Wednesday, April 20, 2016

CLAASP: Communities of Lake Apopka Artifact Survey Project

Unprovenienced artifacts from a private collection on the shores of Lake Apopka.

At FPAN, we are often at the front lines of conversations with the public about the collection of artifacts. This is a complex conversation and one that has a number of different, important viewpoints. Artifact collection by non-professionals is prohibited on public lands without a research permit and disallowed on private lands without a landowner's permission (More info here).  Despite these protections, artifact collection by non-professionals is a persistent practice in many areas of Florida, as well as throughout the world for that matter. Traditionally, the relationship between collectors and the professional community has been fraught with tensions and disagreements about how best to preserve our shared history. Archaeologists in general support preservation and mitigation of impacts on archaeological sites, digging only to answer research questions. A critique from the collector community is that archaeologists do not do enough to protect sites; often, the collector community feels that they are doing valuable work to preserve information that would otherwise not be known about. One significant point of contention is that some in the artifact collector community dig artifacts in order to sell them, something never done by professional archaeologists. There has often, though intermittently, been attempts to bridge the gap between these two camps. On the part of the archaeologists, there is a, begrudging at times, acknowledgement that local artifact collectors may have excellent information to impart about the location of archaeological resources. On the part of collectors, there is a feeling that their goal of preservation is not recognized as such by the professional community, that they are not being acknowledged for their contributions to a field of study they feel passionately about. The CLAASP program is an attempt to bridge the gap between these two groups and to engage the public in the preservation of cultural resources in their local area, the Lake Apopka region of Central Florida. 
56 archaeological sites are within 1 mile of Lake Apopka (map credit: FMSF).

Lake Apopka is Florida's 5th largest lake. It covers over 30,000 acres and has a long history of prehistoric and historic occupation. In the most recent decades it was a center of agricultural production. Though never heavily populated, that trend is changing now as crops, especially citrus, become unprofitable to produce in the area and land is sold to real estate development. In terms of archaeology Lake Apopka and the Central Florida Region has not enjoyed near the levels of professional archaeological interest shown in other parts of the state. As a result, we actually know relatively little about the groups of people that inhabited the region for thousands of years. Currently, the Florida Master Site File only has 56 recorded sites within 1 mile of Lake Apopka, an astonishingly small number for such a large lake feature, especially one that has had documented occupation dating back to Florida's Paleoindian period. This small number of recorded sites represents the work of the professional community in the region which is dictated by professional research, funding for projects, or mitigation projects undertaken by CRM firms. The collector community, however, has been hard at work in the area for decades. Many of these collectors have accumulated far more archaeological material than they can reasonably store and so parts of their collections are often donated to the small museums or nature centers around the lake to be used in outreach and education. These remain, however, unprovenienced and undocumented artifacts that do not serve to answer any broader questions about the lifeways of the peoples who previously inhabited the Lake Apopka Region. 
The Oakland Nature Preserve interprets the environment and cultural hsitory of Lake Apopka.

FPAN has had a presence in this region for several years and has developed long-standing relationships with important cultural and environmental centers around the lake such as the Oakland Nature Preserve. Last year the Director of the Preserve informed us that a local collector had donated buckets worth of cast-off artifacts. The collector's hope was that pottery sherds or lithic flakes could be given to students who visited the Preserve as a keepsake. We suggested against this and worked to engage the collector in a different type of education outreach instead. From this initial contact with the collector grew the idea to work together to record these unprovenienced collections that had been donated to the local cultural institutions around the lake. Our goal was to hold public lab days and to involve the public and collector community in documenting these resources to showcase how artifact assemblages are used to answer questions about the past. And that is where we are at!
Volunteers from the public assist in artifact sorting.

Volunteers assist in almost every step of labwork.

CLAASP is up and running at the Oakland Nature Preserve. We have been posting open lab days where the public is welcome to do the work of archaeologists and assist in recording information about these collections that may otherwise have languished in a closet. Once we are done at the Preserve we will move to another institution around the lake and begin lab work there. Our goal is to provide some basic information about the types of artifacts present in this area and to hopefully generate interest in further professional research. If nothing else, the public will be helping us to record invaluable information about a quickly changing landscape. We look forward to creating new partnerships and bridging any gaps we come across; this is an experiment and we hope you will join in!

Text and pics (except where noted): Kevin Gidusko

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