By Karen Brunso
Hello from the people you see carrying backpacks and wearing boots that go up to our knees, or as we are known around here the Tribal Archaeology Section (TAS). One of the many tasks we undertake in the TAS is documenting and recording historic Seminole camps, which are an important part of Seminole history and culture. Camp research is an essential way in which the TAS works with the Tribal community in documenting and preserving the past.
What is a camp?
If you visit the museum, you will know how important camps were to the Seminole Tribe. Camps were, as Alexander Spoehr wrote in 1941, the center of everyday life for the Seminoles. These camps would be located within the hammocks and pine flats of South Florida. The camps were mostly based on a matrilineal kinship system, or a person’s clan was determined by their mother’s side of the family. Camps were comprised of members from the same clan along with a few members of different clans that were married to camp members.
How does the TAS know where a camp was located?
Camps are recorded in multiple ways. Many times Tribal members tell us the location of camps in order to allow for their preservation. Camps are also recorded when the TAS uncovers artifacts that might point to the existence of a camp at that location. The TAS’s best resource to explain the artifacts is to ask the Tribal community about the artifacts found and if they are associated with a camp.
What happens after a camp is located?
After locating a camp, the TAS begins to gather information about the camp and the Tribal members who lived in it. Surviving camp members are interviewed to help provide more personalized details about each individual camp. The interviews bring the camp and its occupants to life. Camps transform into places where people lived, worked, played, and learned. Camp members map out the camp layout explaining the unique makeup of each camp. Interviews also bring the camp members to life showing their personality and character so that one can almost feel these people leap up from the photographs. Tribal members also help us identify people in photos, locations of photos, and correct any mislabeling of photographs that may exist.
In order to further document the camp, the TAS will go out and survey each camp. The methods we use are shovel testing (digging a hole one meter into the ground to determine the presence or absence of artifacts), pedestrian survey (walking an area to see what is on the ground surface), and metal detection. The TAS may use all or one of the methods mentioned, depending on each camp’s unique circumstances.
What happens to each camp after the TAS researches, surveys, and records it?
The Tribal community decides what to do with each camp. Sometimes the camp is preserved so that Tribal children can learn about this important chapter in tribal history. Other times the area will be developed. The Tribal community will decide how the land should be used and who can build on it. It is through the entire process of researching camps that the TAS is able to work with the Tribal community in order to document and preserve these camps for future generations