Uncategorized Florida Bureau of Archaeological Research, Florida State Parks, Florida State University, Fort Walton Period, FSU anthropology department, Lake Miccosukee, Letchworth Mounds, Letchworth-Love Mounds Archaeological State Park, Monticello, Native American Mounds, Tallahassee, Weeden Island Period
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.
Uncategorized Cadaver Dogs, Florida Archaeology, Ground Penetrating Radar, Historic Cemeteries, Human Remain Detection Dogs, Munree Cemetery, National Park Service, PFAN, SEAC, Tallahassee
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.
Uncategorized Artifacts, Excavation, Florida Archaeology, Florida History, Florida Public Archaeology Network, FPAN, Ft. Walton Culture, Goodwood Museum and Gardens, Goodwood Plantation, Leon County, Leon County School District, Riley House Museum, Tallahassee
Last week I had the wonderful opportunity to participate in a program called “Blended Lives”. It took place at Goodwood Museum and Gardens and the Riley House Museum, both located in Tallahassee. Last week all the forth grade
Prehistoric artifacts recovered from the Goodwood property. From left to right, an Archaic stemmed projectile point (arrowhead) and a Ft. Walton period decorated ceramic sherd.
students in Leon County had the opportunity to visit both historic sites and learn about all the different people of various backgrounds who lived at those sites and contributed to the history of these two historic homes in Tallahassee. This year the organizers brought FPAN into the mix to teach the students about an archaeological site that was excavated at Goodwood. When you see an old house or another type of existing structure from long ago it is easy to forget that there were most likely people that were living on that piece of land before that structure existed. The Goodwood plantation house was constructed in the 1830s, but some artifacts from the excavation date as far back as the Ft. Walton period (A.D. 1200 to A.D. 1500). While the archaeologists were excavating at this site they found both historic and prehistoric artifacts. In other words, they found artifacts that came from the people living in the 1830s plantation house and other
Historic artifacts, probably associated with the Goodwood house, recovered at the Goodwood site. Bottom Left: etched glass fragment, Top Left: Whieldon ware ceramic sherd, Right: small clay marble.
artifacts from the people living there during the Ft. Walton culture period all at the same site. Archaeologists sometimes refer to these types of sites as multi-component sites. This, as you can probably imagine, is a fairly common occurrence at archaeological sites. The students learned briefly about Florida’s prehistory – from the Paleoindian time period to when the Spanish arrived in the 1500s. Then I had the opportunity to share with them actual artifacts that were recovered from the Goodwood property during the excavation. All in all, I had a wonderful time, and I think the students, teachers and parent chaperones did as well! My hope is that now when the students look at a site they will think about all the different groups of people that were there before them and will have a new found appreciation for Florida’s rich and diverse cultural history.
To learn more about Goodwood Museum and Gardens please visit their website at GoodwoodMuseum.org. To learn more about the Riley House Museum you can visit their website at rileymuseum.org.
Uncategorized Battle of Natural Bridge, Battle of Olustee, Civil War, Confederate, Florida, Florida Agricutlrual and Mechanical University, Florida Department of State, Florida State University, Florida's Territorial Period, Historic Cemeteries, Historic Tallahassee Preservation Board, James D. Wescott, John G. Riley, NAACP, Old City Cemetery, segregation, St. Johns Episcopal Cemetery, Tallahassee, Thomas Vann Gibbs (Florida State Normal Industrial School, Union, United Daughters of the Confederacy, vandalism
Yellow fever victims are buried in these graves.
This past Saturday, as many of you know, we hosted a tour of the Old City Cemetery in Tallahassee. It was a great success, due in large part to our great tour guide, Erik Robinson!
We had about 35 people attend and I have received a ton of good reviews! I like to think of historic cemeteries as outdoor museums. There is so much history to be learned at these sites, and this cemetery is no exception. This cemetery is the oldest public cemetery in Tallahassee, established in 1829 during Florida’s Territorial Period. It was later acquired by the city in 1840 and in 1841 it twas laid out in a system of squares and lots when a yellow fever epidemic swept through the city. During the time of it’s establishment it was actually located outside of the city, although now it is located downtown. The cemetery was bordered on its far side y a 200 foot wide clearing that surrounded the town to protect it from Indian attacks. The cemetery was segregated, the whites buried in the eastern sections and the African Americans buried in the western sections. Originally various religious denominations had their own plots, but there are few indications today of the Presbyterian and Catholic areas. The majority of the Jewish burials have since been moved to other cemeteries.
