THPO Comparative Collection

By Domonique deBeaubien, THPO Collections Manager

What is that?” It’s one of the most common questions we ask ourselves when working with archaeological artifacts.  Most of the artifacts that come into the Tribal Historic Preservation Office (THPO) Archaeological Lab are highly fragmented pieces of animal bone that were left behind by human activity at archaeological sites.  We call these tiny pieces of animal bone faunal remains.

Collections Assistant Patricia Rodriguez pondering the identification of a tricky faunal bone. 

People often wonder why we spend so much time studying what is essentially, trash.  But you can learn a great deal about an archaeological site by understanding the remnants of what was left behind.  A trained analyst (or bioarchaeologist) can look at a pile of broken up pieces of animal bone and construct an elaborate picture about the people who created it.  For example: what were people eating?  How far did people travel to get their food?  What animals were the most valuable for nutrition and tool making?

Faunal material excavated from an archaeological site.  Can you identify any animal species?

In order to answer those questions we first need to understand what we’re looking at, and that’s why we have the THPO Comparative Collection!   This is essentially a reference collection made up of many different animal skeletons that help us identify the fragmented faunal remains that come into the lab.  Since the fauna of Florida is extraordinarily diverse, we have a wide collection of creatures ranging from alligators to armadillos and stingrays to snakes; we endeavor to have an example of most of the major animal species that live in our domain.

You may currently be wondering where these skeletons come from.  I’ll be the first person to admit that you don’t go into bioarchaeology if you’re squeamish.  There is a pretty high level of ick factor when acquiring comparative specimens, and it requires a serious level of dedication from our Collections staff.  Most of our specimens come from road kill, where they are collected and then buried in a discreet corner of the museum parking lot. Most people endearingly refer to this location of our campus as the Pet Cemetery.   Burying the animal allows the organic matter to decompose naturally, while leaving the skeletal remains behind. Other researchers use different methods like dermestid beetles to clean their specimens, but this process works the best for our environment.  It is also significantly friendlier to the eye (and nose) since everything is placed underground. After a number of months (sometimes years!), each specimen is carefully excavated and all of the bones are cleaned and organized anatomically.  We’re extra careful to gather all of the smaller bones, as these are often what survive the best archaeologically.

THPO staff Josh Ooyman and Domonique deBeaubien excavating a faunal specimen

Whenever a new specimen is brought into the lab, our goal is to ensure it becomes a valuable asset to our collection, so every individual bone is identified by skeletal element, labeled, and stored accordingly.  That way, when students or interns come into the lab who aren’t familiar with comparative anatomy, they have a vast resource right at their fingertips.

Out of the field and into the collection
A small sample of archaeological faunal bone from a site on the Big Cypress Reservation

Let’s take a quick look at the comparative collection in action. This photo is a classic example of what comes into the lab: tiny little pieces of mystery faunal bone!  Our job is to take those tiny fragments, and identify what they are by comparing them with intact bones from our comparative collection.  Can you tell what kind of animal bone these might be?


If you guessed alligator, that is correct!  The archaeological fragments pictured above belong to an alligator scute.  A scute is a piece of bony armored plating that runs down an alligator’s back.  Alligators have hundreds of them, and they fit together to form a protective layer of osseous body armor.  As you can see, they are approximately the same size, and share the same markings as the alligator scute from our Comparative Collection.  Even though we just had a few tiny pieces, our amazing lab staff was able to accurately identify what animal species the fragments came from!

For us, each fragment of bone tells a different story; whether it’s a family meal shared hundreds of years ago, or how far hunters journeyed for their catch.  Each story is unique, and thanks to our comparative collection, we can help bring that story to life.



