My name is Julie Richko Labate and I am the Tribal Archaeologist here at Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki. The Tribal Archaeology Section, or TAS as we like to call ourselves, works with the Tribal Historic Preservation Office, or THPO, to protect and preserve artifacts and important archaeological sites. We are responsible for the pre-emptive cultural survey of areas undergoing development on all Seminole Tribe of Florida Reservations.
The Tribal Historic Preservation Office’s Research Assistant, David Brownell, appears as a guest blogger in this segment. Below he talks about the amazing discovery of a fossilized mammoth tooth, along with a number of other large animal remains on the Big Cypress Reservation:
Tribal Historic Preservation Officer Willard Steele, who made the initial discovery when he spotted the tooth protruding from spoil piles left over from recent canal dredging, estimates the bones date back around 10,000 years to the Pleistocene Era. During this time, Florida had a much drier climate, and due to lower sea levels, was actually much larger in terms of land mass than it is today, almost twice its current size. Instead of being covered in rivers, lakes, and wetlands like the Everglades, the dry climate produced a savannah covered by hardy grasses and scattered oaks, which would have looked very similar to the African savannah of today.
Over these vast savannahs roamed mega-fauna like the mammoth, Giant Sloth, camel, American Bison, and mastodon, another relative of the elephant that was much smaller in size. North America was inhabited by a number of mammoth species, ranging from the Imperial Mammoth, the second largest known species which stood 16 feet tall at the shoulder, to the Columbian and Jefferson Mammoths, which are argued to be the same species and were slightly smaller. Though they were herbivores, consuming an estimated 700 pounds of plant material each day to maintain their massive size, they also possessed impressive tusks to deter would-be predators. In fact, though their tusks averaged around 6.5 feet, one specimen uncovered in Texas had tusks reaching 16 feet long. The mastodons were another elephant-related family found here, but were much smaller than their mammoth cousins. Due to the warmer climate, these mammoths lacked the woolly coat of their cousins in Europe and Asia, and would have had skin similar to modern African Elephants, but with small patches of hair on their shoulders and head.
These herbivores were stalked by predators like the Dire Wolf, Saber-toothed Cat, American Lion (similar to its African counterpart but larger), and the short-faced bear, which stood up to 13 feet tall and weighed up to 1,200 pounds. Though there is no evidence that this particular mammoth was killed by humans, they did interact, and there have been multiple archaeological finds including actual kill sites that prove they were hunting mammoth in Florida. Mammoths died out between 10,000 and 5,000 years ago, with the last hold outs in northern Alaska and Russia becoming extinct between 4,000 to 2,000 years ago; though the cause of extinction is unknown, it is generally thought that a combination of shifts in global climate along with increased hunting pressure from humans led to their demise.
This coming May, the Florida Gulf Coast University will be teaming up the Tribal Historic Preservation Office (THPO) of the Seminole Tribe of Florida to host an archaeological field school on the Big Cypress Reservation. An archaeology field school is an archaeology dig that is organized to train the next generation of archaeologists.
This year, students will be learning how to excavate at the Waxy Hadjo’s Landing Site. Originally discovered in 2001 by Willard Steele, the site shows remnants of multiple periods in time. The site’s occupation spans from prehistoric (where a mammoth skeleton was found in the area a few years back!) all the way to the nineteenth century where there is believed to be remnants of a Seminole Village, to modern times where it is still used as a cow pasture. Many exotic materials were found during this survey, showing evidence of the importance of this geographic point at where people and trade goods often passed through. We are hoping to focus our research on evaluating the Waxy Hadjo’s Landing Site for possible inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places and will look to engage Tribal members with outreach throughout the project.
Students will be participating with the THPO as part of the Council Approved THPO Internship Program. The THPO’s staff will also play a major role in the field school and will be very instrumental in the execution of the project. Such members include, most notably Dr. Paul Backhouse, Juan Cancel, Cori McClarran and Ryan Hesse.
This year’s field school is full; however, if you are interested in future field schools or other opportunities with the THPO, please contact:
The Tribal Archaeology Section is getting geared up to help out with this year’s American Indian Arts Celebration which will be held on the AH-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum Grounds November 5-7th, 2010. The celebration includes a showcase of traditional and modern Native American arts, dance and music.
We will be featuring some exciting talks on all aspects of archaeology, including a presentation on “Tools of War” by Ryan Hesse. This talk will give you a taste for the upcoming museum exhibit opening in January of 2011. The upcoming exhibit will feature Arms of the Seminole Wars, yet we will give you a run down on the weapons used leading up to this time. We will have demonstrations performed by our “Expert” Flint Knappers Geoffrey Wasson and Nathan Lawres, an Atlatl demonstration/ activity by “Master Hunter” Derek Braun, not to mention some of our Environmental folks talk about the flora and fauna.