This is the final resting place for many men and women who contributed to the development of Tallahassee and the State of Florida. For a long time it was Tallahassee’s only
Constructed in 1890s, this platform is still used for memorial services.
public burial ground it represents a cross section of Tallahassee residents during the 19th century. As you walk through the cemetery you will recognize many names from Tallahassee and Florida’s rich history – James D. Wescott (Wescott Building at Florida State University), John G. Riley (his house is now a museum and the headquarters for the Tallahassee chapter of the NAACP), Thomas Vann Gibbs (founder of Florida State Normal Industrial School, now Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University)…well, you get the picture! I could go on and on. The graves of both Confederate and Union soldiers that fought in the Battles of Natural Bridge and Olustee are also buried in this cemetery. A platform was constructed next to the Confederate graves by the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) in the 1890s. Today that same platform is still used to for commemorations and memorial services by the UDC.
Memorial Service at the Old City Cemetery in the early 1900s.
Early Tallahassee was small and frontier-like. People had to make do with what they had and what was locally available. Many of the earliest graves were marked with wood head and footboards, which have since degraded and disappeared. The last plot was sold in 1902 and the cemetery is full, although many graves have no marker above ground anymore. During the Territorial Period there are newspaper accounts of hogs and cattle roaming through the cemetery and running over the graves. There are also articles complaining about the unkept appearance of the cemetery. Today there is a fence around the cemetery and it underwent a major restoration in 1991, with financial support from the Florida Department of State. This project was sponsored and administered by the Historic Tallahassee Preservation Board. Unfortunately, due to limited funding not all of the gravemarkers in the cemetery were restored. They were able to restore the majority of those that had been badly damaged by vandalism and weathering. Unfortunately since the time of the restoration many of the monuments have been victims of vandalism once again! The cemetery is open to the public for visitation during daylight hours.
The marker for the oldest marked grave in the cemetery now lays face down in the dirt because of vandalism.
Another cemetery, located immediately north of this one, the St. Johns Episcopal Cemetery is also open to the public. We encourage you to visit these historic sites, however, please be aware that they are non-renewable historic resources that provide much valuable historical information about their community. They also provide valuable green space for both people and wildlife. Please be respectful and be sure not to damage any of the monuments. Although they are constructed of stone and metal and other very durable material, they are very old and very fragile.
If you are not able to make a trip to this cemetery, we have posted a photo tour on our Facebook page !
Uncategorized living history, Mission San Luis, Native American, storytelling, Tallahassee, Tallahassee Astronomical Society, Winter Solstice
On December 16th from 10 am to 8pm Mission San Luis will host a two-part celebration for the Winter Solstice. During the day, there will be a market fair in the plaza. Visitors can see Spanish dramas of the 17th century. Those looking to participate can learn to stomp dance and partake in a drum circle as well. Hands-on craft activities will be available for children. There will also be storytelling and living history as well as food vendors. When the sun goes down, visitors will be able to learn more about drumming and storytelling while exploring the spectacular Council House. The Tallahassee Astronomical Society will be present and will provide telescopes to the attendees. This is a great opportunity to learn about the stars, the planets, and how it all ties in with the solstice. So take some time and join the Mission in this wonderful celebration full of fun and learning!
Uncategorized Apalachee, Mission San Luis, Spanish, Tallahassee, Thanksgiving
Mission San Luis will host a thanksgiving celebration the Saturday after Thanksgiving. The harvest was an important time to the Apalachee and Spanish people. The site of Mission San Luis was a remarkable melting pot of cuisine influenced by both Spanish and Apalachee preferences.
An important staple in the Apalachee diet was known as the “three sisters”. The three sisters were made up of squash, corn, and climbing beans. These crops were not only able to co-exist but actually supported each other’s life. The corn formed the structure for the beans to climb. The squash grew along the ground eliminating weed growth and maintaining soil moisture by blocking sunlight. The beans added nitrogen to the soil, which benefited both corn and squash. Moreover, the nutrition gained from the three sisters provided a balanced diet for the Apalachee people. They also grew and gathered other native plants to the area, such as pumpkins, sunflowers, persimmons, and wild strawberries. Additionally, the yaupon holly, or ilex vomitoria, was fundamental to their culture; the leaves of this holly were used to make a tea, called “cassina” or the “black drink”, that was drunk the night before the ball game.
