edu/FPAN/teacherReg/

Heritage Site of the Month: Letchworth-Love Mounds


Letchworth-Love Mounds Archaeological State Park is located in eastern Tallahassee (almost to Monticello) off of U.S. 90. This site boasts the state’s largest Native American mound, spanning almost 300 feet in width and

Photo of large mound from the viewing platform.

approximately 46 feet tall.  There are a total of five mounds that have been identified at this site, however, in the 1970s one of them was destroyed. The age of the site is a much debated topic among archaeologists. Some archaeologists believe that it dates to the Ft. Walton Period (AD 1000- 1500), while others argue that the site dates to the older Weeden Island Period (AD 300-100).  Since 2003 the State Archaeologist and Florida State University’s Anthropology Department have conducted intermittent archaeological investigations at this site. Based on evidence gathered during these investigations the current body of research indicates that the site likely dates to the early Weeden Island period (AD 300-700). The Florida Bureau of Archaeological Research is currently conducting research at Letchworth in order to learn more and to assist the Florida Park Service with further interpretation of the site to the public.

Artistic rendering showing what the mounds would have looked like during the period of time they were constructed and occupied by Native Americans. This is part of the interpretive display at the park.

When you visit the park, you will note that the large mound currently has trees growing on it. When originally built, the earthwork mound would have been clear of vegetation, with smooth sides and a flat top. Many Native American laborers would have brought soil by baskets to the site to construct the mound. They would have had to have knowledge about the different variety of soils to use in order to create a stable structure. The mound would have risen from a flat plaza area, or common area, which would have been used for games and gatherings. Dwellings and agricultural fields would have also surrounded the area. Lake Miccosukee is nearby, which may have been one of the primary reasons the Native Americans chose this site. The lake would have provided them with fresh potable water and food resources.

The site is managed by the Florida Park Service and is open to the public from 8am to sunset year-round. The park offers picnicking, wildlife viewing and hiking. An interpretive trail starts at the base of the large mound and leads visitors past several smaller mounds. The picnic area and platform viewing area for the mound are wheelchair-accessible. The Park Service even offers guided tours upon request! The picnic pavilion houses several interpretive exhibits about the site. When visiting this site please pay attention to signs and please stay on the marked trail. This is a Native American ceremonial site, and the Florida Park Service has designed the walkways in such a  manner that they do not disturb or endanger the site. Also, as always, please remember that it is against the law to remove artifacts and plant material from Florida State Parks-take only pictures and leave only foot prints.


Attention Scuba Divers! FPAN to Host Heritage Awareness Diving Seminar in Pensacola this September

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This three day seminar will be offered in Pensacola on September 11 – 14, with a welcome meet-n-greet the evening of September 11th. The Heritage Awareness Diving Seminar is intended to explain the advantages of conserving shipwrecks and other submerged cultural resources, not only to preserve information about our collective past, but also to preserve the vibrant ecosystems that grow around shipwrecks. HADS focuses on providing scuba training agency Course Directors, Instructor Trainers, and Instructors with a greater knowledge of how to proactively protect shipwrecks, artificial reefs, and other underwater cultural sites as part of the marine environment. HADS consists of two evenings of classroom instruction and one day of open water diving; participants receive the HADS workbook and a CD with all PowerPoint presentations to use in their own classes. Upon completion of HADS, participants can teach the new Heritage Awareness Specialty Course, approved by PADI, NAUI, and SSI, as well as incorporate underwater historic preservation into other courses. This program is presented by both the Florida Public Archaeology Network and the Florida Bureau of Archaeological Research and is taught by professional underwater archaeologists with a wealth of knowledge and experience. If you are interested in registering or have questions you can contact Jeff Moates of the Florida Public Archaeology Network before August 15th at jmoates@usf.edu or 813.396.2327. You may also register online on the FPAN website.


