Looking for the Lost and Forgotten in Hillsborough County

The All People’s Cemetery in Hillsborough County as seen from 22nd street


If you walked by the Hillsborough County All People’s Cemetery today, you may think that no one has been buried in the large, gated green space. Look a little bit closer, and you might notice numbered stones cemented together to make the entrance gate walls. These stones, once placed across the cemetery, used to serve as grave markers for the people laid to rest here. This place was home to those whose circumstances did not provide many options in death. These men, women, and children were mostly poor and their graves were marked with simple numbered stones meant to correspond to records of their names. These records were unfortunately lost in a fire and over time headstones of the no less than 800 people buried here were moved, broken, or covered over with soil, leaving these final resting places unmarked and forgotten.


View of the All People’s Cemetery entrance gate walls. Numbered cement stones that once served as grave markers were used to create these walls.


Many of the grave markers were moved or covered up over time. Recent work has relocated some but many markers remain lost or misplaced.

For years the All People’s Cemetery remained in this dilapidated state, until 2009 when Hillsborough County asked a number of University of South Florida (USF) professors to come out to investigate the area. Through their work, a number of buried grave markers were gently uncovered and the road to restoring this piece of Tampa history began.

In more recent years, local historian Ray Reed and other volunteers with the Northeast Seminole Heights Neighborhood Watch (Grid 45) started researching the cemetery. They combed through countless records at local funeral homes to gather information on the people buried at the cemetery. This extensive research resulted in a database of the deceased and a map of their expected grave locations. Thanks to this effort, we now know that numerous graves belong to babies under a year old and that many of their grave markers were used in the walls flanking the entrance gate.


Local historian Ray Reed and other volunteers have done extensive archival research to compile a history of the cemetery. This research has also allowed Reed to create a map of possible grave locations, complete with names of some of the deceased.

Though Reed and his colleagues’ archival research has provided insight into many forgotten aspects of the All People’s Cemetery, the group knew that research could only take them so far. They obtained Hillsborough County support and have since recovered a number of lost burial markers at the cemetery. However, there is only so much gentle field work that can be done to uncover the markers without being disrespectful and disturbing the graves. This led Reed to contact University of South Florida (USF) historians and archaeologists for help. Technological advances in archaeological methods now allow for investigation without ever disturbing the ground. USF Associate Professor of Anthropology Dr. Thomas Pluckhahn agreed to assist Reed and his group. Dr. Pluckhahn suggested that Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) and Gradiometer surveys may be able to identify the number and locations of graves across the cemetery without having to dig.


The first step of doing a GPR or Gradiometer survey is laying out a grid over the area you want to test. Here, Jeff Moates assists USF graduate students as they lay out meter measuring tapes to make grids at the All People’s Cemetery.

In September of last year, Pluckhahn and a few USF Anthropology graduate students went out to the cemetery to do the first survey with the GPR and Gradiometer. They laid out a 20 x 15 meter grid along the eastern edge of the cemetery within which they would use both the GPR and gradiometer. This area of the cemetery was a great place for Dr. Pluckhahn to start out the survey because it contains two rows of concrete markers and would provide a good baseline of what known and unknown graves would look like in the GPR and gradiometer results. From the results of this first survey (an image of the results can be seen below), Dr. Pluckhahn discovered not only what he believes is a buried pipe, but more interestingly the potential for three more rows of unmarked graves to the west of the two marked rows within his grid. The results also show that the anomalies (potential graves) are shifted more north than the concrete markers that are meant to mark grave locations.


GPR detects changes in density and soil compaction beneath the ground surface that might have been caused by human activities. This means that it can detect dense objects underground such as coffins. GPR works by emitting electromagnetic waves into the ground, and is completely non-destructive. When a wave hits something like a buried object or change in soil, it bounces back to the receiving antennae on the GPR unit and is recorded by an onboard computer. Here, Dr. Pluckhahn and his graduate students set up and run the GPR within a grid at the cemetery.



These are the results from Dr. Pluckhahn’s first GPR and Gradiometer survey at the All People’s Cemetery in September of this year. These images are showing the cemetery as seen from above looking down toward the ground. The lighter color areas in each GPR image are “anomalies”, or stuff that is denser than the surrounding soil.