The 2015 American Indian Arts Celebration

by Carrie Dilley, Visitor Services and Development Manager

The American Indian Arts Celebration, or AIAC for short, has taken place each year at the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki since the Museum opened in 1997.  The event has always featured an exciting line-up of performers, demonstrations, and vendors, and this year was no exception.  This was my second year as the overall event planner, but I have either attended or participated in every AIAC since 2008.  I might sound a little biased here, but I feel confident in saying that the 2015 event was the best AIAC yet!  Why was it the best?  Let’s take a look…

Visitation: The most obvious detail that set this year’s event apart from the rest was our overall visitation.  We were up 40% from last year! If we take a look back over the past few years, we see that we were up 55% from 2013, 144% from 2012 (no, that is not a typo!), 59% from 2011, and 35% from 2010.  We had a ton of schools come out and take advantage of our “education day” on Friday.  For the $5 group rate, AIAC is the biggest bargain of the year!  Most of our visitors came from surrounding areas but we also saw people from Canada, Italy, New York, Colombia, France, Germany, Connecticut, and Belgium.  Not only did visitors enjoy the festival, most also took advantage of visiting the Museum galleries and boardwalk for the full Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki experience.

Museum Parking Lot full of buses

Vendors:  At AIAC, there is truly something for everyone.  This year we had 44 arts and crafts vendors, three traditional Seminole food vendors, and two food trucks (three on Friday).  While many of our arts and crafts vendors were Seminole, we also had vendors from other tribes represented– Turtle Mountain Chippewa, Lower Muscogee Creek, Inca Ajibwa, Navajo, Miccosukee, and Dineh (Navajo). For something unexpected, TV-Head Co. joined us with a booth of wooden watches, bow ties, wallets, and sunglasses.


The Main Stage:  We had six different performers or demonstrations on Friday and seven on Saturday.  Tribal elder Bobby Henry provided the opening ceremony both days and engaged the audience with his traditional Seminole dances.  Billy Walker and Paul Simmons awed guest with their alligator wrestling shows.

Paul Simmons 1

The Warriors of AniKituhwa joined us from Cherokee, NC and provided a riveting dance performance.


Rita Youngman, Jerry Mincey, and Cypress Billie sang songs that told tales of Florida life.  Saturday’s patchwork fashion show showed visitors a contemporary take on a traditional Seminole dress and the Martial Arts demonstration put a whole new spin on a traditional reenactment.


Other Offerings: On top of visiting vendor booths and watching exciting performers, visitors could stop by the information booth for a food tasting featuring Seminole fry bread and sofkee. New this year, Museum and THPO staff acted as gallery docents to provide additional information to visitors inside the museum.  Saturday morning kicked off with a bird watching nature walk, where over 20 different species of birds were seen or heard!

Bird walk 3 WP_20151107_08_07_10_Pro

An outdoor exhibit installation featuring Seminole Spirit photographs, an archery station, Elgin Jumper painting “en plein air,”  a demonstration tent with three booths featuring Seminole weaponry, the Florida cow-whip, and Cherokee traditions, and a craft tent with three different (free) craft options rounded out the experience.  Last but not least, we partnered with Billie Swamp Safari to offer free shuttle rides to take our visitors to their park, where visitors could receive 50% off any attraction just by showing their AIAC wristband.

AIAC_Marlene Archery


TEAMWORK:  How did we make it all happen???  Teamwork!  The Museum and THPO staff came together and unified as one group to provide an exciting event to our visitors.  Even though the event took an incredible amount of planning, coordination, and hard work, we left with a huge smile on our faces.  We all went home Saturday evening knowing that we created an event that made the Tribal community and all of our visitors proud to be in attendance.


Juan Carrie Kate

The only negative of the event was knowing this was the last time we will have our MVP on staff, Mr. Gene Davis.  Gene, it it impossible to express how much we will all miss working with you!  Good luck in your future endeavors.

Summer Lovin

by Joy Murphy, Education Coordinator

Summertime brings lots of new, exciting, and some not-so-exciting things to The Museum. First, we’re sad to say goodbye to our Tribal student interns and volunteers. All of our Tribal student interns and volunteers attend Ahfachkee School on the reservation and the Education Section oversees their experience at the museum. Some have graduated and will be attending college this fall and after a short break, some will return to work with us either this summer or in the next school year. We were happy to have them and appreciate all of their hard work.

