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.



You Stay Classy San Diego: A Vlog from the Esri Conference

By Juan J. Cancel, Chief Data Analyst and Roberto Luque, Geospatial Analyst

Figuring out how geography can be applied everywhere was the theme for this year’s Esri User Conference. This is a conference with attendees from all over the world, that gather to help advance spatial understanding. We wanted to create a unique experience for our blog readers, so we decided to do a daily video blog to capture our trip. I hope everyone enjoys this and understands that our attendence represents more than just ourselves, it represents where we stand as an office and a Tribe amongst GIS professionals from around the world. We also want to thank Dennis Zielstra our videographer and Kate Macuen our video editor, we would not have been able to make this vlog without them. To view the vlog, please follow the YouTube link.

PS – Shout to all our peeps we forgot in the video: To Anne, Moe, Brad, Beck, all THPO Staff, all Museum Staff, Seminole Tribe and anyone else we forgot to mention! 🙂

(Posted by James Powell on behalf of Dr. Paul Backhouse, Museum Director and Tribal Historic Preservation Officer)

A Trip to the Red Bay Community on Andros Island

by Paul Backhouse

A couple of weeks ago I had an opportunity to visit the Red Bay community on Andros Island in the Bahamas and thought our blog readers might be interested in hearing more about it.  Departing early in the morning from the Big Cypress Reservation in a small aircraft and flying southeast of the Florida peninsular we soon glimpsed the surprisingly large land mass of Andros Island out of the plane windows. Andros Island was not like the other Bahamian islands I had previously travelled to and viewed from the air much of the more than 100 miles of coastline is largely undeveloped.

Interior of Andros Island and the small airfield that serves the main Fresh Creek settlement.

We were soon on the ground and warmly welcomed by folks who had invited the Chairman of the Tribe, James Billie, to visit their island.  Our visit also happened to coincide with “Crab Fest” and we were received with full VIP treatment for the event.  The crustaceans in question were indeed formidable beasts, large land crabs that roam the island. We had spotted a particularly large one on route to the festival as he foraged for algae (their main diet) amongst the bushes.  At the festival a small enclosure allowed us to get a closer look at some specimens and the pincers certainly were impressive!

Large land crab in the enclosure at the Fresh Creek Crab Fest.

We were not at the festival long before we were on the road bumping our way up the Queen’s Highway to the Red Bay settlement on the northwest tip of the island.  The drive was long and for me most enjoyable as were driving on the correct side of the road (the left!).  Our observation from the air had been correct and we barely saw any other houses until we reached the small settlement of Red Bay.  This community was the primary reason for our trip.  The people living in this area are largely descendants of indigenous and ‘Black Seminole’ communities that had escaped Florida in 1821 shortly after Spain ceded Florida to the US.  As we bounced down the road I tried to imagine the struggle that these people had been through to reach Andros Island and the hardships that they had endured.    

Once we reached the Red Bay settlement it became almost immediately obvious that the community had distinct cultural origins.  Palmetto leaves were hanging outside a small wooden house as we pulled up.  We were warmly welcomed into the house and introduced to the residents – Reverend Bertram A. Newton and his wife Rose Newton.

Palmetto fronds hang drying in preparation for use in traditional basketry still practiced in the Red Bay community.

Reverend Newton was a tremendously kind individual and I felt privileged to witness him and his wife meeting the Chairman of the Seminole Tribe.  Rose was busy making a basket in her living room, weaving palmetto leaves together without use of any additional materials to make beautiful baskets.  During the visit I was struck by the heat within the wooden framed housing.  No air conditioners and only limited breezes from the doors and windows that were wide open.

Chairman James Billie meets Reverend Newton at his home in Red Bay.

A little further up the road we came across a compound of houses that rose had directed us to in order to purchase one of her beautiful baskets.  We were interested to see the compound was arranged so that a cooking area was set-aside in a separate structure and a palmetto ‘camp’ structure was also still being used.

Thatched ‘camp’ structure at the Red Bay settlement.

At this camp we purchased basketry that had been crafted by Rose and also her sister Eva.  I selected a rather handsome basket that was crafted by Eva and this will be added to our collection back at the museum shortly.  We hope you will get the opportunity to visit and see the basket yourself and as for me I will never forget my visit to the Red Bay community.

Can you dig it?