On October 8th, I got the chance to observe Dr. Pluckhahn, Dr. Diane Wallman (Assistant Professor in the USF Department of Anthropology), USF graduate students, and fellow FPANers Director Jeff Moates and Brittany Yabczanka Vojnovic as they continued their survey of the cemetery. They set up three more grids, one just north of the grid from the first survey date and two in the northern half of the cemetery just to the north of the old shell path that ran through the center. On top of running the GPR and Gradiometer, the group also used a probe in meter increments in the area of the original grid. Probing with a thin metal rod helps to ground truth what was found in the first GPR and Gradiometer survey without being overtly destructive to the landscape. If the ground probe hits something in the ground, a flag is placed in the ground to mark the spot.


Gradiometer uses magnetism to detect metal in the ground. Working in a cemetery, a gradiometer can help archaeologists detect metal coffin pieces and nails or clothing elements like belt buckles or metal snaps or buttons. Dr. Pluckhahn and his students calibrate the Gradiometer and walk the same grid from the GPR survey.

The results of this second survey are still being processed but will definitely provide useful information about the All People’s Cemetery. It will be interesting to see how the non-destructive survey results match up with what Ray Reed and his group have uncovered in historical records. This project is attempting to answer a number of as yet unanswered questions. How many people were buried here? Where are their graves located? Who were they? As this project continues the collaboration between Hillsborough County, local historians, and USF faculty and students will hopefully answer some of these questions and bring recognition back to this place where the lost and forgotten rest.

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From the Public Archaeology Trenches: Using Art as Evaluation

By: Becky O’Sullivan

Each summer during the last two weeks in July, staff from the West Central Regional Center of the Florida Public Archaeology Network put on a Junior Archaeologist summer camp for children between the ages of 7 and 11 at the Weedon Island Preserve Cultural and Natural History Center in St. Petersburg, FL. It is both extremely rewarding, and extremely tiring, to teach 20 kids about archaeology for a week, but we wondered what actual messages were getting across to our campers from the educational activities and archaeology hikes we were leading them through. No kid wants to participate in a pre- and post-test at summer camp, so how could we get a better idea of what the kids were taking away from our Junior Archaeologist camp curriculum without resorting to more formal testing methods?


As an “ice breaker” activity at the beginning of camp we ask the kids to draw what they think about archaeology. This serves as a good “pre-test” to see what knowledge the kids come in with, versus how their ideas change by the end of the session.

Over the past few years, FPAN staff has used art as a means of assessment at our summer camps as a way to gauge the effectiveness of our message. This is a simple method to get some immediate feedback on what the kids have learned, as well as what messages we need to do a better job of getting across. Each day of camp we have one or two art competitions where campers draw a picture based on one of the themes we have covered during the day. The kids have fun being creative and competing against one another for a small prize, and we get good feedback on what they have learned (as well as a stack of adorable archaeology-related pictures).



By looking through their pictures we can get an idea of the main ideas that are getting across to the kids, then tweak our approach and activities in order to make sure that they aren’t missing out on the important preservation-related messages we are trying to impart. Artistic expression works much better than written questions and answers in this context because it is more informal, and easier to accomplish for the relatively wide age range we have in our camp groups.


Kids’ perceptions of stone tool manufacture and hunting technology.

This method has also been useful at public archaeology days as a means to assess the public’s perceptions of specific archaeology topics that are on display. So the next time you are planning an archaeology related school visit, public day, or event, make sure to bring some blank paper and crayons so you can see for yourself what messages you are really getting across!


By the end of camp, kids often have a broader view of what archaeologists actually do as well as how we piece together clues to past ways of life.



Becky is an archaeologist working at the West Central Regional Center of the Florida Public Archaeology Network, located at the University of South Florida in Tampa. If you would like more information about public archaeology or have some ideas for how to assess educational programming please contact her at rosulliv@usf.edu 

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Archaeology at the DeSoto National Memorial Tabby Ruins

By: Becky O’Sullivan



SEAC archaeologists begin excavations at the Tabby Ruins site in Bradenton, FL.

During the last week in May 2016, archaeologists from the Southeast Archeological Center (SEAC) of the National Park Service were down in Bradenton to work at an amazing archaeological site at De Soto National Memorial. Hernando De Soto actually never set foot on the property, so we didn’t find any conquistador related artifacts, but the authentic history of the area is much more intriguing.


