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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Site Seeing: Paleoindians at the Harney Flats Site

By: Becky O’Sullivan

You might not know it, but there is a good chance you recently drove over the earliest known archaeological site in the Tampa Bay area. But don’t worry, it happens thousands of times every day!


The Harney Flats site was discovered during road construction for I-75, today you can visit a small park nearby.


While some of the most famous documented Paleoindian sites in Florida are located either to our north in the panhandle or to our south at Little Salt and Warm Mineral Springs an equally important one is located right here in our area: underneath I-75. In the late 1970s, archaeologists working for the State of Florida excavated the Harney Flats site ahead of road construction along I-75. Deep beneath the surface they uncovered evidence of a stone tool workshop and possible camp dating back more than 10,000 years. Harney Flats is unique because of its location; many of the Paleoindian sites found in other parts of Florida are in rivers or springs while Harney Flats is high and dry.


A view of I-75 as it travels over the Harney Flats site.


During the Paleoindian period the location of the Harney Flats site would have looked much different than today. The site sits on an ancient sandy ridge that today over looks dry land and the Tampa Bypass Canal, but thousands of years ago would have been on the edge of a large, low drainage area larger than present day Hillsborough Bay. The ridge would have been a great place to live for Paleoindians not only because of the higher elevation, but also because of the rock outcrops located nearby that would have provided the raw materials for their stone tools.


A natural ridge running through the area (visible here as a rise in the road) would have been a great place for Paleoindian people to collect the stone they needed to make some of their tools.

Archaeologists have been able to date the Harney Flats site because of the types of stone tools found there, as well as information obtained from optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) dating. Chert cores used to produce stone flakes, as well as stone scrapers, abraders, and points at different stages of the production process were all recovered. Suwannee and Simpson points typical of the Paleoindian period were also found there, along with a distinct new subtype recently identified by archaeologist Dr. Jim Dunbar. Next time you are driving north on I-75 near the 301 exit take a moment to think about what life would have been like for people living in Florida more than 10,000 years ago!


A replica cast of a Simpson point found during excavations at the Harney Flats site.


Top: View of the Tampa Bypass Canal looking south. Bottom: View to the north looking at a small dog park near the site. Bring your pooch here to experience some of Florida’s archaeological heritage!




Daniel, Randy and Michael Wisenbaker

1983     A Preliminary Report on the Excavations at Harney Flats, Hillsborough County. The Florida Anthropologist 36(1-2), pgs 67-79.


Daniel, Randolph I, Michael Wisenbaker, and George Ballo

1986     The Organization of a Suwannee Technology: The View from Harney Flats. The Florida Anthropologist 39(1-2), pgs 24-54.


Dunbar, James S.

2013     Mental Templates and a Revised Typology for Florida Paleoindian Points. Paper presented at the Southeastern Archaeological Conference, Tampa.

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Saving Florida’s Past is Worth the Trouble

This week, Tampa Bay Times reporter, Ben Montgomery, and columnist, Daniel Ruth, dissed their readership by diminishing the importance of Florida archaeology and by continuing the idea that artifacts of prehistory (and those from historical times for that matter) are worth something in dollars and cents. They are worth much more than that. These remains have value intrinsic to the knowledge they can provide about the past. Montgomery and Ruth understate this importance when they minimize the fact that these objects were made and used by people that were entirely culturally different from us today.

However, similar to the great and mysterious state within which we live, Florida in the past was just as distinct and unique as it is today. Artifacts and archaeology sites, when properly preserved and purposefully excavated, offer clues to help tell these stories. Stories that, for instance, revolve around monumental architecture and land modification, burial practices and trade patterns, daily lives, the civic and domestic routines of people whose ancestors arrived some 14,500 years ago. Archaeology and the basic artifact can only deliver these stories to us in pieces. It’s up to us to fill in the blanks. Each piece adds value to these stories.

