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!

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.

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.

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.

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!

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
Atlatl, courtesy of

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:

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!

Seminole Summer Fun
Seminole Summer Fun Postcard designed by Eden Jumper, 2016


When Objects Visit the Doctor

By Rebecca Fell, Curator of Exhibits

Objects, like people, sometimes need to visit the doctor. Museums strive to keep objects in their best health. But some objects, like the Archer who lives in the Village of the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum, will always require a little more healthcare than others. Because his purpose is to live outdoors, the Archer deals with the wind, rain, and curious kids. The Tribal members who sell and work on their crafts in the Village keep an eye on him. So do the maintenance staff.

Sooner or later, though, the Archer needs a bath or to have a few repairs to keep him looking fit and trim. This is when the object’s doctor comes in, or conservator, if you want to be fancy about it. The conservator will make the diagnosis and often apply the treatment. Sometimes she or he will need help from other specialists to complete the treatment. In this case, the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum’s conservator, Robin Croskery-Howard, made her treatment plan and requested assistance from the Exhibits Fabricator, Nora Pinell-Hernandez. Below Robin and Nora share a little about the process that got the Archer back to his full health.

(Rebecca Fell) Tell us a little about the history of the Archer. Who made him?

(Robin Croskery-Howard) The Archer was created by artist Brad Cooley, who has created several other statues for the Tribe, including the bronze statue in front of the museum.

 (RF)Robin, tell us a little about the problem the Archer was having:

(RCH) Like most outdoor sculpture, the Archer began to have a few issues after so many years outside. Over-exposure to water and sun can do a lot of damage. Many of the areas around his hands and the folds in his clothes were cracked and worn. He also had quite a lot of pigment loss to his legs and the top of his head. Other issues included general dirt residue, insect casings, and bird droppings. All of these had to be cleaned off before any other work could begin.

(RF) It sounds like he needed a spa day as well some assistance. Describe how you make your decisions and treatment plans for the Archer?  How did you coordinate your care with Nora?

(RCH) When beginning a new treatment, it is always best to consult the latest information regarding a specific material typology or problem. Books are a great resource, as well as colleagues and professionals in related fields. After doing quite a bit of reading, a sponge bath followed by patching seemed to be the best option. I coordinated with Nora in regards to what should be done. I bathed the Archer with a special soap and water. She was able to research the best fiberglass for this sculpture and methods of application. Once clean, she applied the fiberglass and color-matched the areas that needed touchups.

(RF) Did you go back to the artist and request his help?

(RCH) When I first received the request to help the Archer, I was given the artist’s contact information. Unfortunately, by the time I began on the project in earnest (about a month later), the artist had passed away. It is always better when the conservator can have input from the artist in regards to the care of their artwork.

(RF)Nora, describe your process for us:

(Nora Pinell-Hernandez) Typically I work like a mad scientist in my (home) shop, mixing materials and colors to get the result I want. But the Archer is not an experiment – he depicts a Seminole warrior and needs to be treated with the utmost care. My first task was to research resins that would be used to compensate for large cracks on the Archer’s clothing

(RF) Tell us about resin:

(NPH) The resin has to withstand high humidity, be able to fill a hollow area of about 1/4”, sandable, adhere well to other materials, and not cause damage to the original material. We selected Aqua-Resin because it fulfilled all of these requirements but even better – it is a water-based, non-toxic resin. Don’t let the water-solubility fool you – Aqua-Resin is very tough when used with fiberglass and after leaving it out in the swampy environment for over a month it definitely won its place in our tool cart.

(RF) How about when you are mixing up the paint?

(NPH) Before I began work on the Archer, Robin and I tested the material on a small part of the big shirt. I then did another set of experiments using multiple grades of sandpaper to obtain the same smooth surface as the Archer. Next, I had to see how well the new surface took to the second most important aspect – the paint!

I used Gamblin paint which is a high quality acrylic. As a fine artist I have a knack for matching paint – probably from trying to fix all of the scratches on my own paintings (I’m a bit clumsy in my personal studio). Not only did I need to color match, I also needed to get the right sheen. The Archer’s clothing has a semi-gloss finish while the hands and face are less lustrous and the belt is a matte black. The Archer is placed under direct sunlight, making imperfections easier to spot which meant the texture and paint color had to look seamless. I hope that when you visit the Archer you will be unable to distinguish where the cracks used to be.