I was really lucky to get to come out and volunteer with the crew from SEAC! From left to right: SEAC archaeologists Alex Parsons and Satin Bowman, and Becky O’Sullivan.

The Tabby Ruins site, as it is known, is located within De Soto National Memorial along the Manatee River. Historical accounts have linked the structure to William Shaw who lived in the area from 1843 – 1856, but archaeological work done in the 1990s found evidence of an earlier occupation of the structure. So who really lived there? What was the “Tabby Ruin” actually used for? Could it be the remains of an early 1800s Cuban fishing rancho? Or could it be related to the maroon community of Angola, which was located somewhere along the Manatee River from 1812-1821? These are all questions that archaeology can help answer.


Broken bits of historic ceramics can help us figure out when a site was in use. The plain, brown fragment in the middle is a piece of olive jar (probably the oldest ceramic type out of those shown). Pearlware and mochaware (late 18th early 19th century ceramics) were also recovered from the site.


Glass seal from a style of bottle known as a “case gin bottle”. These bottles were mouthblown by a glassmaker into a mold to give them their distinctive shape, then this glass seal would have been added to denote the maker of the liquid inside. This seal reads “Van Den Bergh & Co” and probably dates from the 1870s to the 1890s.

Beyond wanting to learn more about who was living there, part of the reason SEAC archaeologist Dr. Margo Schwadron and her crew are working at the site now is because of a looming threat to all of Florida’s coastal areas: sea level rise. Due to its low elevation and fragile nature this site will likely be destroyed in 50 years given current projections. So what can archaeologists do to mitigate the damage we know will occur to this important piece of Florida Gulf Coast history? Dr. Schwadron and her crew will be returning to the site over the next two years as part of a project to excavate and document the site before any damage from sea level rise can occur. We hope to work with them to assist in this effort, and will share with you what we find out about the Tabby Ruins and the multi-layered history of Shaw’s Point and De Soto National Memorial!


Fieldwork scenes at the Tabby Ruins, clockwise from left: Zan Rothrock sets up an excavation unit, Dr. Schwadron takes notes on a completed excavation level, investigating an interesting feature in the corner of one of the units.


Becky is an archaeologist working at the West Central Regional Center of the Florida Public Archaeology Network, located at the University of South Florida in Tampa. If you would like more information about archaeology in the Bradenton or Manatee County area please contact her at rosulliv@usf.edu .

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From Starlight to Electric Light

“If people sat outside and looked at the stars each night, I’ll bet they’d live a lot differently.” Bill Watterson

Every night, as I wait for my puppy to start doing his business, I strain my eyes to see stars and constellations I know are there, but cannot see. The fact that the hidden stars even have names means that the sky did not always look the way it does now. The increasing use of electric lights creates a type of pollution (albeit an easily reversible kind) called light pollution. It occurs when light shines up towards the sky and reflects back, obscuring our view of the stars and planets.

Long before settlers came to Tampa, Native peoples looked to the sky for navigational, spiritual, and calendrical purposes. This sky would have been visible until electric lights began to be used in the early 1900s. The only differences would be in the location of the stars (discussed in my last blog) and the effects of pollution or lack thereof on the atmosphere. During historic times, the bakeries and cigar factories of early Tampa and Ybor City created smog that would have limited visibility somewhat, but not significantly. In other places like Pittsburgh at the height of early 20th century industry, however, smog in the atmosphere was thick enough to dim the sun!

With much smaller populations and no smog producing activities, the Native Americans did not have this problem. The sky they saw was only ever obstructed by clouds. But these people were free to use the stars as a map, calendar, or storybook. It is difficult to say because without written records this type of information tends to get lost, we do know, however, that the sky would have been one of the few things visible to them at night. These same bright stars would have had some sort of importance, maybe more than what we place on them today.

In 1087 the stars would have been in slightly different positions and very bright.

In 1087 the stars would have been in slightly different positions and very bright.

Tampa first experienced electric light during a demonstration on April 28, 1887. The Tampa Journal noted, “The amazed throng could hardly believe that the stygian darkness could be dispelled so miraculously by current coming through a wire.” Still, it took some time for people to trust electric lights in their homes, fearing they were dangerous. At the time, electric lights were unfamiliar and must have seemed impossible. The electric current dancing between wires certainly would have been intimidating. Soon enough, however, the technology advanced and became the norm.