The Spanish people brought a variety of things with them from Europe. Religion was a major aspect of their influence on the Apalachee; however, they also altered the Apalachee diet. They brought domesticated chickens, hogs, cattle, horses, and sheep to Mission San Luis. The Spanish also added olive oil and wheat as common staples of food. In addition, Spanish impact inserted many new fruits and spices in the cuisine.
The event at Mission San Luis will be Saturday, November 24, 2012 from 10 am to 4 pm. Historical interpreters will be dressed in time appropriate garb and preparing meat and fish on the barbacoa. They will also be using crops gathered from the gardens to demonstrate cuisine from the Apalachee and Spanish.
Uncategorized Downtown Tallahassee, Florida, Florida History, Florida Public Archaeology Network, Historic Cemeteries, Old City Cemetery, Tallahassee, Tallahassee History
Many people drive b y the Old City Cemetery every day on their way to or from work, but have never taken the time to explore it. Historic cemeteries are wonderful outdoor museums that provide a unique look at a communities history. The Old City Cemetery is located between Call Street and Park Avenue in downtown Tallahassee. It is the oldest public cemetery in the city. It was created in 1829 and acquired by the city in 1840. The ground was laid out in its system of squares and lots in 1841 when a violent yellow fever epidemic swept through the city and regulations were required to assure order and sanitation to protect the public. This cemetery is the final resting place for many of the men and women who contributed to both local and state history. We will be offering a FREE tour of the cemetery on December 8th at 2pm. We hope that you will consider joining us in taking time to explore and learn about this local historic landmark.
Uncategorized Florida Park Service, Florida Public Archaeology Network, Fort Walton Culture, FPAN, Lake Jackson Mounds Archaeological State Park, Missippian, Mound Builders, National Archaeology Day, National Park Service, Southeast Archaeological Center, Southeast Ceremonial Complex, Tallahassee
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, http://www.floridastateparks.org/.
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 http://www.floridastateparks.org/lakejackson/default.cfm
Uncategorized 150th Anniversary, Apalachicola, Baker County, Battle of Natural Bridge, Battle of Olustee, Chestnut Street Cemetery, Civil War, Civil War reenactment, Destination: Civil War, Florida, Florida State Parks, Fort Houstoun, Fort Ward, iPhone app, Live Oak, monuments, Old Fort Park, Sarah Orman, St. Marks, Suwannee River, Tallahassee, Thomas Orman, Wakulla
I recently came across a listing of the 12 fantastic Civil War sites, and to my dismay, none were from Florida! It was then that I realized that many folks in the North Central Region, as well as around the state, may not be familiar with the great Civil War sites that Florida offers. Florida seems to be the forgotten state of the Confederacy. Even in a 1860s Northern newspaper Florida was described as the “smallest tadpole in the dirty pool of secession”. The state’s role in the Civil War has not been as thoroughly researched as other states in the South, but there has been a recent revival in the interest of Florida’s role in the Civil War. Florida was still a very frontier-like state at the start of the Civil War, with its territorial period having ended in 1845. The 1860 census reports that the population of Florida at that time totaled 140,424 with almost 45 percent of those recorded being slaves. More than 15,00 Floridians served in the confederate military and others, including more than 1,000 African Americans served in the Union Army. They fought in battles both in Florida and outside of the state. Eventually, decades later the “smallest tadpole” would emerge from the war as a major and influential player in the New South. Of course, this war had a lasting effect on the state, and many remnants of the Civil War remain part of the state’s great cultural history and can be seen still today. There are so many FANTASTIC Civil War sites in Florida that it would be impossible to list them all in this post. I can give a few highlights though!
The Orman House in Apalachicola.