Some of the things that summer brings, such as the rain and the bugs, induce moans and groans. Other things, like baby animals and blooming flowers, bring about smiles of happiness. For the Education Section, summer means kids, activities, and fun.

Yes, this is the busiest and best time of year for the Education Section! For the third year in a row, we will participate in the Big Cypress Boys and Girls Club summer camp. An average of twenty campers will come to The Museum weekly for an hour of activities that will include storytelling, animal shows, and crafts. The campers are not required to come to The Museum, but volunteer to come because they enjoy the fun experiences that we offer.

For the second year, we will work with the 21st Century Learning program at Ahfachkee School. The 21st Century Learning grant, through the Florida Department of Education and the United States Department of Education, funds the program. This program focuses on S.T.E.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) and S.T.E.A.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) subjects. This year, we will teach them about scale and ratio by replicating buildings with Legos. Needless to say, we are very excited about “playing” with Legos.

Finally, for the third year, we will participate in the Family Services annual teen and youth camps. These camps are held at Camp Kulaqua in High Springs, Florida. For two weeks, campers will learn about nutrition, exercise, history, and culture in a fun, safe environment. This is collaboration with several different Tribal departments across all reservations. It’s an opportunity to introduce The Museum to Seminole youth from reservations that we don’t have the opportunity to work with on a regular basis, as well as build relationships with other Tribal departments and employees. This has been a great experience for us.



Figure 1: Winning “Minion” from the boxcar derby at youth camp. Tribal youth and Museum staff helped worked together to create this masterpiece.

Five Things You May Not Know About The Seminole Tribe of Florida

By Virginia Yarce, Development Assistant

In 2014, I spent five months commuting to the Big Cypress Seminole Reservation working with the Florida Seminole Tourism office, and I always found it worth the drive. It seemed like there was something new every day– panoramic cloud formations, encounters with wildlife, even an occasional stunning dark sky, filled with layers of stars as if looking through 3-D glasses. I wondered why more people did not come out just for the drive, to enter a world away that is really only right around the corner, or to stay for a night in the land of the unconquered.

Figure 1: Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum; Photo Credit: Marty Dawson, Tour Guide
Figure 1: Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum; Photo Credit: Marty Dawson, Tour Guide

Then, when I starting working in the Visitor Services and Development Section at the Museum in January 2015, I again looked forward to what new things I might encounter on the drive to Big Cypress, and what new things I would learn about the Seminole Tribe of Florida. In this short amount of time I have learned that the Seminole story is much more central to Florida’s history than meets the eye, and is certainly no sidebar. There is so much more to the story than a remnant of 300 Seminoles standing their ground through the Wars of Removal in the 19th century to become what is today a thriving community of over 3,000 Tribal members.

So I put together a short list of things I discovered about the Seminole story in my first month at the Museum. Here, then, are five things you may not know about the Seminole Tribe of Florida:

1. There was an alligator clan. When you visit the Big Cypress Reservation, you will pass over the “Eight Clans Bridge”, and on the Museum boardwalk you will find a nice outdoor exhibit of the eight clans: Panther, Bear, Deer, Wind, Bigtown, Bird, Snake, and Otter. After starting at the Museum, however, I was surprised to discover there were many other clans, including Tiger, Bobcat and Alligator. These clans also fought to stay in Florida, but have faded into Florida history as the last matriarch of that clan passed away. The eight clans of today’s Seminole Tribe of Florida are the followers of Sam Jones/Abiaki, the legendary Seminole leader who fiercely protected the remaining Seminoles, taking refuge in the Everglades, where alligators became, instead of a clan, an iconic symbol of Seminole culture.