Even in 1887 there would not have been much light pollution, since most people used oil lamps.

Even in 1887 there would not have been much light pollution, since most people used oil lamps.

During the space race of the 1950s and 1960s, interest in the sky and beyond heightened. The idea of a man on the moon caused people to look up, and they soon realized that there was a lot out there. The idea of leaving our planet and exploring the unknown captured the imagination of American culture. The development of NASA made people curious, and the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral brought a lot of that curiosity and industry to Florida. The fascination with space carried to the 1980s with Carl Sagan’s television show Cosmos. He made grand scientific ideas tangible to and more easily understood by the general audience. Soon, however, NASA’s missions lessened and people’s interest shifted elsewhere.

Today, there is so much light that in many places only the brightest stars are visible. The city sky is practically useless for navigation, education, or telling stories. The map below shows how the major cities affect what the entire state can see at night. Places that are red or gray can barely see the Milky Way on a perfect night. It may not seem like much, but these are the areas where most people live.


This map shows night sky viewing conditions in Florida. Gray and red areas have the most light pollution, blue areas have the least.

This map shows night sky viewing conditions in Florida. Gray and red areas have the most light pollution, blue areas have the least.

Our sky in 2016 thanks to light pollution. No, that’s not the sun on the horizon; it is the light from cities obscuring the stars.

Our sky in 2016 thanks to light pollution. No, that’s not the sun on the horizon; it is the light from cities obscuring the stars.


Interest in our night sky has diminished since the 1980s. If the trend continues, we will lose an aspect of our culture that used to be critical to survival. Luckily, people seem to be gaining interest again. Scientists like Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson and Bill Nye, the Science Guy, show people that science can be fun and accessible. Dr. Tyson has even brought back the Cosmos show on the National Geographic Channel. Locally, the St. Pete Astronomy Club has a star party around the time of most new moons (the moon is surprisingly bright when you’re trying to find distant galaxies with a telescope) at Withlacoochee County Park, (for more information http://www.stpeteastronomyclub.org/).

Light pollution images made using Stellarium (stellarium.org)


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Interview with an Archaeologist: Dr. John Arthur

By: Kassie Kemp

In honor of Florida Archaeology Month and this year’s theme, Artisans of the Woodland, I visited one of the most famous Woodland Period (1000 BC to AD 1000) archaeological sites in Florida, the Weedon Island site. Dr. John Arthur, a professor at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg (USFSP) and incoming President of the Alliance for Weedon Island Archaeological Research and Education (AWIARE), is conducting a multi-year research project at the Weedon Island Preserve in St Petersburg, FL. This project includes excavations along with the help of graduate students from USF Tampa and USFSP undergraduate students. I had the opportunity to visit Dr. Arthur and his students and discuss all things archaeology and Weedon Island during one of their excavation days. Check out the interview with Dr. Arthur below to see what I learned!


Question: How did you get into archaeology?

Dr. Arthur: I took a World Prehistory course at the University of Texas at Austin and realized my passion for archaeology and to try to understand people’s history.



USFSP undergraduate students Wendy Edwards (left) and Ryan Berger (middle) excavate in a 1×1 meter square unit alongside FPAN’s own Brittany Yabczanka Vojnovic (right). They are digging with the number one tool of an archaeologist, the trowel. Using a trowel allows archaeologists to dig slowly and carefully and keep the unit’s walls nice and straight!


What about Florida archaeology made you want to work here?

My primary research is in Ethiopia but my archaeological career began in the American Southwest so I have always had an interest in North American archaeology. Since I can’t take all my students from USFSP to Ethiopia, I decided to develop an archaeological method and theory course where students could work on an actual site and the Weedon Island site was a perfect place.



USF graduate students Kendal Jackson (left) and Christine Bergmann (right) aid USFSP undergraduate students Ryan Berger (middle left) and Wendy Edwards (middle right) in measuring the depth of an excavation unit. To check how deep they dug, the students pull a string with a line level to a measuring tape and record the depth of that corner of the unit. It is important to take depth measurements often so that all the stages of excavation are well recorded.


Why is Weedon Island an important site and how is it connected to the rest of the Southeast?