 (RF) What is his purpose in the Museum?

(RCH) The Archer usually stands sentinel in the Village about half-way around our boardwalk. He is an example of what a mid to late 19th century Seminole man who was bow hunting would look like. His bigshirt and kerchief are both solid colored.

(RF) What other considerations did you keep in mind in getting the Archer back to health?

(RCH) We had to remember that the Archer was going back out into the same environment from whence he came. This means that he’ll be exposed to the same stressors, and will likely need an annual checkup next fall to ensure that he’s still in tip-top shape.

(RF) How did Hurricane Irma affect the Archer and his treatment?

(RCH) The Archer weathered Irma quite well, with only minimal damage. However, some of the process had to be repeated, due to the nature of destruction during a hurricane.

Thank you for sharing your insight on this process, Robin and Nora. It sounds like the Archer had quite recuperation under the Curatorial Chickee.

If you would like to see the Archer back in action, take a stroll to our Village grounds. The Village is located at the halfway point of our mile long boardwalk. He is the quiet type, but the ladies and gentleman working in the village will gladly talk with you.

Image 20171023_110449 After receiving a gentle bath, the Archer is being patched up by Nora. He is patient and quiet as she works.
Image 20171201_100323 The Archer is back in his favorite spot, ready to go hunting.

The Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum and Museum Store Sunday

MSS media

by Rebecca Petrie, Retail Manager

This November there will be a new post-Thanksgiving shopping event- Museum Store Sunday!  Museum stores from around the globe – from Belgium to New Zealand and all across the USA – will participate on Sunday, November 26 (the Sunday after Thanksgiving). With a tag line “Be a Patron” this event encourages holiday shoppers to remember their favorite museum stores. Shoppers will not only find quality gifts filled with inspiration and educational value, but through their purchases, will also directly support their favorite museums. Buying gifts at a museum store helps to foster ongoing appreciation and knowledge of art, nature, culture, science, and history of that museum. As a patron your purchase from the museum store helps to sustain the museum’s service to the public. What a wonderful win-win situation!

The Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum Store will be offering a free gift with every purchase on November 26 as well as a chance to win our newest Seminole Doll ornament the Seminole Boy Doll.

Gold and red Boy doll 2017 2
Seminole Boy Doll ornament

Joining the beloved girl doll, the Seminole Boy Doll is also a mouth-blown glass ornament that is hand-painted in the old European tradition. His big shirt is decorated with glittering rick-rack and patchwork and in addition he wears real feathers in his turban as well as a fabric neckerchief around his neck. A collectable item designed exclusively for the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum, these ornaments are only available for a short time.

Requests for both of our exclusive Girl and Boy Doll ornaments have been tremendous as folks know that these designs change every holiday season.

All dolls 2017
ALL of the 2017 Seminole Doll Ornaments!

The doll ornaments have joined our other exclusive ornament – one that has been popular for the past seven years – the Seminole Patchwork ornament.  The 2017 Patchwork ornament continues the celebration Seminole Tribe of  Florida’s 60th years of federal recognition.

THE ornament
2017 Seminole Patchwork inspired ornament

Adapted from the patchwork pattern on a big shirt worn by Tiger Tail, the blue ball is encircled with sparkling golden diamonds (60 years = Diamond Anniversary) and deep red bands.

These are only a few of the treasures that you will find at the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum Store this holiday season and throughout the year – we have books on Seminole history as well as hand crafted jewelry, clothing that sparkles and changes colors and much, much more.

We here at the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum Store encourage you to make the beautiful drive to the Big Cypress Seminole reservation on Sunday, November 26 to Be a Patron!  If you can’t make it to visit us, then please check out your local museum store – you will be richly rewarded!

To see a sampling of the items available at the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum Store please go to and for a full listing of the Museum’s events check out

For more information about Museum Store Sunday and a full listing of participating museum stores please go to

 Museum Store Sunday2


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 , Twitter, and Facebook.

Boardwalk fully repaired after the storm