Dig into Reading! Public Library Collaborative Summer Reading Program

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As the kids are finishing up school and the summer heat starts to set in, parents everywhere are trying to find fun and educational summer entertainment for their kids. Well, have no worries and look no further! Every summer the  public library system hosts a summer reading program and this year’s theme is “Dig into Reading”. As you can imagine FPAN staff across Florida are very excited and very busy partnering with libraries all over the state to offer public archaeology programs at public libraries in their regions. The North Central Regional Center is no exception. We have been working with libraries all across our region to schedule various youth programs. All of our activities will have a hands-on component and will be geared towards educating the kids on what exactly it is that archaeologists do and why it is so important to protect our state’s cultural and archaeological resources. Some of the activities we have schedules include chocolate chip cookie excavations, ancient graffiti, peanut butter and jelly archaeology, atlatl antics and so much more! For a complete schedule of all our summer programs you can check out our events page. If you are a program coordinator at a library outside of Florida, you can visit our website and check out all of FPAN’s resources available to you at no cost. Now here is the kicker! We are so busy with summer programs that there are ample volunteer opportunities for those wanting to help out and learn all about archaeology in the process. We are looking for a few good folks to help us with these programs. If you enjoy working with children, are a reliable volunteer, don’t mind talking to large groups and are looking for something fun to do this summer, then contact Barbara Hines at bhines@uwf.edu. We will work with your schedule and will be offering training so that you are comfortable  conducting all the fun activities we have planned for this summer. Whether you want to volunteer or you know of some children looking for some summer fun, we hope you will take full advantage of the opportunities that this summer reading program provides. For a reading list, multimedia resources and much more you can visit this website as well. So take a break from the summer heat and visit your local library!

The Munree Cemetery Project: An Update on Our Progress

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You may remember our previous post about the Munree Cemetery. We used Human Remain Detection Dogs (or cadaver dogs) and Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) to help us located unmarked burials in this cemetery located in East Tallahassee. We wanted to compare the results of the dogs with that of the GPR. Well, or preliminary results are in and we wanted to share them with you. You may remember that this is a joint project with FPAN and the Southeast Archaeological Center (SEAC), which is part of the National Park Service. Well, a big thanks to SEAC for allowing us to use their GPR equipment for this project!

So, here is the skinny on how GPR works! These types of surveys have grown in popularity over the past 30 years. Despite the relatively commonplace use of GPR, imaging of buried features can be somewhat difficult. To detect archaeological features (or anomalies, as we call them) they must contrast electromagnetically with the surrounding soil matrix. Unfortunately, these types of instruments respond to archaeological anomalies and natural disturbances (tree roots, rocks, etc…). Therefore, the interpretation of GPR results depends greatly on the recognition of patterns in the data that correspond to the expected form of an archaeological feature (in this case, a pattern of burials like you would expect to find in a cemetery). GPR units operate by transmitting distinct pulses of radio energy from a surface antenna. This energy is reflected off of buried objects, features or soil structures. A second receiving antenna detects reflected pulses of energy. Using this data, GPR systems are capable of producing reliable images of subsurface anomalies. The survey at Munree Cemetery used a Geophysical Survey Systems SIR-3000 data acquisition system with a 400 MHz antenna, capable of resolving features measuring approximately 50 cm in diameter to a maximum depth of 3 meters. However, in practice, the depth of penetration is sually more limited because of varying electrical properties of the soil. The maximum depth of radar penetration during this survey was about 240 cm.


The GPR image from one of our grids, indicating anomalies identified by the GPR and possible burials as indicated by the canines.

As you may remember, the dogs were allowed to do a loose grid search of their assigned areas. If the dogs exhibited a final response the area was marked with a survey flag. Using dogs to identify human remains old enough to be considered archaeological in nature is a relatively new practice and dog handlers and trainers are still fine tuning their training techniques. As part of this survey, we are providing our data to the handlers so that they can use it in their training. Soil, humidity and air temperature can affect how the dogs perform. Large trees, such as live oak, can actually “drop” scent from their leaves. This is caused by the scent of the human remains running up the trunk from the soil and into the leaves. In the morning these large trees “drop” the scent, which can sometimes cause the dog to exhibit their final response at the drip line of the tree. Rodent holes can also vent scent, sometimes a distance from the actual burial. Dogs are best at indicating if a burial is present, but it can be a challenge for them to identify a single burials exact location.

It is important to note that thus far our findings are preliminary and additional work is necessary to determine the efficacy of using cadaver dogs to identify historic burials. At this stage, it is difficult to ascertain with any degree of certainty if burials are present in the areas that we tested. The discovery of several unique anomalies with geometry similar to burials suggests that unmarked graves are possible and perhaps likely in these areas. In total, the dogs identified sixteen targets that may represent unmarked graves. Four of those targets were within the GPR grids; and of those four, three were found to be associated with burial like anomalies. The dogs also actively targeted areas with known burials as evidenced by headstones and slumping. The dogs missed one possible burial in Area A and a possible cluster of burials in Area B. Future work at Munree Cemetery may include expanding the GPR survey area and ground truthing the anomalies corresponding to the targets identified by the canines. Still, the available data suggests that as a tool to expediently investigate an area for unmarked graves, GPR and cadaver dogs provide an effective means to guide research with comparable results.

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