The site is the type-site for the Weeden Island culture, but my research and AWIARE’s research are the first to undertake systematic research at the site. Many parts of the site have been destroyed by past activities but there are many areas of the site that have not been investigated. Questions still persist, such as was the site occupied at different times, then abandoned, and then reoccupied? In fact, the area where we are excavating is actually dating to after the Weeden Island time period, around 1000 A.D., which is interesting since this is the same time that the canoe dates to that was recently restored by AWIARE and is on exhibit at the Weedon Island Cultural Center (learn more about the Center by clicking here).  We hope to eventually understand the cultural changes that were occurring at the site and compare our findings to other sites from around the Southeast.


What are you doing out at the site?

We are teaching students how to do all the basic methodological aspects of field archaeology from outlining a 1 x 1 meter unit, excavating and screening, to recording what they find. Since the bulk of what we are finding are shells, we are trying to learn how the Indigenous people were managing their environment in terms of where they were getting their food from and the behavior related to a hunting and gathering way of life. We are also looking at the spatial analyses of how they were organizing the site and their households. There is also a team of students who have been involved in an experimental analysis looking at how to tell calories from the Melogena corona (crown conch) shell species by collecting modern shells and comparing them to the archaeological shells. This has important ramifications for developing models of Indigenous populations and foraging behavior.



As archaeologists dig, it is important to look for changes in the color, texture, and makeup of the soil. These changes occur because of natural activity, like a flood, or human activity, like someone throwing away lots of oyster shells or cooking their dinner. Archaeologists use these soil changes to help us to understand what people were doing in the past. As you can see in the picture of an excavation unit above, the arrow is pointing to an area with much darker soil than the light soil around it. Why is it darker? This area may be darker because it was a place where someone cooked their food over a thousand years ago or it may have even been a wooden post in the ground that deteriorated and left a stain. Dr. Arthur and his students will have to study the soil changes in more detail to try to determine what the dark spot is. In the image on the right, USF graduate student Liz Southard and USFSP undergraduate student Ian Johnston use a Munsell Soil Color Book to determine what color the darker soil is and record it for future research.


What do you hope to learn?

Combining the archaeological and experimental research, we hope to learn how the Indigenous people living at the site were engaged with their environment, how they were living from day to day, and how the ecology of the region has changed over the last 1000 years.



One of the most important methods in archaeology for recording information while in the field is drawing. As archaeologists dig and gather information, they are also unfortunately destroying the area where they are digging. That is why taking pictures and drawing all of the stuff they see as they dig down is very important. USF graduate student Sean West (left) assists USFSP undergraduate students in drawing the floor of an excavation unit at Weedon Island. He is laying a drawing template over the unit to help make sure that the drawing is accurate.


These are some examples of artifacts that Dr. Arthur and his students have uncovered at Weedon Island. Left: A crown conch shell hammer. You can see where the Native Americans drilled holes to attach this shell to a piece of wood to make a shell tool. Top Right: This artifact is a small piece of broken pottery called a pottery sherd. If you look closely you can see that it is stamped with a design that looks like a waffle! Bottom Right: A stone flake leftover from making stone tools. This piece of chert, a type of stone good for making stone tools, came off of a rock while a Native American was making a stone tool such as a projectile point or knife.


How will what you learn inform us about the people who once lived there?

Our project is an archaeological project that is also influenced by marine biology so we hope that by learning how the estuaries were being utilized by the Indigenous people, that we can see how they have changed over the last 1000 years. Pinellas County is the most densely populated county in Florida, and to have a site where we can learn how people were utilizing the natural resources 900 years before the county was beginning to be severely developed can inform us about environmental change. In addition, with the rising sea levels from climate change, we can learn how the Indigenous people coped with changing sea levels which may give us clues as to how to manage our modern coastlines.


You are still in the middle of this research, so what is your next step in the project?

We will continue to investigate the life ways of the Indigenous peoples and to teach future archaeologists how to properly excavate a site. My goal is to have students develop their own independent research, such as the experimental research mentioned above, to learn how to do scientific research, and for the students to eventually publish their work. There are many questions to answer and we are just beginning.



Dr. Arthur (far right) gives a tour to the public out to the area of Weedon Island where he is excavating.


For more information on Weedon Island click here. To find FPAN events at Weedon Island click here. If you would like to get involved in archaeology around the St. Petersburg and Tampa Bay area please follow this link.