It’s time for an update from the Outreach committee of the THPO. With our mock dig box being so well received at the Second Seminole War Reenactment Shoot Out and Junior Archaeology Day events, the THPO will be joining the fun at the Seminole Tribe of Florida’s annual Swamp Kids Summer Fun Festival & Slumber Party! This two day festival includes swamp buggy rides, face painting, animal displays, and Native storytelling, among other fun activities. The THPO will host activities at the festival including our mock dig box, where kids can be an archaeologist and see just what it is we do every day. We will have a mock excavation roped off to demonstrate what an actual excavation test unit would look like


THPO will also host the Chungkee Stone, where attendees can play a traditional game native to North America. The archaeological record of materials associated with this game date back to over 3,000 B.P.. The game is known to have been played throughout the Eastern Woodlands, South East, as well as the Great Plains Native communities via historic accounts from the 1,500s.


The Swamp Kids Summer Fun Festival & Slumber Party will be held on June 22nd and 23rd from 11:00am until 4:00pm each day at the Billie Swamp Safari on the Big Cypress Reservation.



In late July/early August, the THPO will participate with numerous other STOF departments in the 9th annual Seminole Youth Camp. This year’s theme, Health, Wellness, and Culture, promotes healthy living and lifestyle choices. The THPO will be leading a discussion and activity addressing health through time and culture. The activity will use a variety of items associated with different time periods in Florida’s history to illustrate how archaeology can shed light onto the health and lifestyle choices of historic and prehistoric cultures. It’s sure to be both a fun and educational activity.


The THPO is looking forward to these events and sharing our knowledge of archaeology and what can be learned through it. Happy summer!

Written by: Karen Black

Investigating an Early 20th Century Trading Post

One of the exciting projects recently undertaken by the THPO is the investigation of Brown’s Trading Post, which was an early 20th century store located on the Big Cypress Reservation. Brown’s Trading Post was established in 1901 by Bill Brown, his wife Jane, and their ten children. During this period, trading posts were found throughout South Florida and especially along the two coasts. Some of the more prominent posts included Stranahan’s store in Fort Lauderdale and Storter’s at Everglade. While these stores provided numerous trade opportunities for the Seminoles, they required at least three to four days of travel to reach. The establishment of Brown’s Trading Post lessened the amount of travel to one to two days.

Brown’s Trading Post was settled on a high area on the reservation, though additional soil may have been added for more elevation above the water. On his move to the area in 1901, Brown cleared about an acre of land and constructed a house, store, barn, and various outbuildings. In order for the Seminoles to be able to pole their canoes directly to the store, Brown excavated a ditch about one hundred yards from the store to the deeper water. For the most part, the Seminoles would supply Brown with alligator hides, otter skins, egret plumes, and raccoon hides and in return would receive grits, flour, sugar, pots, pans, and skillets. At times, men would trade or buy derby hats, watches, and vests while the women would attain beads for personal adornment.

In 1908, Brown decided to move his family back to Immokalee so that his wife’s health might improve. Upon Brown’s leaving, an Episcopal mission, under the guidance of a Dr. W.J. Godden, was set up at the location of the post. During this time, Dr. Godden also continued to trade and sell items to the Seminoles. In 1913, the area was abandoned and the buildings were moved to a new mission site. It is unknown what the area was used for between 1913 and 1970, at which time another store was built where Brown’s Trading Post once stood.

Archaeological excavations at Brown’s Trading Post have occurred numerous times in the past twenty years. The first investigation was conducted by the Archaeological and Historical Conservancy, Inc. in 1990. During this examination, archaeologists found black glass bottle base fragments that date from 1900-1910 and an iron axe that also dates to 1900. A later survey in 2005 conducted by Janus research found numerous historic nails, as well as glass and porcelain fragments, a 19th century survey sight, and a porcelain doll’s head.

Although the THPO has just begun excavations on what is believed to be the location of Brown’s Trading Post, numerous exciting items have already been found. The majority of the artifacts recovered include glass fragments, faunal material (animal bones), and unidentifiable metal objects. One of the most interesting finds includes a bead that may be one of the items that was bought at Brown’s store.

For more information about the history of Brown’s Trading Posts and trade occurring in South Florida in the early 20th century please refer to Harry A. Kersey’s work entitled Pelts, Plumes, and Hides: White Traders among the Seminole Indians 1870-1930.