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Saint Augustine, Northeast Florida
Going public with archaeology for outreach, assistance to local governments, and service to the citizens and state of Florida. Visit our website at: http://flpublicarchaeology.org/nerc/
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Archive for March 2010

Enlightening at the Lighthouse

On the first day of Spring, the 18th annual St. Augustine Lighthouse Festival rocked Anastasia Island. With the event rounding out the Maritime Conference hosted by the Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program (LAMP), this year's event was bigger, better, and more maritime than ever. Many different organizations and groups turned out for the festival, including the Coast Guard, the St. Augustine Archaeological Association, and the staff from the GTM Research Reserve (located near Ponte Vedra).

New to the festival this year was a wooden boat show which invited hobbyists to come and display their wooden water crafts. In addition, the public was invited to walk around the historic grounds and climb the lighthouse, free of charge.

Under clear spring skies, the FPAN interns handed out this year's Florida Archaeology Month poster in addition to having an "Anchor Mapping" activity. This activity challenged the would-be maritime archaeologist to map out an anchor and heavy chain through using a grid system, similar to the way archaeologists do when "in the field." By using this system, archaeologists attempt to get a more accurate drawing of the features and artifacts that are found in various bodies of water (be it lake, ocean, river, etc). These drawing are key for projects where under-water photography or videography are unlikely to be successful.
Until next time Mateys!

A Mound of Mystery

Sanchez Mound in St. Johns County is a little-known remnant of north Florida’s Native American past. Located at Guana-Tolomato-Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve (GTM-NERR) near Ponte Vedra, the mound must be protected from a number of elements. It has been badly looted on one side and has suffered some from wild hogs that live in the Reserve. Today it stands inside a hog fence, which keeps out both humans and feral pigs that damaged it in the past.

I recently accompanied St. Johns County’s Historic Resources Specialist and archaeologist Robin
Moore to the mound along with two members of the GTM-NERR staff. The mound, made of sandy soil and oyster shell, stands about 3 meters high and is roughly 20 meters in diameter. We could see the results of the mound’s most recent damage. Tree stumps peppered the structure. Staff had cut down the trees in 2005 to prevent their roots from further displacing soil and artifact deposits. We could also see where people destroyed parts of it in the past by looting. The biggest threat to the mound today, though, was still present in force. Endangered gopher tortoises have burrowed there in recent years, and because they are protected they can’t be forcibly removed. The NERR plans to begin relocating the tortoises in the spring as they come out of their burrows to get some sun.

The site has never been formally excavated, but a little information exists about how and when the mound likely came to be. The mound is most likely a special-purpose structure, rather than just a midden (also known as a trash deposit). During our visit, Robin and I noted a ceramic sherd that had been pushed to the surface by a small burrowing animal. We consulted some experts on Native American pottery and learned that it is likely a piece of Crooked River Complicated Stamped. That type of pottery is typically found in northwest Florida and southwest Georgia. It dates to the Woodland Period, about 1000-2000 years ago.

Since the mound has never been formally excavated, it still
holds a lot of valuable information about the people who built and used it. We know that it was an important part of life for the people who lived there. Today it makes up just a part of the rich cultural and environmental landscape at GTM-NERR.

A Mound Fit for Royalty?

Mount Royal in Putnam County is one of many mounds that CB Moore excavated in the late 1800s. Moore reportedly excavated two-thirds of this structure then put it back roughly the way he found it. As with his other work, Moore collected a lot of artifacts and information about the site. But since his excavation methods were not very precise (especially compared to modern excavations), he also lost some evidence about the people who built the mound.

What we know about Mount Royal today is that it was likely the burial place of chiefs and high-status people. It was probably built between AD1100-1600. It was made up of layers of yellow and white sand, and the very last (or top) deposit included a mixture of red ochre and sand. One side of the mound had a long, wide, ramp-like structure that extended to a small lake. Some archaeologists think that the moundbuilders created the lake by drawing dirt for the structure from that area.

When he investigated the mound, Moore discovered a variety of ceremonial artifacts. Many of the objects are considered part of the Southeastern Ceremonial Complex. Those objects used imagery related to Mississippian culture, which stretched from the Midwest into the south. The culture spanned a few hundred years, lasting from about 1200 to 1650AD. Mississippian culture for the most part is characterized by chiefdoms, use of mound structures, and presence of agriculture, particularly growing corn. Artifacts related to the Complex rely on some very specific imagery, such as a forked-eye design. They reflect the importance of warfare, ancestors, and fertility. In fact, some of the artifacts that Moore recovered from Mount Royal look very similar to those found in mounds in Spiro, Oklahoma.

Though Mount Royal certainly indicates a political structure involving chiefdom, it was not truly part of a Mississippian culture. The people who lived there certainly built mounds and had high-status chiefs, but they did not engage in much agriculture and did not appear to grow any corn at all. The people who lived at Mount Royal were able to rely heavily on the nearby waters and rich local environment for food.

Mount Royal stands today in Welaka, Florida and is nestled in a residential neighborhood with a nearby airstrip. The site is owned by the state of Florida, so it can be visited by the public.

Its that time of year again!

March is Florida Archaeology Month and the 2010 installment has been building up to to be a memorable experience. This year's theme is mounds, otherwise recognized as earthworks that have been constructed by native peoples for various purposes over the past thousands of years. Specifically, Florida is home to many mounds that dot the state's landscape. Archaeologists have worked very hard to be able to understand why these mounds were constructed, even though who built these mounds and when the mounds were constructed is known. The cultures who constructed these earthen monuments are known as moundbuilders.
Made out of earth and sometimes clay and shell, the mounds are considered monuments of the past because of the cultural significance in the native's social, political, and religious systems. The cultural importance of the mounds can be found in the artifacts that are included in the makeup of the earthworks. Sacred items, such as special vessels that held important medicines and imported objects from Mississippi and Georgia, have been found in several of the Florida Mounds.

Over the past century, many mounds have been mined for use in road construction and fertilizer, among other things. Mix this with commercial and residential construction and vandalism, and we have an intense need for awareness, protection, and preservation of these important monuments. The best way to learn about the mounds of Florida is to GET OUT THERE AND VISIT one (or many)!
Don't know where to go? Then come to any of the FAM events that are going to be held during the month of March all over Florida and pick up one of this year's FAM posters where you can find more information about mounds and the location of several mounds you can visit. Check out FPAN Northeast's website (http://www.fpannortheast.org/) to see where we will be for your next opportunity to pick one up for free and support archaeology.
See you soon!
--Rosalie Cocci

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