Kassie is an archaeologist working at the West Central Regional Center of the Florida Public Archaeology Network, located at the University of South Florida in Tampa. If you have questions about archaeology in the Tampa Bay area, please contact her at kkemp@usf.edu .

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FPAN West Central Winter 2016 Newsletter

To check out the latest edition of the FPAN West Central Newsletter click this link: FPAN West Central Winter Newsletter


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Pine Level Townsite makes it to the National Register of Historic Places!
Originally published in the Arcadian
Date: Oct 9, 2014; Section: Arcadian; Page: AS11
For images from the original story click this link


The Pine Level townsite was listed on the U.S. Department of the Interior’s National Register of Historic Places on Sept. 17. A ceremony to celebrate this honor — and unveil a commemorative marker— will be held at 2 p.m. on Oct. 18 at the Pine Level United Methodist Church, 9596 N.W. Pine Level Street. The ceremony will be the conclusion of the Pine Level Public Art and Archaeology Day, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., cosponsored by the DeSoto County Historical Society, DeSoto Arts and Humanities Council, and Florida Public Archaeology Network West Central Region. The events are free and open to the public.

The historical marker at the Old Pine Level site will soon be joined by a plaque commemorating its listing to the National Register of Historic Places!

The Historical Society will offer guided walking tours of the townsite and an exhibit of artifacts. The Arts Council will display landscapes and streetscapes of Pine Level between 1866 and 1900, as imagined by children and adult artists, as well as “fat quarter” quilts made from fabrics reproduced from the same era. FPAN will provide hands-on archaeological activities. Crowley Museum will feature the “Pine Level Trail” which bisects their property in Myakka. Food and beverages will be available.

Pine Level was founded in 1866 as the new county seat of old Manatee County. Established in 1855, the county extended nearly 5,000 square miles, including the modern counties of Charlotte, DeSoto, Glades, Hardee, Highlands, Manatee and Sarasota. Although no settlement existed at that time, Pine Level was chosen as the county’s geographical center. It was conveniently distant from the Village of Manatee, the former county seat and ally of the Confederacy. An African-American family was one of the first four to live at Pine Level, and it may have been considered a freedman’s town. It was a frontier “wild West” settlement with saloons and shoot-outs as well as a courthouse, jail, school, churches, stores, boarding houses and a newspaper. Union Veteran John F. Bartholf served as the first postmaster in 1871.

This two-story structure was first used as a school and then the sanctuary for the Pine Level United Methodist Church. Image courtesy of the DeSoto County Historical Society.

When DeSoto County was founded in 1887, Pine Level became the county seat. Voters did not choose Arcadia as the government center until November 1888. It had the advantage of transportation by river or rail. The first train arrived in 1886 — the same year that the town was incorporated. Bypassed by the railroad and abandoned by the county government, Pine Level declined. The only physical witnesses of the town are a Florida Historic Marker and the original Pine Level School. The Pine Level Methodist Church purchased the school in 1923, and after a 1930 hurricane damaged the second floor, the church was re-roofed as a one-story structure. It has since been remodeled, and other buildings have been added.

Archaeologists and volunteers work to find evidence of the historic town of Pine Level in DeSoto County.

Members of the Historical Society participated in the archaeological field work in Pine Level conducted in 2010 by Jana Futch, a student seeking a Master of Arts degree in anthropology from the University of South Florida. Now a professional archaeologist with Brockington and Associates of Atlanta, Ga., she prepared the National Register application. It was financed in part by a grant from the Bureau of Historic Preservation, Division of Historical Resources, Florida Department of State, assisted by the Florida Historical Commission. The Florida National Review Board unanimously approved the Pine Level nomination, noting that the town is one of only seven Reconstruction-era sites recognized in the state.

For more information, call Carol Mahler at 863-445-0789 or email carolmahler3@gmail.com.

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FPAN West Central Summer 2014 Newsletter

To check out the latest edition of the FPAN West Central Newsletter click this link: FPAN West Central Summer Newsletter

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From the Public Archaeology Trenches: Talking about Stone Tools

By: Becky O’Sullivan

How do you make a concept like stages of lithic reduction interesting to the public? How do you convince people that tiny flakes of stone (not even arrow heads or stone knives) can be important to understanding people in the past? For public archaeologists such as myself, this is the sort of quandary we face on a daily basis. One good way is to give people a simplified visual to interact with. In general, when you give people a simple model to start with it tends to be much easier for them to think about more difficult or abstract concepts…. such as lithic reduction! Below are instructions for an easy to make puzzle to get the point across (sorry…) as well as tips on how to use it when talking to the public.