Some of these stories can be found near Lake Okeechobee or on Hontoon Island, on Tyndell Air Force Base or at Pinellas Point where early Floridians built huge mounds and earthworks from sand and things that we call artifacts but to them were used up and discarded food and tool remains. Together these bits and pieces of oyster, clam and whelk shell, animal and fish bones, ceramic pots and flakes of chert or agatized coral comprised the building materials of the day. If you believe Montgomery and Ruth’s portrayal you might think that these people were just chunking rocks into rivers and moving along, or worse you might not think of these people at all.

Some of these stories can also be found around Charlotte Harbor or along the Crystal River, on hilltops near Tallahassee or in a wetland near Titusville where people with basic community needs shared in religious and ceremonial activities and rituals. At these places, archaeology and artifacts tell us of trade networks that stretched as far away as present day Michigan. These sites can also tell us about a person’s last meal, as some of their bodies and stomach contents remained preserved in muck and mud for some 5,000 years. Archaeologists carefully recover these remains because they are finite, and they are the only evidence we have of these past ways of life. They cannot be replaced and they cannot be remade.

When we have the choice we choose to preserve these things in place but if that’s not possible it is then and only then that they are carefully recovered. Instead of selling our history short by relegating it to the corner of a collector’s living room we should celebrate and honor it in the best way we can by preserving it where it is or at the very least preserving the knowledge hidden within it. The men and their “plight” profiled by Montgomery and Ruth in recent articles are not just stealing rocks from state lands. What they have done is to steal knowledge from past, present, and future residents of this great and wacky state. This activity is more than worthy of punishment.

Jeff Moates & Becky O’Sullivan
Florida Public Archaeology Network

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Faunal-palooza Part 5: Otoliths

By: Becky O’Sullivan


Welcome to the final installment of faunal-palooza! I’ve already shown you the wonders of archaeological mammals, birds, reptiles, and fish; now for the grand finale….. Otoliths! Who doesn’t like a nice fish otolith, amirite? These tiny bony structures found in the ears of all vertebrates (we’re interested in the fish variety especially) can tell archaeologists a lot, not just about the species of fish, but also about the environment the fish lived in… but more on that in a minute.

If you’ve ever had vertigo you know what it feels like to have your otoliths go rogue and let you down. That’s because their main function is to act as a stability mechanism and let the brain know the relative position of the body in space. In humans, otoliths are tiny particles found in our inner ear. Most fish species, however, have only three sets of otoliths that are much larger than those found in humans: the sagittae (the largest, found behind the eyes, and the ones archaeologists are most interested in), lapilli , and asterisci. Fish otoliths build up in layers over time with calcium carbonate from the environment. This might seem like a lame fact, but it’s actually really important for archaeologists trying to study people in the past. Otoliths are like the secret diary of past environments; they act as a record of any changes that occurred during the lifetime of the fish. So what can we learn from these little nuggets of awesomeness?


Examples of common fish otoliths found at archaeological sites in Florida. Images from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission http://www.flickr.com/photos/myfwc/sets/72157625872804969/

Otolith ID Tips:

  • Otoliths are small, irregularly shaped, and basically look like a million different things if you don’t know what you are looking at. That makes them a bit difficult to pick out of a screen during excavation, especially on prehistoric sites that are full of things like oyster shell!
  • Become familiar with the different shapes of otoliths from common species, catfish varieties are a good place to start. Their otoliths are fairly large and have a rounded shape that stands out a bit more than those of other species (see above).
  • Trying to decide whether something is an otolith or just a small piece of oyster shell? First, look to see if it is made up of rings, much like you would see inside a tree. If that doesn’t work, look for a sulcus or groove on one side of the otolith (look at the Black Drum and Sand Seatrout above for examples).

What do otoliths tell us about the fish (and the people who ate them)?

