Telling Our Stories Gains Momentum

By Carrie Dilley, Visitor Services and Development Manager and Macey Markowitz, Development Associate

Here on our blog we like to give our readers a sneak peek behind-the-scenes and share the “how” and the “why” behind what we do.  We constantly strive to find new ways to share the Seminole story and help preserve Seminole history.  It’s critical that we stay relevant in the Seminole community and in the Museum field as a whole.

We opened our doors in 1997 and helped make a name for tribal museums across the country.  Over the past 20 years we have created and hosted top-notch exhibits and programs, and vastly increased our collection.  But over the past few years there’s been a desire to do more.  Share more. Exhibit more.  Educate more.

In 2015, we officially embarked on a journey to tell more of the Seminole story within our four walls.  Our current exhibits are great, but they are limited in their scope and only tell a small part of the overall story.  We try to fill in some of the gaps by utilizing our temporary exhibition spaces to highlight topics not covered in our permanent galleries, but we still lack the opportunity to completely immerse our visitors in Seminole history and culture.

By working directly with the Seminole community, our Exhibits team has overseen the development of a plan that utilizes the existing overall space to provide a dynamic experience full of oral histories, vivid imagery, and facets of culture that help us fulfill our mission.  In the exhibit redesign plan, the exterior of the Museum will remain unchanged, but the interior of the structure will be completely re-imagined save for the library, archives, and restrooms.  Studio Techtonic, the exhibition design firm we hired to head up the project, has just completed the schematic plans, which ready us for the next phase in the process—development of the construction documents.  We anticipate we have another 2-3 years until the project is complete, but we grow more excited with each step.

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Last year we launched Telling Our Stories, an $8 million campaign to make the redesign project a reality.  We are proud of what we accomplished and well aware that we couldn’t have done it alone. With the continued support of our donors and the Seminole Tribe of Florida we have reached our initial 500K milestone.

Please make a gift to Telling Our Stories Campaign today to preserve one of the Seminole Tribe of Florida’s most definitive cultural resources.  You can help us ensure that everyone has the opportunity to enjoy the powerful stories the Museum has to tell. Your tax-deductible gift to the Telling Our Stories Campaign, in any amount, impacts our work. Thank you for your continued support.

If you would like to learn more about how you can help us meet our goals, please contact us at: (carriedilley@semtribe.com) or (maceymarkowitz@semtribe.com), or simply visit www.ahtahthiki.com/donate!

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Found in the Swamp: The Search for Fort Shackelford Part II

By Domonique deBeaubien, THPO Collections Manager

If you’re a regular reader of our blog, you may remember a special story titled “Lost in the Swamp: the Search for Fort Shackelford,” where Tribal Historic Preservation Office (THPO) Archaeologist, Shawn Keyte, recounted the harrowing challenges of locating a U.S. Army fort burned to the ground in 1855 by the Seminoles living on Big Cypress.

This winter, THPO Archaeologists Shawn Keyte and Dave Scheidecker continued their search to locate the lost fort.  Shawn and Dave, along with the rest of the Tribal Archaeology crew, were committed to finding the long lost fort. After a long and fruitless field season of metal detection, former THPO Research Coordinator Rechanda Lee commented that the only place they hadn’t looked yet was under the truck.  So that’s exactly what they did!

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The Truck: Sometimes archaeology is underneath it.

Surprisingly, this unusual methodology led to an exciting discovery: square cut nails from the 1800s!  THPO Archaeologists were so encouraged by this find that they put in several new test units to further explore what may be hidden under the surface.

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Archaeologist Shawn Keyte holding a hand-cut square nail found during metal detection.

A test unit is a small square shaped area where archaeologists excavate down carefully, layer by layer, until they hit bedrock.  This helps them see changes in the soil, and accurately document any artifacts that they may find. This new test unit yielded a very exciting discovery:  a burned piece of wood! This may not seem like much, but many 19th century forts were constructed entirely of wood. While we had located a few metal nails and objects that may have dated to the correct time period, what our archaeologists really wanted to find was evidence of the structure itself.  As the crew continued their work, they began to see a series of dark oval stains in the soil, each about the size of a post. As they continued to excavate, they realized that remnants of the posts were actually still preserved! According to Archaeologist Shawn Keyte, this post may have formed part of the stockade (or fence) surrounding the wooden blockhouse.  Officers would have kept quarters in the more robust blockhouse, while soldiers would have erected tents within the confines of the stockade.

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Test Unit 9, with brown oval features and dark ashy soils.