What you’ll need:

  • Round, flat piece of wood, preferably with bark still on. These can be purchased at most craft stores
  • Jigsaw
  • Sandpaper or a Dremel
  • Clear coat or shellac


Draw out a design for your puzzle pieces onto the wooden round. Make sure that your pieces aren’t too complicated but that they will end up with differing amounts of bark on one edge. Some pieces should have lots of bark (primary flakes), while others have a little (secondary flakes), and a few should have none (tertiary flakes). You can model the “tool” in the middle after the outline of your favorite projectile point. We went with a Clovis point because of our Paleoindian theme for Florida Archaeology Month, and its simple outline.

Once you get your pieces cut out, carefully sand the edges. I used a Dremel tool to add a little “chipped stone” effect to each piece, this also helps you remember which side is up for each piece and makes the puzzle easier to put back together. Finally, add a few layers of clear coat and let dry.


  • Have your participant take the puzzle apart, not put it together. Stone tool making is all about careful reduction so by having people take the puzzle apart you will make them mimic some of the basic stages.
  • Have some actual stone tools, flakes, or pieces of raw stone like chert or flint on hand to compare to the puzzle pieces. People often learn best when they can compare things they know and understand to the new things you are trying to teach them about.
  • Use other everyday comparisons to help them understand what you are talking about. For instance, when I talk about cortex I often compare it to the outside of a potato. If you were going to make french fries out of a potato you would probably want to get rid of the gross looking skin of the potato to get to the starchy goodness inside. It’s the same with stone tool manufacture. The gross, weathered outer layer of the rock (cortex) is no good for making stone tools so you need to carefully remove it to get to the siliceous goodness inside.

Compare the known of you puzzle to the unknown of stone tools. The bark on the outside of the puzzle is the same as the cortex on the outside of the flakes.

Take the puzzle apart step-by-step. First remove the pieces with lots of cortex (primary flakes), then those with less (secondary flakes), then those with no cortex (tertiary flakes).

Explain that often these leftover pieces are just as important to understanding a site as the tool itself. They can reveal important information about the type of stone tool making that was going on in a specific location. Were people collecting raw stone? Working stone to make blanks and rudimentary tools? Sharpening tools that were already made? Debitage is the key to answering these questions.


People love to see and touch artifacts, but sometimes they are fragile or sharp (like stone tools). Using models like this puzzle helps to get people’s interest and gives them a visual to interact with that is tough to break.


Becky is an archaeologist working at the West Central Regional Center of the Florida Public Archaeology Network, located at the University of South Florida in Tampa. If you have some public archaeology resources you’d like to share, please contact her at rosulliv@usf.edu .

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The Stars at Night are Big and Bright…. but are they the same ones the Paleoindians saw?

By: Brittany Yabczanka

This year’s Florida Archaeology Month posters featuring photos by Curt Bowen of Little Salt Spring and Warm Mineral Springs are beautiful. We have learned that the coastline of Florida has changed dramatically, but you may be surprised to learn that the sky we see now is also not quite the same as the one the Paleoindians would have seen when they were living near the springs.

Earth’s axis is not completely stable. It “wobbles” due to a “precession cycle” that completes a rotation about every 26,000 years. This means that what we call the North Star, has not always been the North Star and that the apparent position and movement of all the stars and constellations has changed since the first Floridians got here. We call Polaris our North Star because it stays in the same place all night while the other stars seem to move around it. It is a stationary point that can be used to navigate. In the year 10,000 BC, however, the most stationary point would have been somewhere in the middle of what we call the Hercules constellation. In 7,000 BC, it was between Hercules and Draco, moving closer toward Polaris.

As the Earth moves through its precession cycle the star we think of as the “North Star” changes.

To picture how this affects the night sky, try pointing to a wall. Now imagine the room spinning around your arm. Next, point to a different wall and do the same thing. Everything in the room still stays in the same place, but their movement relative to you changes in appearance based on where you are pointing. Of course, it is actually Earth that rotates, but in this case it is easier to picture the room moving like the sky appears to do throughout the night. This is important because this shift affects which stars are visible, when they are visible, and where they rise and set. For people using the stars for navigational, calendric, and/or spiritual purposes, all of these factors are important.