  • Species Identification- Like I mentioned in the Fish post, it can be difficult to identify fish bones down to the species level for several reasons. Thankfully, otoliths come to the rescue! Each fish species has otoliths of a unique shape (you can see some examples above), making them super useful for zooarchaeological research. When otoliths are properly collected and identified they can open a window into what people were eating in the past.
  • Minimum Number of Individuals – Remember that sulcus thing I mentioned above? It can also help you determine the side of the head your particular otolith is from…. and that can help you determine the minimum number of fishes that would have been needed to make up your otolith collection. Important info for those looking at diet or caloric values of a particular assemblage of fishy remains.
  • Age of Fish – The “rings” that make up an otolith build up over the course of a year with larger areas occurring during times of more growth (warmer months) and more compacted areas occurring during times of less growth (colder months). By counting these rings or annuli you can determine how old a fish was when it was snagged. This can be important in answering questions about fishing strategies (were they catching younger fish in coastal estuaries or older fish in more open waters?) as well as the relative health of the environment. Click here to try a fun otolith aging game! (I’m so easily amused…)

What do otoliths tell us about past environments?

  • Season of Death of the Fish (marginal increment analysis) - If the rings of the otolith build up over the life of the fish, then the last ring will be able to tell you a lot about when it died; not only how old it was but the time of year it was caught. By measuring the distance from the last annulus (the more compact ring formed during the colder, winter months) to the edge of the otolith you can infer the time of year the fish kicked the bucket. This is a helpful bit of information to know if you are interested in studying seasonal patterns in the diet of past people (were they catching a particular species at just one time of year, or all year long?).
  • Environment of the Fish (oxygen isotope analysis) – Otoliths are made up of calcium carbonate taken from the environment the fish lives in, this makes them a great record of past environments. By studying the relative amount of different isotopes in different rings of the otolith you can look at changes in water temperature and environment during the life of the fish. This information isn’t just important for archaeologists, but also for researchers looking at issues related to climate change.

Top link to check out for more otolith info: 

Intro to otoliths  http://myfwc.com/research/saltwater/fish/age-growth-lab/aging-fish-otoliths/

Saltwater fish otolith gallery (examples from different species common to Florida)  http://www.flickr.com/photos/myfwc/sets/72157625872804969/

A Guide to Otoliths from Fishes of the Gulf of Mexico  http://www.sefsc.noaa.gov/labs/panama/fb/otolith.htm

Northwest Atlantic otoliths  http://www.nefsc.noaa.gov/fbp/oto-guide/index.html

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 faunal resources you’d like to share, please contact her at rosulliv@usf.edu .

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Faunal-palooza Part 4: Fish

By: Becky O’Sullivan


We’ve all been there…. chowing down on a delicious salmon filet when a translucent spine gets lodged in your gullet. This installment of faunal knowledge might not help you avoid these gastronomic hazards, but maybe it will make you take a second look at the bones you see in your fish dinner (fish sticks not included). As we learned about mammal, bird, and reptile bones, faunal remains can tell archaeologists a lot about past diets and life ways. In Florida, fish would have been a vital part of prehistoric diets (especially along the Gulf Coast). The presence of different fish species can indicate where people were fishing in the past, as well as what strategies they might have relied on to catch their meals. Snagging a catfish or mullet is quite a bit different than trying to reel in a shark; these differences in food choice can be very informative in and of themselves. Some fish parts (like shark’s teeth and skin) were even used at tools!


Top Tips for ID’ing Fish Bones:

Fish bones are:

  • Light weight
  • Glossy and semi-translucent
  • No spongy bone
  • Flat and angular, lots of ridges and holes. These suckers are complex!

It might be fairly easy for a trained eye to say a bone is from a fish, but getting past that and to a species level of identification can be really tough. There are over 40 taxonomic orders of bony fish (there are less than 30 for all mammals), and all fish get around in pretty much the same way: swimming. Add to that the fact that fish can vary widely in size within one species, and that their fragile bones break easily and are difficult to recover, and you are faced with a seemingly daunting task. Thankfully, there are four different elements of a fish skeleton that can be helpful to focus on….

Vertebrae: Vertebrae are some of the most common fish bones recovered by archaeologists. This is due partly to their thicker and sturdier structure, but also to the fact that they are some of the most “normal” looking fish bones, and are therefore easier for the archaeologist to identify in the screen and collect (we’re only human after all). Fish vertebrae have a solid, almost spool shaped central body or centrum whose ends are both concave. Although they often break off after hundreds or thousands of years in the ground, long thing spines project out from this central body. Fun fact: the centrum of a shark vertebra looks kind of like a sweet tart (except for the small holes or foramen around the side of course).