We have plenty of hands on activities for the kiddies such as pottery reconstruction for beginners, experienced and expert levels and our mystery boxes that’ll leave you guessing.
For more information, become our friend on facebook and you will be the first to know about this and many more upcoming events sponsored by the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum.
Are you a student or just interested in archaeology? Here at the Tribal Historic Preservation Office, would-be archaeologists can come along on our digs and see just what it means to be an archaeologist. One of our interns, Amanda Rodriguez, shares her experience:
Having had the opportunity to work as an intern for the Tribal Historic Preservation Office this summer has been a memorable experience. The Tribal Archaeology Section and its members allowed me the chance to combine the material I had been taught in previous courses and apply it in the field. As I approach my senior year at Florida Gulf Coast University this fall, I feel more confident in my future career plans. At the THPO, I got to witness the path that many degree holding anthropologists take at the professional level. Conducting archaeological surveys for the Seminole Tribe of Florida requires the use of advanced equipment and computer software, as well as strenuous manual work.
One of the best experiences that I had while working with the Tribal Archaeology Section occurred towards the end of my internship. After weeks of working in the field, excavating shovel tests and test units, I had the opportunity to work for a day in the laboratory under the Collections Section. That experience allowed me to understand how the TAS, as well as the other sections, makeup parts of a whole that is the Tribal Historic Preservation Office. Together, each section creates a functioning and well organized unit. The artifacts collected during excavations are carefully bagged and the information pertaining to them written on several forms as well as on the bag itself. In the Collections Section, this information is reviewed, the artifacts analyzed, identified and stored. Working in the lab showed me how both sections operate simultaneously for the same cause, which is the preservation of Seminole history.
The time that I spent working as an intern for the Seminole Tribe of Florida has been an unforgettable experience. I find myself truly impressed with the way in which the THPO functions and believe that it can serve as a model for other tribal offices across the country. The professionalism and integrity by which it is run certainly supports its mission statement:
“Our office seeks to foster the understanding and appreciation of the Seminole people and their place in humanity’s shared heritage through investigation, interpretation, preservation and management of the Tribe’s cultural resources.”
If you are interested in the internship program, please contact Dr. Paul Backhouse at:
Indiana Jones and Tombraider were nowhere in sight at the 2009 field season at the suspected Fort Shackelford site on the Big Cypress Reservation. While the archaeologists at the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum are not being chased by Russian spies, we do have some exciting things happening that impact the archaeological community. The following is an account from one of our field technicians on his experience in the field:
My name is Derek Braun. I am an archaeological field technician for the Tribal Archaeology Section (TAS), but I also assist and conduct Ground-Penetrating Radar (GPR) Surveys for the TAS and Tribal Historic Preservation Office (THPO). GPR is a non-invasive geophysical surveying technique which can be used to find some archaeological features. In layman’s terms, “GPR works by sending a tiny pulse of energy into a material and recording the strength and the time required for the return of any reflected signal http://www.geophysical.com/WhatIsGPR.htm, (2010).” The basic steps for GPR are as follows: a survey is conducted over an area likely to have archaeological remains, the data has to be processed to make a visual image showing high reflection areas (possible archaeological features), and finally the high reflection areas are ground truthed or excavated to determine an explanation for said anomaly. For more detailed information see the GSSI website posted above. One of the most common uses in archaeology for GPR is cemetery mapping.
While employed by the Seminole Tribe of Florida (STOF), I have assisted Dr. Kent Schneider with the GPR survey for the Fort Shackelford relocation project. Ft. Shackelford was an early to mid-nineteenth century military fort located on the Big Cypress Reservation. We surveyed a large portion of land surrounding the Fort Shackelford monument. In the spring of 2009, an archaeological field school was conducted under the supervision of the STOF-THPO, and the Florida Golf Coast University. The field school provided a chance to ground truth some of the high reflection anomalies found after the processing of the GPR data for the Fort Shackelford relocation project survey. Unfortunately, no archaeological features were located during the field school. This should not reflect negatively on GPR, because like any process negative results will exist. Personally, I have seen a number of archaeological features located using GPR in the academic and professional field. Hopefully this brief glimpse into GPR will inspire some of you to look into or pursue a career in geophysical surveying techniques for archaeology.
If you are interested in learning more about Ft. Shackelford or about the Tribal Historic Preservation Office in general, join us at the Florida Anthropological Society Meeting which will be held on May 7-9, 2010 in Fort Myers. We will be discussing the results of a unique collaborative research project between the Tribal Historic Preservation Office of the Seminole Tribe of Florida and the Anthropology Program at Florida Gulf Coast University. Hope to see you there!