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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 October 2016

From Frightening to Facts: Human Sacrifice

Human sacrifice was practiced throughout various cultures in history. Sacrifice was common until the development of new religions in Europe, and until the colonization of the Americas. A quick google search of human sacrifice and you will mostly find information about Aztec sacrifices, though they were not the only culture to use human sacrifice as part of their rituals. While movies depict sacrifice as part of ancient Rome or in the deep jungles of the Amazon, human sacrifice was practiced here in Florida up to the point of colonization by the Spanish.

The Calusa, were a group of indigenous peoples that inhabited Florida’s southwest coast. Calusa territory was widespread and included all of the modern day Charlotte and Lee counties. At the time the Spanish met the Calusa, they were estimated to have a population of 10,000, however this is speculative. They were known for their complex estuarine fisheries and 93% of the animals in their diet came from fish and shellfish. The Spanish described their society as being divided between nobles and commoners. The tribe was lead by a chief, a military leader, and a chief priest. The Calusa lived in large communal housing with Pedro Menéndez de Avilés describing the chief’s house as being large enough to comfortably hold 2,000 people.

There is a sizeable written record of the Calusa society that was created by Hernando de Escalante Fontaneda, a shipwreck survivor who lived amongst the Calusa for seventeen years. Fontaneda was found by Menéndez in 1566 and taken back to Spain were he wrote memoirs of his time amongst the Calusa. In his memoirs he describes the ritual human sacrifices performed by the tribe. When the child of a cacique or chief died, residents gave up a child to be sacrificed. When a chief died, his servants were sacrificed to join him in death. Later sacrifices seemed to only involve the Spanish invaders, and did not involve the death of any of the nobility. The Calusa constructed mounds were ceremonies were held, and it was recorded that the chief’s house was built on top of an earthwork mound.

When there is no written record to go by, how do archaeologists determine if human sacrifice or ritual killings were performed? Bioarchaeology allows for the analysis of markings left on bones to determine how an individual died, or injuries they sustained during their lifetime. The location of cut marks on anterior body surfaces of cervical vertebrae indicate the individual had their throat slit. Cut marks on the anterior thoracic region can indicate the victim had their chest cut open, which was sometimes done to access the heart. Trophy heads, which may or may not have involved ritual killing, have telltale skeletal modifications as well. The skulls of trophy heads have a perforation in the frontal bone, used to support a rope handle, and often the base of the skull is damaged. The Calusa were known for keeping the heads of Spanish invaders, however the documentation suggests that said heads were left under a tree. Bioarchaeologists around the world analyze skeletal remains to get a glimpse into the lives of the deceased and often provide us with evidence that fills in gaps in the written record. 

While human sacrifice is a thing of the past, it may not be as distant as one is lead to believe from movies and TV shows. Human sacrifice occurred throughout the world at various times in our history and continues to live on through depictions in media. While the Aztecs seem to dominate human sacrifice in popular culture, it is important to know that they were not the only ones who employed human sacrifice in their rituals. 

Written by FPAN Staff, Megan Liebold

Images: Aztec drawingMap, and Calusa 

From Frightening to Facts: Roanoke, The Lost Colony

The Roanoke colony has become popular amongst urban legends and conspiracy theories a like. There are many theories today of what happened to the settlers who came to Roanoke, from cannibalism to migration, no one really has any solid proof of what happened to the 115 colonists who were left in the settlement. However Roanoke has a colorful history even before the colony was abandoned. Roanoke was the site of the first English childbirth in the “New World” and also hosted refugees that introduced tobacco, maize and potatoes to Europe.  Roanoke, also now known as the Lost Colony, was meant to gather riches for England and serve as a base for privateers to raid Spanish treasure ships. The first group of colonists arrived in 1585. Colonist relation with the existing native population was tumultuous at best. The invading colonists accused the people of the Aquascogoc village of stealing a silver cup, their retaliation for the cup was to raid and torch the Aquascogoc village. A violent act that would not go unnoticed or forgiven by the natives. Despite the sour relationship with the native peoples and lack of food, the Roanoke settlers built a fort and left 108 people on the island with the promise to return with more supplies. The relief ships however did not return when promised and the natives, angered by the burning of their own village, attacked the Roanoke fort. The fort was able to repel the attack but relations between the two parties were clearly getting tense. Francis Drake visited the colonists on a return trip from the Caribbean, he took several of the colonists with him back to England in the after math of the attack and general bad luck of the colony.  The relief party eventually came, to find the colony abandoned. They returned to England leaving a small outpost to protect England’s claim in the territory.