Mouthparts: Fish might all do that swimming thing, but one area they differ is in their diets. This means specialized teeth and other mouthparts that can be good for identification.  Tooth plates, pharyngeal teeth… these are all the things you have to look forward to when investigating fish teeth. This picture alone has caused me hours of mental anguish (click here if you dare), while other fish have teeth that are surprisingly human in appearance (nice Sheepshead teeth, and a Sheepshead in need of an orthodontist). One common fish tooth us Florida archaeologists find all the time comes from the Drum fish. Drum fish teeth look like little rounded buttons and are often mistaken for beads, check out the picture below to see an individual drum tooth as well as a Drum tooth plate complete with multiple teeth.

Scales: Scales also vary in shape from species to species, so they can be a useful find. Some fish scales are very delicate however, so they often don’t survive well archaeologically.  Gar have bony, robust scales so they are a common find in some middens, see the picture below for an example.

Otoliths: These guys are so cool they get their own blog…. check back in a few days for more on otoliths!

Stay tuned for the next installment….. Otoliths! In the mean time, check out these helpful links….


For images of bones from fish commonly found at archaeological sites, check out these websites:

3D fish skull that explodes out to show all the elements, fish bone database http://fishbone.nottingham.ac.uk/

Archaeological fishbone images  http://fish.library.usyd.edu.au/index.jsp;jsessionid=A807E963B01EDFA00362E537DEA151D8?page=home

Fish reference collection photographs  http://web.pdx.edu/~virginia/photocollection.htm

Fossil examples of fish, shark, rays  http://www.dmap.co.uk/fossils/barton/vert/bartvert.htm

Snook spines  http://www.thefossilforum.com/uploads/1278642940/med_gallery_42_2_49936.jpg

Diagram of general bones of a fish  http://australianmuseum.net.au/image/Bones-of-a-fish/

Perch skeleton, labelled  http://www.savalli.us/BIO370/Anatomy/3.PerchSkeleton.html

Academic article all about identifying different shark vertebrae  http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/40712910?uid=3739600&uid=2&uid=4&uid=3739256&sid=21103208571993


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 faunal resources you’d like to share, please contact her at rosulliv@usf.edu .

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Faunal-palooza Part 3: Reptiles

By: Becky O’Sullivan


Welcome to the third installment of our faunal adventure…. in this episode you’ll get to learn a little about the characteristics that distinguish reptile bones from those of other animals (like mammals  or birds from last time). Florida is crawling with all sorts of tasty reptiles (snakes, turtles, tortoises, alligators) that would have made for a good meal in prehistoric times. Early historic settlers to the area would have also eaten critters like alligators, turtles, and even gopher tortoises (sorry Tommy!) as part of their diet. We might not think of reptiles as a food source today, but their past importance means it’s important to be able to identify them!


Top Tips for ID’ing Reptile Bones:

Reptile bones are:

  • Medium weight
  • Not glossy or transparent, woody to smooth texture
  • Have cortex of a medium thickness, with spongy bone at the ends
  • Have a rounded shape to their ends, almost like what you would see in a cartoon drawing of a bone


Snakes: These guys are pretty much one big backbone, so being able to identify their vertebrae is the most important thing. Thankfully, snake vertebrae have a distinctive shape that makes them stand out from the crowd. In order to make a strong yet flexible backbone that can support the snake as it slithers along, each vertebra connects to its neighbor with a ball and socket joint. If you look at the picture of the snake vertebrae below you can see a good example; on the top left vertebra you can see the ball while the bottom right vertebra shows the socket.

Alligators: The large bones of an alligator might be easy to mistake for those of a mammal, but their highly rounded ends should be a dead give-away that they are from a reptile. The vertebrae, like those in other reptiles, are also helpful because of the distinctive features of the  surface where two adjoining vertebrae touch (the centrum). In alligators, as well as other reptiles, the centrum is concave on one side and convex on the other. Scutes are bones that are found on the backs of alligators and crocodiles. These bony plates are fairly distinctive (see image below) and are a good indicator that you have an alligator on your hands.

