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.

Lake Jackson Mounds Archaeological State Park

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Over 100 people joined us at Lake Jackson Mounds Archaeological State Park for National Archaeology Day!

This past Saturday, as many of you know, was National Archaeology Day. I was lucky enough to join the Southeast Archaeological Center/National Park Service and the Florida Park Service at Lake Jackson MoundsArchaeological State Park to celebrate! Archaeologists around the area came together to educate the public about Florida’s great archaeological heritage. Lake Jackson Mounds was a superb location for such an event! It was then that I realized that some folks may not know of this site, so I decided it was time for a Lake Jackson Mounds blog post!

Before I even get into discussing Lake Jackson Mounds, I just want to briefly give kudos to the Florida Park Service. Within the state of Florida there are over 160 state parks. That is a phenomenal amount of natural land that has been set aside for preservation, conservation and of course, for public enjoyment! Many of these parks contain archaeological or historical sites that have provided archaeologists and historians with important knowledge of the state’s history. Plus, these parks are open to the public, and thus you have access to this knowledge as well! Many of the parks have interpretive programs to provide the public with information about the natural and cultural areas of the park. You can find a park near you by visiting their website,

So that being said, one of those really amazing parks located in Tallahassee is Lake Jackson Mounds Archaeological State Park. The Lake Jackson Mounds site originally included

Dr. Rochelle Marrinan, Archaeology Professor at FSU, gave a talk on the Lake Jackson Mounds site during the National Archaeology Day celebration.

seven mounds that were constructed by a group of Native Americans belonging to the Fort Walton Culture. The Fort Walton Culture is a southern variant of the Mississippian Culture (also known as the Mound Builders). This group of people inhabited these mounds from about A.D. 1050 to A.D. 1500. The number of mounds and the large size of this site led archaeologists to believe that this site was a religious and political center for those that lived in the region. The mounds were skillfully planned and constructed. Those that built them had to have knowledge of the soils in the area. These mounds are the result of the organization of numerous workers over a period of many years. Not only does the site contain the mounds, but it also contains remains of a village plaza and numerous residences. The plaza would have been a large flat area where ritual games and gatherings took place. The individual residences were found to be located around this central plaza. Surrounding the site would have been communal agricultural fields. One of the major crops that would have probably been cultivated was maize, known today as corn. Agriculture is probably one of the main reasons such a dense and sedentary population was possible. The site could easily be considered one of the more important archaeological sites in Florida and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

You can actually hike up to the top of one of the mounds overlooking Lake Jackson!

Only a few of the mounds have been systematically excavated by archaeologists. While excavating one of the mounds, post holes were found at the summit. This indicates that a building of some sort was at one time constructed atop the mound. Unfortunately, this mound was located on private property and was leveled to the ground at some point. The remains of important individuals have been found at the site in association with burial objects, including elaborate items such as copper breast plates, shell beaded necklaces, bracelets, anklets and cloaks still in place. These types of artifacts indicate religious and trading ties with other pre-historic Indian communities in the southeastern United States. Some of the artifacts recovered from this site link it to the Southeastern Ceremonial Complex. Some of the artifacts, including various copper items, exhibited motifs (decorations) that are usually associated with this complex. The Southeastern Ceremonial Complex is a name given to a stylistic component of the Mississippian culture that coincided with their adoption of maize agriculture and chiefdom social organization. This complex is also known as the “Southern Cult” and flourished around A.D. 1200. Many people assume that this complex has some link to Mesoamerican culture, but there is no evidence of this, instead, they seem to have developed independent of one another.

This is a lot of information to digest, but I hope that I peeked your curiosity about this and other sites located in Florida’s great state parks! This park is located north of Tallahassee, very close to I-10. So even if you are just passing through, pull in for a quick visit. There are picnic tables and a covered pavilion, hiking trails and interpretive signage. For location and hours of operation visit


Mark Your Calendars Now: October 20th is National Archaeology Day!

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National Archaeology Day is a celebration of archaeology and the thrill of discovery. Every October the AIA and archaeological organizations across the United States, Canada, and abroad present archaeological programs and activities for people of all ages and interests. This year it will take place on Saturday, October 20th. These programs, on National Archaeology Day, provide the chance  for the public to interact with archaeologists and learn about their local history and prehistory. In the North Central Region there will be several events. FPAN and the Florida Bureau of Archaeological Research will have an educational booth at the St. Marks Stone Crab Festival that will include hands-on activities for children and adults and will be providing free information on history and archaeology in the region. Also, the Southeast Archaeological Center/National Park Service will have a family-friendly event at Lake Jackson Mounds State  Archaeological Park in Tallahassee.