In 1587 a group of 115 colonists from Chesapeake were ordered to check on the remaining Roanoke settlement. Upon finding nothing in the colony but a skeleton, they were instructed to stay and establish a new colony. While trying to repair relations with the native tribes, a colonist was murdered while gathering crabs. The colonists feared for their lives, and begged the governor to go to England to ask for help.  Relief for the colonists was delayed for three years due to the Anglo-Spanish War and weather issues. On August 18, 1590 the governor returned with privateers to the colony, only to find it deserted. There was no evidence of a struggle or where the 115 colonists were. The only possible clue was the word CROATOAN that was carved into a fence post. Parts of the colony were dismantled, indicating the departure was not rushed, but possibly even planned. So what happened to the people of the Lost Colony?

There are many theories ranging from rational to supernatural as to what overtook the colonists in Roanoke. People have been trying to dig up the fate of Roanoke for centuries. Once Jamestown was established, John Smith (yes that John Smith) tried to find out what happened to the settlers. Chief Powhatan told him that he had personally lead the attack and killing of the colonists. Another version of this was relayed to the secretary of the Jamestown colony, saying that the colonists were living amongst enemies of the Powhatan and were slaughtered as a result of a raid on the enemy tribe.  However there is no archaeological evidence of either account. In fact, there is not much archaeological evidence of the Lost Colony at all.

In 1998 an excavation was lead to investigate the events of Roanoke. Archaeologists found a gold signet ring, gun flints, and two copper farthings. The lack of any archaeological evidence is blamed on shoreline erosion; between 1851 and 1970 nine hundred and twenty eight feet of shore was lost due to erosion. Erosion is a common threat to coastline archaeological sites, which is why monitoring of sites and possible excavation or preservation before their loss is so important.

Another theory is that the survivors just integrated with the surrounding natives, though there is no clear-cut evidence for this either. Popular culture today leans towards the dramatic, evidence for this is clear in Roanoke: The Cannibal Colony, and American Horror Story: Roanoke. Urban myths have tall tales of cannibalism taking over the colony to evil spirits haunting the settlers. Though Roanoke cannibals seem to thrive in popular culture, there is no evidence of cannibalism, at least not in that colony. Jamestown however has archaeological proof of cannibalism, in the form of skeletal remains. Jamestown experienced a terrible famine, and it was recorded that people had survived by eating rats, leather, and even the corpses of the recently deceased. However only written evidence of this survived, until 2012. During excavations, a pit of butchered horses and dogs were discovered and among the bones, were the bones of a human woman. The skull and tibia had cut marks characteristic of cannibalism. The cut marks were made with clear intention to remove flesh from bone and the brain from the skull. Though perhaps less terrifying, there was no evidence that the young woman was murdered, and it is believed that this all occurred post mortem.

We may never have a full grasp on what happened to the settlers of Roanoke or the horrors they may or may not have faced. Without much of an archaeological record we can only speculate from written records and the evidence we do have as to their fate. The speculation and mystery around Roanoke has certainly help make its name popular even today. The Lost Colony has been used as a haunted house, a theme for a popular tv show, and even more loosely in a Supernatural television episode about a zombie virus. As long as popular culture keeps the mystery alive, we will be able to continue to speculate, and possibly even drive said speculations into new archaeological investigations. 

Written by Megan Liebold, FPAN Stafff

From Frightening to Facts: Mummies

Mummies have been starring in horror movies as early as the 1930s. While they have certainly lost their scare factor in the more modern era, action films like The Mummy have kept them in popular culture. Mummies are commonly associated with archaeology. Egyptology is often seen as one with archaeology and I am often asked if I have ever wanted to work in Egypt. However popular, mummies are not only found in Egypt. Mummification has been used in cultures around the world for centuries. Examples of mummies can be found on every continent of the world, whether human or animal. The process of mummification can either be intentional, in a process conducted by humans, or naturally through environmental factors. While popular culture has portrayed mummies as bandage wearing ancient kings, not every mummification technique involves wrapping up a body and mummification wasn’t always used on kings.

Humans have been mummifying remains for thousands of years. While Egypt is thought of as the birthplace of mummies, there are actually older mummies in North America. The Chinchorro mummies, found in southern Chile and northern Peru, date as early as 5050 BC. To compare, the oldest Egyptian mummy dates to around 3000 BC. Chinchorro mummies weren’t just leaders or kings, they mummified anyone from all social classes of their society. There are however no clear answers as to why the Chinchorro people chose to mummify their dead. The Chinchorro preparation of their dead varied and became more complex over time. Preparation mostly involved disassembling and reassembling the body after treating it with heat. The bodies were also covered in clay and given clay masks.
A clay mask covers this Chinchorro mummy