As exciting as this discovery was, the team wanted to ensure that the artifacts were removed from the ground safely. Robin Croskery Howard, Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Conservator, was called out to the site to help extract some of the wood for lab testing and preservation. Finding preserved wood in the Everglades is a rare occurrence. As wood ages in a moist and acidic environment, it often loses its structural integrity and rapidly decomposes. Our team wanted to be extra sure their find didn’t crumble to pieces after exposure to the air!  Shawn, Dave, and Robin worked carefully to extract the wood, as well as collect a sample of the dark soil surrounding each of the posts.

Once back in the THPO Lab, the Collections team set to work.  To get the most precise results possible, we often use radiocarbon dating.  In these instances we send out organic material, like animal bone or charcoal, and measure the amount of Carbon-14 left in the sample.  When a piece of wood is burned, the Carbon-14 in the object begins to slowly break down at a consistent rate.  Scientists are able to measure the amount of Carbon-14 present, and compare it to closely calibrated charts and determine a very precise age. If you look carefully at the soil in the test unit, it’s very dark compared to the light colored soils found nearby.  Such an intense darkening of the soil was caused by a large quantity of ash and charcoal produced by a fire.  The soil sample was packaged up and sent off to a lab in hope that they could extract enough charcoal in the soil to perform C-14 testing to determine when the fire occurred.

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Soil sample from Test Unit 9, with charcoal flecking

In addition to the soil, we also sent out a large piece from one of the wooden posts.  The lab will first use a high powered microscope to determine what type of tree the post was made from, and then use a small segment of the wood sample for C-14 dating!

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The carefully extracted wood sample. Is this part of the Fort Shackelford stockade?

We haven’t received all of the results yet, but some are in!  The charcoal in the soil sample dated to 1840 +/- 30 years.   This is exactly the date range we were hoping for!  This places our charcoal right around the time Fort Shackelford was destroyed, 1855.  While we anxiously await the results of our second C-14 date, we are left to wonder, did we find Fort Shackelford?  The Tribal Archaeology Section heads back out this April to continue the search. Check back soon to find out more!

Discover our Discovery Days!

By Alyssa Boge, Education Coordinator

What do atlatl throwing, swamp cabbage tasting and crafting have in common? They’re all things that you can do as part of our Seminole Discovery Day series!

Discovery Days are a great time to bring friends and family for a hands-on experience to delve deeper into the Seminole Story. Our first Discovery Day of the year celebrates Florida Archaeology Month with our Archaeology Day on March 10th. Meet actual archaeologists and learn about their quests for uncovering Seminole history. You can discover what makes Tribal archaeology unique and how our archaeologists work with community members.

You can also get your hands dirty. Be inspired by archaeological pottery and pinch your own pots out of clay. Play with Legos and examine artifacts to discover how archaeologists decode the past. You can also try using an atlatl! At-ul-at-ul isn’t just fun to say! Before people used bows and arrows for hunting, they used these spear throwers to help them hunt. The atlatl allowed to them to throw farther and with greater force. Finally we also have a special session just for Tribal Members to learn more about historic camp sites on our Tribal Register of Historic Places.

Archaeology Day 2017
Pinch Pot Activity, Archaeology Day 2017
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Atlatl, courtesy of https://www.crowcanyon.org/educationproducts/peoples_mesa_verde/archaic_artifacts.asp

Our next Discovery Day- Earth Day- on April 21st will highlight the importance of the Everglades to the Seminoles. Explore the Everglades with a tour along our boardwalk and taste swamp cabbage made from sabal palm trees. You can also find out about hunting with Daniel Tommie in his hunting camp and test your archery skills.

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Museum boardwak
Daniel Tommie
Daniel Tommie in his hunting camp

For crafty visitors, our Art at Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Day on June 28th is a great chance to get creative.  Be inspired by our Museum Village Crafters exhibit and art by the Pemayetv Emahakv students from Brighton Reservation on display. Visitors can meet Seminole artists and create their own crafts including beading keychains, coloring in Seminole scenes, and more.

July 28th, our Seminole War Day, offers more information about this important period in Seminole history. Play our Tools of Survival card game to gain a deeper understanding of the Seminole experience and find out more with a special exhibit.

Our final Discovery Day will highlight our upcoming exhibit “We Are Here: Hands & Voices Making Community Happen.” Understanding any government can be a mystery, but this exhibit will highlight different departments, showcasing the role they play in supporting the Seminole Tribe of Florida. Join us September 15th for special activities.

For the most up-to-date information on our Discovery Days offerings, check out our website: https://www.ahtahthiki.com/programs/.

We hope you will join us for these special programs.  Seminole Story Days, our first major series of public programs in recent years, began in 2016. The series started as part of an internship project with Eden Jumper, then a senior at the Ahfachkee School, whose marketing designs we still use! We followed it up with our Seminole Summer Fun series the same year. In 2017, we renamed the series Seminole Discovery Days and have continued to add programs under this title.  Become part of our new tradition!