Turtles/Tortoises: Contrary to what you might have seen in a Saturday morning cartoon, turtles and tortoises can’t slip out of their shells and run away. It’s not because they are modest, it’s because their shell is part of their skeleton; their backbone is fused to their shell! The upper portion of the shell is called the carapace while the lower shell is the plastron. Both parts are made up of interlocking, bony plates that can break apart after the turtle has died. Fragments of turtle shell can be relatively easy to ID if you know what to look for: one side has a pattern of ridges while the other side is relatively smooth, edges are jagged like those you would see along the suture lines in a human skull, and vertebrae are fused to the underside of the carapace in some places.



Stay tuned for the next installment….. Fish! In the mean time, check out these helpful links….

For images of bones from reptiles commonly found at archaeological sites in Florida, check out these websites:

Alligator Skeleton with elements ID’d – http://savalli.us/BIO370/Anatomy/5.AlligatorSkeleton.html

Alligator http://www.boneid.net/Alligator.html

Alligator Skeleton  http://campus.murraystate.edu/academic/faculty/tderting/cva_atlases/alligator_skeleton/home.htm

Turtle, Rattlesnake, Alligator, and some bird skeletons  http://courses.washington.edu/chordate/453photos/skeleton_photos/amniote_skeleton_photos.htm

Turtle, Alligator, and Snake skulls  http://courses.washington.edu/chordate/453photos/skull_photos/amniote_skull_photos.htm

360 view of a Turtle Skeleton  http://www.3dtoad.com/animal_skeletons_turtle_skeleton.php

Softshell Turtle http://www.boneid.net/Softshellturtle.html

Gopher Tortoise Skull http://digimorph.org/specimens/Gopherus_polyphemus/


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 faunal resources you’d like to share, please contact her at rosulliv@usf.edu .

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Faunal-palooza Part 2: Birds

By: Becky O’Sullivan


Welcome to Part 2 of our epic journey through the world of zooarchaeology…. in this installment you’ll get to learn a little about the characteristics that distinguish bird bones from those of other animals (like mammals from our last installment). Just like today, birds would have been a popular item on the menu in prehistoric Florida, although they wouldn’t have been eating chicken! The species of birds consumed at an archaeological site can tell us more than just what people were eating, they can also inform us about the time of year people were living at the site. Many birds migrate to Florida and so are only in the area during a certain time of year; if we find the bones from these birds we can learn more about if people were living in one spot all year round or if they moved around with the changing seasons.

Top Tips for ID’ing Bird Bones:

Bird bones are:

  • Light weight and almost hollow
  • Glossy and smooth texture, but not transparent
  • Have an angular shape to some ends
  • Have thin cortex with thin support webs within

Because they need to be so light to fly, bird bones are generally very fragile and their skulls do not often survive archaeologically. Birds don’t have teeth like mammals do, usually a good tool for identification,but they do have distinctive skulls and beaks that can be useful to look at (when they can be recovered). Long hollow bone fragments and vertebrae are often all the archaeologist finds.

Vertebrae: Although they have a central foramen or hole like we see in mammals, it is smaller in comparison to rest of the vertebral body. The surface where two adjoining vertebrae touch (the centrum)  isn’t flat like in mammals but is saddle shaped and depressed instead. This is so they can lock together and stabilize the bird’s spine while in flight.

Stay tuned for the next installment….. Reptiles! In the mean time, check out these helpful links….


Good links to check out for bird bones:

General bird skeleton overview http://www.uwlax.edu/biology/zoo-lab/Lab-10/Bird-Skeleton-1.htm

Avian Osteology – A Bird Bone Identification Guide http://www.royalbcmuseum.bc.ca/Natural_History/Bones/homepage.htm

Bird skull database, 3D bird skeletons (ex: cormorant, curlew, buzzard), Bird skull ID helper  http://www.skullsite.com/index.htm

Seabird Osteology – Pelicans, cormorants, gulls, etc  http://shearwater.nl/?file=kop2.php

Labelled Pigeon Skeleton  http://www.savalli.us/BIO370/Anatomy/7.PigeonSkeleton.html

Great Blue Heron http://www.boneid.net/Greatblueheron.html

Great Horned Owl http://www.boneid.net/Greathornedowl.html

Chicken http://www.boneid.net/Chicken.html

Chicken Research Group  http://www.chickenco-op.net/home

Wild Turkey http://www.boneid.net/Wildturkey.html


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 faunal resources you’d like to share, please contact her at rosulliv@usf.edu .