Bring a picnic lunch, and learn about Archaeology by joining the Southeast Archeological Center and the Department of Environmental Protection’s Florida State Parks in celebrating National Archaeology Day! The Southeast Archeological Center (SEAC) is proud to be co-hosting National Archaeology Day events at Lake Jackson Mounds Archaeological State Park in conjunction with Florida State Parks, on Saturday, Oct. 20. The event will take place from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. at the park which is located at 3600 Indian Mounds Road, Tallahassee. The event will include activities for children and adults. A park admission fee of $3.00 per car applies.
Kid activities include Native American pottery making, archaeological mapping, an on-site archaeology lab, and spear throwing. Speakers include Dr. David Morgan, director of SEAC, and Joe Knetsch, Tallahassee-based historian, and others. Other booths and activities include Native American brass plate demonstrations, tours of the Florida State Parks central museum collection facility, artifact identification, Florida Bureau of Archaeological Research, US Forest Service and more. Additionally, Florida State Parks staff including archaeological and biological professionals will be on-hand to discuss interpretation and management of the site. Speakers will begin at 10:30 a.m. and tours will begin at 11:00 a.m.

National Archaeology Day on October 20 is sure to be a fun-filled day, with something for everyone this year! So head down to St. Marks for some delicious stone crab and archaeological fun, or pack a picnic and head to Lake Jackson Mounds to try your hand at the atlatl spear thrower! Hey, why not do both?!?! So mark your calendar now, because you won’t want to miss it!



What is the National Register of Historic Places?

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Many of us have been to a place that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, or maybe we have just heard that phrase before, but do you actually know what the National Register is? The National Register of Historic

Florida State Road No. 1, Old Brick Road, Santa Rosa County, Florida

Places is the official Federal list of districts, sites, structures and objects that are significant in American history, archaeology, engineering, architecture and culture.  The National Park Service oversees the National Register, but almost anybody can nominate a structure or site. Nominations for historic properties controlled by the U.S. Government usually come from State Historic Preservation Officers or another government agency or official. Tribal lands are usually nominated by the Tribal Historic Preservation Officer. However, private individuals, groups, local governments or Native American tribes often start the process and get the proper documentation in order.  Private citizens can also help nominate buildings or sites as well. Each state has a review board that meets to look over the nominations and determine if they are eligible. All eligible nominations are then sent to the Keeper of the National Register of Historic Places in Washington D.C.

Keith Cabin, Holmes County, Florida

This process can sound very intimidating and long, and so many people ask about the benefits of being listed. Well, first and foremost, it recognizes a property for its significant contributions to America’s heritage and history, but there is more! It also provides for consideration in planning for federally funded projects (such as road widening, or new road construction, etc…). Under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 Federal agencies have to allow the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation an opportunity to comment on all projects affecting historic properties listed or eligible for listing on the National Register. Additionally, some states provide certain tax provisions for properties listed on the National Register. It also opens up additional funding opportunities through federal grants when they are available.

Many people worry that if their property (private residence, business, etc…) is listed on the National Register that they will be restricted in what they can do to the property. However, as long as no Federal money is involved, the owners are free to maintain, manage or dispose of the property however they chose to do so.  However, the National Park Service recommends that owners contact their State Historic Preservation Officer before doing so. There may be state or local preservation laws or ordinances that they need to be aware of before making any changes.

Now, with all this being said, you are probably wondering what qualifications must be met for a property to be eligible for listing on the National Register! Well, generally a property must

Crystal River Archaeological State Park, Citrus County, Florida

be 50 years old or older, although in some cases this does not necessarily apply. The National Park Service has established guidelines for properties that have become significant within the last 50 years. For the majority of properties, they will have to be older than 50 years and meet the National Register Criteria for Evaluation. This process involves looking at the properties age, integrity and significance.  The property should have minimal modifications and look much the same as it did historically. The property also needs to be associated with activities, events or developments that were important to history. It could be associated with important historical figures or be a great example of an architectural style or engineering achievement. Some properties, including many of the archaeological sites listed, are nominated because they have the potential to yield additional information that may be significant to our understanding of the past.

Again, this process may seem intimidating, but there are folks out there that can help you with your nomination. Nominations are a time consuming process, but that should not deter you if you own a property that is significant to our history. Although FPAN staff cannot write the entire nomination for you, we are always available to help you and answer any questions you may have. You may have questions about whether your property meets the criteria or want to know who you need to contact at the state level – we can help with that!

Historic Wakulla County Courthouse, Wakulla County, Florida

The National Park Service also has a website dedicated to the National Register. On this site you can find example nominations, publications, guidelines and other information that can help you with the nomination process as well. You can also look up properties that are already listed on the National Register. There are over 80,000 properties listed on the National Register, and almost every county in the U.S. has at least one property that has been listed. The photographs in this blog post are just a handful of sites and buildings in Florida that are listed on the National Register. During 2012 the National Register of Historic Places has proposed a challenge to all of us. They call it the National Register 2012 Photo Challenge. By the end of the year they want every county with a listed property to be represented on their flickr site, creating a snap shot of our collective history.  This is a great way to learn about the history in your area and have a blast at the same time! You may just be surprised at the number of listed properties in your state or your community.