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Seminole Summer Fun Postcard designed by Eden Jumper, 2016

 

Che Hun Tamo

By David Higgins, Facilities Manager

2017 has been a long year for hurricanes and it is not over yet.  Hurricane season ends November 30th but hurricanes have been known to go through December and January of some years.  Hurricane Irma definitely affected many people throughout the state of Florida and caused lots of damage and flooding.  The Seminole Tribe of Florida and their members where affected in all of the reservations.  The Ah-Tah-Thi- Ki Museum is located on the Big Cypress Reservation in Hendry County and was affected by Hurricane Irma.  The storm only caused minor damage to some of our buildings and some of our traditional chickees.

Large chickee lost part of its roof section.
Several chickees had holes in their roofs

The most impacted thing at the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum by hurricane Irma was our mile long boardwalk which meanders through our cypress dome forest.  We had over 13 large cypress trees fall through and on top of our boardwalk and numerous amounts of smaller trees and branches.

 

Branches and debris had fallen on the boardwalk

Large cypress trees had fallen through the boardwalk

With the hard work and dedication of the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum staff and the Tribal Historic Preservation staff we worked to remove all of the debris from the boardwalk.  The Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum maintenance staff went to work on removing the large cypress trees and repairing the boardwalk.  It took a little over two weeks of long, hard, hot days and hard work and a little getting wet in the cypress dome but the repairs and removal of the trees was completed.

Trees being removed
Repairs being made to the boardwalk

The Ah Tah Thi Ki Museum’s boardwalk is one of its most popular aspects of the museum and visitors come from all over the country to enjoy the museum and its boardwalk.  It was very important to us to get it opened as quickly as possible for our visitors and Tribal members.  There are still traces of the large cypress trees that fell from Hurricane Irma and they will slowly decay and help give back nutrients to the rest of the cypress forest.  I want to invite you on behalf of the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum’s maintenance staff, the museum staff, THPO staff, and the Seminole Tribe of Florida to come and visit their incredible museum and boardwalk.  To walk around their boardwalk and look for yourself, the strength of Hurricane Irma and the incredible force it took to take down 140+ year old trees.  Learn more about the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum: check out our website http://www.ahtahthiki.com/ , Twitter, and Facebook.

Boardwalk fully repaired after the storm

Summer Time Fun!

By Alyssa Boge, Education Coordinator

Each summer I think things will start to slow down at the Museum, but just like Florida weather, things seem to heat up!

We ended the spring semester saying goodbye to interns, Elisah and Eyanna. Elisah worked with Eric, our Oral Historian, on a video project while Eyanna worked in our Compliance Office and with our Conservator.

With the end of the school year came the beginning of Ahfachkee School’s summer program and our Lego Project. Throughout the spring we worked on building a scale model of the school, but this summer we took a different tack. Our Tribal Historic Preservation Office preserves places important to the Seminole Tribe with our Tribal Register of Historic Places. These places include Red Barn which served an important role in the Seminole cattle industry and government, the Council Oak where the Seminole Constitution and By-laws were signed in 1957, and camp sites like the Josh Camp for which we recently unveiled a site marker (Find out more here: http://seminoletribune.org/josh-camp-marker-unveiled/). This summer we asked students to create places important to them out of Legos to explore why places matter.

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Students work on their scale model of the school

We also worked with kids from our local Boys and Girls Club and Recreation Department to offer our Summer Program. On one day students created their own art inspired by our current exhibit “Elgin Jumper: Portraits and Landscapes.”

Another day kids learned about cattle traditions with Rodeo Trivia. How well do you think you would do? Do you know when the first cattle management program was formed? It was 1937! Do you know who brought cattle to the Seminole? It was the Spanish! And finally, do you know who Cow Keeper was? He was an important Seminole leader with a very large herd of cattle in the 1740s. Kids also got to try roping for themselves and designed their own brands.

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Written in 1774, this is the oldest letter in our collection and records a talk to Cow Keeper. http://semtribe.pastperfectonline.com/archive/3CCD1DAB-6EBD-467F-983E-469125160055

Our Rodeo activities weren’t just reserved for kids though. For our Rodeo Day Discovery Day, visitors learned more with our mobile cattle cart exhibit, got to try roping for themselves, and even got a bit crafty making beaded cow keychains.

Visitors enjoy activities at our Rodeo Days!

Our Discovery Day series continues with our Everglades Day this Saturday, July 22nd! Join us and hear Daniel Tommie talk about his hunting camp from 12-1, try archery, taste swamp cabbage and more. All activities are included in your admission. Our final Discovery Day will be our Art at Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Day on September 9th.

This summer we also have activities in Spanish. Our final Spanish Day will be August 13th with tours and crafts from 1-4pm.

We hope to see you out here and enjoy the rest of your summer!