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Faunal-palooza Part 1: Mammals

By: Becky O’Sullivan


Why do Archaeologists Study Animal Bones?

Throughout time, humans have been interacting with other animals in various ways. These interactions have not only shaped the way humans have lived but also the animals themselves through processes of selection and in some cases domestication.  Studying these human-animal relationships in the past can help us better understand the way Native Americans lived, but can also add perspective to our own relationships with animals. Archaeologists study the types of animal bones found at sites so they can learn more about things like ancient foodways and the season of year when a site was occupied. They also need to be able to identify the part of the body the bone came from so they can figure out the minimum number of animals that an assemblage of animal bones might represent. This helps archaeologists learn more about the number of people living at a site in the past, as well as the caloric makeup of their diet.

Zooarchaeology is the study of human interactions with animals in the past. Some archaeologists specialize in identifying animal bones; they can work in the field but can more often be found in the lab. Only a few universities in the country, like the University of Florida, have zooarchaeologists and large faunal type collections. It takes a lot of time and effort to amass a large type collection and get enough experience to be a good zooarch.

These next few blog posts aren’t meant to make you a faunal expert, but they will give you some tips on how to do some basic identification between mammal, bird, reptile, and fish bones.

Top Tips for ID’ing Mammal Bones

Mammal bones are:

  • Relatively heavy
  • Not glossy or translucent
  • Have a rounded shape
  • Have thick cortex with dense spongy bone at the ends
  • Have a woody texture

Teeth can also be very helpful in identification down to the species level for mammals. Depending on what the animal ate, whether it was a carnivore, herbivore, omnivore, or insectivore, the size and shape of its teeth will be different to reflect its diet. Carnivores will have large canines and incisors to rip apart meat while herbivores will have large molars and pre-molars for grinding plant material. Omnivores (like people) will have a little of both! Vertebrae from an animal’s spine are also helpful for identification. Mammals have vertebrae that are large relative to their body size. Mammal verts also contain a large central hole called a foramen where the nerves of the spinal cord pass through when the animal is alive. The large central disk that forms the main body of the vert is called the centrum. In mammals, the centrum is generally rounded with flat surfaces where the verts touch each other (these surfaces can also be covered in small holes or pores in mammals, see the image below).


Tips for ID'ing mammal bones


Stay tuned for the next installment….. Birds! In the mean time, check out these helpful links….


For images of bones from mammals commonly found at archaeological sites in Florida, check out these websites:

Images of many different animals, check this website first!  http://www.boneid.net/

Identifying and Interpreting Animal Bones: A Manual

Raccoon Skeleton  http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/accounts/Procyon_lotor/specimens/

White-tailed deer skull http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/accounts/Odocoileus_virginianus/specimens/

Black Bear skull  http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/accounts/Ursus_americanus/specimens/

Manatee skull http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/accounts/Trichechus_manatus/specimens/

Goat skull http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/accounts/Capra_hircus/specimens/

Dog skeleton  http://www.real3danatomy.com/bones/dog-skeleton-3d.html

Dog burial recording sheet  http://www.pacificid.com/uploads/DogBonesDiagrams.pdf

Rat skeleton  http://www.savalli.us/BIO370/Anatomy/8.MammalSkeletonLabel.html

Mammal teeth http://www.savalli.us/BIO370/Anatomy/8.MammalTeeth.html


For those interested in zooarchaeology, check out these websites:



Jake’s Bones – Fun blog by a kid who collects animal bones. He has an extensive collection! http://www.jakes-bones.com/

Good Zooarch blog from the Northwest Coast  http://qmackie.com/tag/zooarchaeology/


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 faunal resources you’d like to share, please contact her at rosulliv@usf.edu .

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