Figure 2: Fall 2013 AQ featuring Sam Jones/Abiaki
Figure 2: Fall 2013 AQ featuring Sam Jones/Abiaki

2. There is a single person responsible for the Tribe’s presence in Florida today. I knew about Abiaki/Sam Jones, and had visited at least three sculptures honoring his role in Seminole history, including one at the entrance of the Museum. But not until I read the Fall 2013 Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Quarterly (AQ) did I realize his pivotal role in Seminole survival. Abiaki’s name is certain to become more readily recognized in Florida as we continue to celebrate, preserve and interpret Seminole culture and history. While Fort Lauderdale is named after Major William Lauderdale, it was Abiaki’s home in the 1820’s. His clans inhabited the “seven islands” along the Pine Island Ridge, the highest elevation in Broward County, where he defeated Major Lauderdale in battle in 1838. Today the Seminole story is also shared at sites like Long Key Nature Area where Abiaki’s historical lands are recognized.

3. Fort Lauderdale was one of hundreds of military posts built for the Seminole War effort. The United States Congress spent more money during the Seminole Wars than on the Revolutionary War, including building of many forts now familiar to us as city names. These include Fort Lauderdale, Fort Myers, Fort Jupiter, and Fort Pierce to name a few. After 20 years of living in the Fort Lauderdale area I did not associate the name of this city specifically with Seminole history, but their spirit of survival is indelibly linked not only to Fort Lauderdale, but places across the entire peninsula.

4. The Longest War. The three Seminole Wars were the longest, hardest Indian wars in U.S. History. The remaining Seminoles under Sam Jones/Abiaki remained unconquered. What may be surprising is that the Seminole Wars total 13 years of “official” fighting, but the wars were still being waged even during the in-between years. This ranks them among not only the longest Indian wars, but the longest wars in U.S. history altogether, like the Afghan War, which made headlines in 2010 as becoming the “longest war” in U.S. history. Many argued that Vietnam War’s record was not the 10 “official” years, but almost 20 years of U.S. involvement. Along these lines, one understands better the Seminole perspective of the Seminole Wars spanning over 40 years of struggle. What is even more surprising is that during the 2nd Seminole War alone, less than 2,000 Seminole warriors held off over 50,000 U.S. soldiers and volunteer militia for seven years.

5. Cowboys and Indians. No, really – cowboy Indians. Seminoles kept large herds of cattle in Florida before the Seminole Wars, including Chief Ahaya/Cowkeeper in Northern and Central Florida. Ada Tiger in Indiantown owned up to 100 head as late as 1925. The modern Seminole cattle industry started in the 1930’s, and as you drive through the Big Cypress and Brighton Reservations you can enjoy the picturesque prairies dotted with Seminole cattle. The Tribe’s cattle enterprise continues to grow with the purchase of the famous Salacoa breeding herd in northwest Georgia in 2013 and currently ranks number 5 in the United States for Cow & Calf Production with over 13,000 head of cattle.

Figure 3: Big Cypress Seminole Reservation Cattle Prairie 1
Figure 3: Big Cypress Seminole Reservation Cattle Prairie 1
Figure 4: Big Cypress Seminole Reservation Cattle Prairie 2
Figure 4: Big Cypress Seminole Reservation Cattle Prairie 2

There is always something new happening at the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum and something new to learn. The boardwalk is renovated; we have new villagers on site making award-winning basketry and other traditional Seminole arts and crafts; the Ahfachkee students have new art on display; we have new birds of prey presentations and new signage in the making. The Museum is vibrant and growing. The best way to stay in touch with new happenings at the Museum is through our Facebook and Twitter sites and through membership at the Museum, so you can visit anytime and enjoy a new and informative AQ publication each quarter. Come by the Museum or give me a call, so I can update you on any new happenings since this blog post, help you plan your next trip to Big Cypress or enroll you in a Museum membership!

Figure 5: Victor Billie Carving a Totem Pole at the Ceremonial Grounds: Photo Credit: Ellen Batchelor, Head of Security
Figure 5: Victor Billie Carving a Totem Pole at the Ceremonial Grounds: Photo Credit: Ellen Batchelor, Head of Security