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 .

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