Using a program called Stellarium (free at Stellarium.org), it is possible to turn back the clock at any location and see what the sky would have looked like. In the location window I entered the GPS coordinates of Little Salt Spring and Warm Mineral Springs. At each location, I then opened the time and date window and adjusted it to reflect when some of the first people would have been at each site. For Little Salt Spring, a wooden stake through an extinct tortoise was found that dates to about 12,000 years ago. I used the year 10,000 BC (Stellarium does not use BC or AD, so it would be written as -10,000) because based on the archaeological evidence it is likely that people were occupying the area at that time. For Warm Mineral Springs, I used the year 7,000 BC because artifacts there have been dated to about 9,000 years ago. For all of the images below I used a date in March so that you can go outside tonight and see how the sky has shifted! All pictures represent March 18th at 8:00 pm, but for different years in the past or in 2014.

The stars over Little Salt Spring 12,000 years ago. No, the dock would not have been there 12,000 years ago….


The stars over Little Salt Spring today.


Looking at the picture of Little Salt Spring (facing NE) 12,000 years ago compared to the one today, the most obvious difference is that the modern one has more sunlight on the horizon. This is because, while the sun’s position in the sky does not change dramatically over time, minor changes in the time of day that it rises and sets do occur. Next, you probably notice that none of the same stars appear from the ancient sky to the modern. It is not because of the time of day, it is because of the precession. If you were able to see through the earth in the modern picture (which you can do by clicking the ground icon in the bottom settings bar when using Stellarium), you would see the same stars that are in the ancient picture, just below the horizon. In a 12,000 year span, Hercules goes from being mostly circumpolar (visible all night, revolving close to the North Pole) to rising late in the night, further East in the sky.

The stars over Warm Mineral Springs 9,000 years ago (Buildings and lawn chairs not included).

The stars over Warm Mineral Springs today.

Warm Mineral Springs (facing NW) has similar differences between ancient and modern as the pictures for Little Salt Spring in terms of sunlight and the change in stars. A good eye can pick out, though, that Polaris (our North Star) is not anywhere near being due North. In fact, it would not even visible all night 9,000 years ago! This means that if the Paleoindians were using the stars for navigation, they would have had to use a different star or group of stars than we use to find North today. Most likely, they would have used a star or group of stars that are part of what we call the Hercules constellation.

While looking at these pictures, it is also important to remember that the stars would not have had the same names and myths that we associate with them today. We primarily use the ancient Greek system, but the Paleoindians obviously would not have done the same. They would have had their own names and stories that were important to them connected with the stars. Do you have any names for stars or groups of stars that are not part of the official catalog? Some cultures focused on the sun (the cycle of which is relatively unchanged). Others, like the Inca used the dark spaces between the stars as constellations. Known Native American star lore, like that of the Lakota and Navajo, have names for only a few stars and they tend to be associated with certain stories.

Unfortunately, there is not yet any archaeological evidence for whether the Paleoindians used the stars for navigational or spiritual purposes. A deer antler found at Little Salt Spring with 28 notches in it could be an intriguing clue. One possibility is that this artifact was used as a way of tracking the lunar cycle, which is 28 days long. Dr. John Gifford, who recently gave a talk about his archaeological work at Little Salt Spring at the University of South Florida, spoke about this possibility during his lecture. The moon’s cycle was important to many cultures all over the world as a way to track time and the seasons, as well as for spiritual reasons. Notably, the moon was used by the Hopewell who measured and used the lunar cycle for planning major events and to track the seasons, and interacted with later Native Floridians.


*Note: Some of the stars visible in Bowen’s photos are there because of the type of lens and effects he used, that I was not able to replicate in Stellarium. Orion, for example, in the Warm Mineral Springs picture, is actually almost directly overhead.



To download Stellarium visit: http://www.stellarium.org/

For more information on Hopewell lunar importance: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_OJ1yVs0aQE


Brittany Yabczanka graduated from the University of South Florida in 2012 with her B.A. in Anthropology. She focused on Archaeology and minored in Astronomy, and has since built her own telescope. Brittany currently works at the West Central office of the Florida Public Archaeology Network.


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