Though mummies are often associated with antiquity, mummification can be found in the 1900s. In 1920 one year old Rosalia Lombardo passed away in Italy, her father distraught over her death, employed an embalmer, Alfredo Salafia to preserve her body. The preservation technique worked so well, that she looked to be alive. She became known as the Sleeping Beauty of the Capuchin Catacombs, and is arguably one of the best preserved bodies of mummification. The techniques were more modern using chemicals like glycerin, formalin, and salicylic acid.
Rosalia Lombardo

Natural mummification is the process by which a body is mummified by their surrounding environment. This normally happens in extreme cold, low humidity, and environments that lack air. The Windover bog people are examples of natural mummification that can be found in Florida. The Windover people existed approximately 7,000 to 8,000 years ago in the area around Titusville. The Windover people buried their dead in a pond, why this site was chosen is still unknown. A possible theory was that without shovels, grave digging would be much easier in swampy mud than hard dry soil. The pond was rich in peat, which covered the bodies creating an anaerobic atmosphere, which helped prevent the bodies from decomposing. While the human remains found on the site aren’t the typical mummies, they are skeletal remains not bandaged remains with remnants of skin tissues, the peat preservation had some advantages. Preserved human brain tissue was able to be recovered from several skulls as well as the last meal of a female skeleton that was still in her stomach. Natural mummification still occurs today, albeit not intentional. Mount Everest contains the mummified remains of climbers who were not able to return from their climb. As of 2011 there are over 200 known climbers who have passed away ascending the mountain. Their remains are left in their place of death and have mummified over time from the extreme cold.

Skeletal Remains from the Windover Site
A climber from Mount Everest 

While mummies are viewed as an object of horror movies, real life mummies have interesting stories to tell. Archaeologists study mummies from around the world to learn about their lives and the stories they can tell us about their culture. Mummies have not always been as protected and valued as they are today, they used to be burned for fuel and used as color pigments, but we continue to learn from what they leave behind.

Written by: Megan Liebold, FPAN Staff

Traversing a Great Florida Landscape: Sebastian Inlet State Park and Sebastian River Preserve

      As a resident of Florida for about 19 years it has come to my attention within the last 3 that I have not explored much of my home. Acknowledging my own adventurous nature, and recent acquisition of a car, I have taken it upon myself to learn more about the history that surrounds me. Luckily for me, and local inhabitants of Brevard, there are two gems to visit: the Sebastian Inlet State Park and the Sebastian River Preserve. The former rests just south of Melbourne Beach and the latter further mainland in Fellsmere, Florida. Both showcase plants native to Florida’s landscape including tricky palmetto scrubs and expanses of sand hills Oh! And don’t forget the mangroves!
Sebastian Inlet State Park
         Riding up on the Sebastian Inlet Bridge I was taken aback from the splendorous view of both the Atlantic on one side, and the Indian River on the other. At low tide, approximately 5pm, you can see the river actively being sucked out of the inlet. Jetties created by the outward current of water and sediment matched with the southward current of the ocean, draws your gaze to the stark color change of the water a few yards away from shore. To think, after its temporary closure in 1924 after World War II it had to be blasted open again with dynamite in 1947. Over several decades the jetties were extended further out and the inlet deepened. For the regular visitor this vision of dry land in this very spot is near impossible. Peering down into this outlet and into the Atlantic I can’t help but this what this area would look like without this inlet in place.
        At the inlet one can pay to enter either the North or South entrance to the park. From there it is up to the visitor to partake in a slew of activities; from taking a paddle on the Indian River to be among the docile sea cows, turtles, and even alligators, or one can stroll down one of their many trails to bird-watch.
        I chose to take a short stroll down a trail and out along the shoreline to get a different perspective on the inlet. Afterwards, I took my adventure on the road to the Sebastian River Preserve. With up to 60 miles of traversable trails I was a bit overwhelmed. After a couple of hours my wandering eye found peace on the designated ‘Red Trail,’ a 14 mile trail on the southwest part of the preserve. In the hopes of seeing a bear or bobcat, I trudged on through sticky mud. After a while I decided to depart from my endeavor without a bear or bobcat sighting. However, I was graced with the presence of multiple bird species and snakes like the sandhill cranes and Eastern indigo snake.
St. Sebastian River Preserve Pinewoods

            During the 1880s this land was home to multiple homesteads until the 1930s when Joseph Marion Hernandez was commissioned to build the Hernandez-Capron trail. This road was to connect St. Augustine and Fort Capron in present-day Fort Pierce. It ended up connecting Fort Capron to Fort Brooke in Tampa, Florida.  This land has witnessed much change from logging, ranching, and the blooming and wilt of the citrus industry. Envisioning all of these years of historic usage of these lands, it is impossible to ignore the strength and perseverance of the natural landscape to return to what we see today, a truly wild and beautiful Florida. 
St. Sebastian River Preserve Trail
Text and pictures: Caitlin Sawyer

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