Apalachicola is famous for its oysters, but it also has a great history. During the Civil War Apalachicola was the largest cotton port in Florida. It was the third largest cotton port on the Gulf of Mexico, behind New Orleans and Mobile. This port was an active area for blockade running as you can imagine. It was also an active area for salt production. As you stroll through the historic town you can find multiple sites relating to the Civil War. At least 76 Confederate soldiers are buried in Chestnut Street Cemetery, along with other historical figures of the town of Apalachicola. Now a state park, the Orman House was constructed by Confederate sympathizer and businessman, Thomas Orman. Orman was arrested and detained by Union authorities during the Civil War. Local lore tells of Mrs. Sarah Orman warning Confederate soldiers up river of the approaching Union troops by walking on the roof and pretending to repair roof shingles. There are several other Civil War sites located in the town, including the Raney House and Trinity Episcopal Church. There are many surrounding communities that have ties to the Civil War as well including St. George Island, Sumatra and Port St. Joe.
Tallahassee has more Civil War sites than you can shake a stick at! One of the lesser known sites is that of Fort Houstoun, also known as Old Fort. This is an earthen fort , one of
The 2nd Infantry USCT Reenactment Troop at the Battle of Natural Bridge Reenactment.
the few left that was constructed to protect Florida’s capital. At the time it was situated on a plantation belonging to Edward Houstoun. Today it sits in the middle of a suburban neighborhood in “Old Fort Park”. Due to the Unions defeat at Natural Bridge (just south of Tallahassee in Woodville), this fort was never utilized to protect the capital. The Tallahassee Old City Cemetery, located downtown, includes the remains of both Union and Confederate soldiers, some of who died at the Battle of Natural Bridge.
South of Tallahassee and Woodville, down by the Gulf Coast is situated St. Marks. Here, now as a state park, are the remains of Fort Ward. This fort was fist constructed by the Spanish in 1678 at the confluence of the St. Marks and Wakulla Rivers. Later this fort was occupied by Confederate forces in 1861. Union forces failed to take control of St. Marks and Ford Ward and the fort remained in Confederate control until the end of the war.
The Olustee Battlefield Monument.
The area surrounding Live Oak and Lake City also has several wonderful Civil War sites. Earthenwork fortifications are visible at Suwannee River State Park in Live Oak. These earthworks were created to protect the railroad bridge that crossed the Suwannee River. Olustee Battlefield Historic State Park is located in Baker County, east of Lake City. Here is the site of the state’s largest Civil War battle. The Confederates successfully defeated the Union Army, which were forced back to Jacksonville. A monument was erected at the site in 1899. In 1909 three acres of the battlefield were donated to the State of Florida, and the Olustee Battlefield became the first Florida State Park. Each year the largest Civil War reenactment in the state is held at this site in February.
As you can see, Florida has a ton of Civil War sites. This post just barely scratches the surface of Florida’s vast Civil War history. There are several great resources available to those wishing to learn more about Florida during the Civil War. Online you can check out FPAN’S Destination: Civil War. You can even take Destination: Civil War along with you as you visit these sites with our Civil War iPhone App. You can also check out the permanent Civil War exhibit at the Museum of Florida History in Tallahassee. The Florida Association of Museums has produced the Florida Civil War Heritage Trail booklet which is available at your local FPAN office or by contacting the Florida Division of Historical Resources. This year is the beginning of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. So take some time to reflect on this influential time in our history by visiting some of our states fantastic Civil War sites. To learn about events happening nationwide you can visit the Civil War Trusts website.
Uncategorized Archaeology, Big Bend Maritime Center, Canoes, conservation, Dugouts, Florida, Florida Public Archaeology Network, Gainesville, Lake Munson, Native American, Newnan Lake, Panacea, Preservation, Tallahassee
Have you ever seen an ancient wooden artifact on display at a museum and wondered how it was preserved in such great condition? I sure have! I have a compost pile at home and it doesn’t take long for wooden or other organic
Archaeologists carefully remove a dugout canoe from the exposed lake bottom of Lake Munson in Tallahassee
material, to rot and turn into soil. It may seem strange that a wooden or organic object can last long enough in the ground for it to be uncovered by archaeologists hundreds or thousands of years later. Well, it turns out that it takes a very specific set of environmental circumstances for organic material to be preserved in the ground, and many times those conditions do not exist. And it may seem strange, but it is actually a wet environment that leads to good preservation! Organic materials, such as wood, are far more likely to survive the test of time if they are quickly buried in mud and muck. This creates an anaerobic environment, where a lack of oxygen prevents organisms that degrade wood (bacteria, worms, etc) from living and subsiding. As a result, the organic material is preserved until it is again exposed to oxygen. Within the last couple of years I have had the opportunity to see, first hand, how environmental conditions affect preservation of dugout canoes found in here in Florida.
Look closely and you can see tool marks from where the Native Americans constructed this dugout canoe.
You may recall a few years ago that a dugout canoe was recovered from Lake Munson in Tallahassee. The city had drawn down the water and a dugout was discovered lying at the bottom of the lake bed, only partially exposed. Archaeologists from various state organizations delicately recovered the dugout and brought it to the state conservation facility where it was properly cared for and conserved. After over a year of conservation it is now on display in the lobby of the R.A. Gray Building in downtown Tallahassee. This dugout is believed to be between 800 to 500 years old and was found in an excellent state of preservation. You can even see the tool marks were Native Americans carved out the wood to create the dugout! The state of preservation varied at different portions of this dugout, probably because different portions were exposed to differing amounts of oxygen throughout time. The higher edges are far more degraded than the lower sections and the hull because these would have been exposed to aerobic (oxygenated) conditions for longer periods of time. Overall though, the dugout was found in excellent condition. When the Lake Munson canoe was removed from the lake bottom care had to be taken by professional archaeologists and conservators to ensure that the wood did not dry out too quickly. After hundreds of years underwater, the material has reached equilibrium with its surrounding environment, and removing it from that environment can cause it to deteriorate to a point that it is destroyed if it is not done so carefully and correctly. If the wood were to dry out too rapidly it would cause it to shrink and crack. Wood is anisotropic, which means that it doesn’t expand or contract equally along its three dimensions. Evidence of this can be seen in many wooden objects that have been removed and stored incorrectly in what is called check cracking (it looks like lots of tic-tac-toes) and splitting.
During periods of drought many times partially exposed dugouts are found in lakes around the state. The most notable of this instance is of course, Newnan’s Lake near Gainesville. Here the largest concentration of wooden (both pine and cypress) dugout canoes in North America were recovered in 2000. They had become exposed due to extreme drought conditions. Frequent burial and reburial due to environmental conditions in a lake or other water body, can have a huge impact on the condition of the wooden object. In the event that a canoe is not entirely buried and lake levels fall due to drought, one can expect rapid deterioration of the wood as a result of it drying out too fast and exposure to the bleaching effects of ultra violet light from the sun.
Another concern with organic objects is storage. A dugout canoe was recently donated by the state to the Big Bend Maritime Museum in Panacea. Prior to its time at the state collections facility, this dugout had been found by a
This dugout is on display at the Big Bend Maritime Center in Panacea, FL. Without these wooden braces the dugout would fall apart.
private individual and was stored inappropriately on the ground outdoors for a number of years. As a result, it made the perfect home (and meal) for many different insects, including ants and termites. Pests are very problematic for organic archaeological collections, and care must be taken to ensure a collection is free from bugs. In many institutions, when an organic object is acquired –be it paper, ethnographic, wooden, etc – it is quarantined for at least 30 days. Proper storage and care of this particular dugout would have prevented the structural and surface issues that it has. Again, it goes back to the age old concept of context. If you do find a dugout, or any other artifact for that matter, it is best to leave it where it is and notify a professional archaeologist who will know how to best care for that particular object. The Big Bend Maritime Museum plans to have this dugout on exhibit and plans to include a panel discussing such preservation issues.
Typically a water-soluble wax is used to preserve extremely waterlogged wooden material. The idea is that through soaking the wax impregnates the cell walls that have been destroyed by water and degraded by bacteria, so that when the object is eventually dried out it retains its original shape. The Lake Munson canoe was not waterlogged to the extent that rendered this time-consuming procedure necessary. Instead, it was wrapped in plastic and allowed to dry very slowly in controlled conditions over the course of a year. The plastic functioned as a very basic humidity chamber that prevented any drastic change along any one of the three dimensions of the wood. As a result of this there are very little visible signs of checking on the surface of the wood. In order to achieve such wonderful preservation results it took over a year’s work by very knowledgeable professional conservators to monitor the progress of the Lake Munson canoe. Thanks to the work of professional conservators, who work behind the scenes the majority of the time, we have a great wealth of knowledge of our state’s history. If it was not for their careful efforts we would have only part of the story and only part of the artifact assemblage would have survived the test of time.