Maximo Point Excavation

Maximo Point Excavation

Members of our board of directors, along with members of Central Gulf Coast Archaeological Society, assisted the City of St. Petersburg’s Parks and Recreation Department with work at Maximo Point.

In April, members of our board of directors, along with members of Central Gulf Coast Archaeological Society, assisted the City of St. Petersburg’s Parks and Recreation Department with work at Maximo Point. Shoreline erosion had exposed a portion of the water line pipe in the park. We placed two units at the entrance and exit locations for the direct drill water line installation work the city would be performing. Our goal was to document and identify any intact prehistoric and historic cultural material. Specifically, we wanted to see if evidence from Maximo Hernandez’s homestead of 1843-1848 was still present at the site. Hernandez obtained ownership of the property under the Armed Occupation Act of 1842 and was the first white settler on the lower Pinellas peninsula. We found from our limited excavation an intact upper midden layer with early historic artifacts, including a clay pipe stem, pieces of lead, a shell button, and a salt-glazed stoneware sherd. We also unearthed a few prehistoric pottery sherds and a projectile point. However, we ceased excavations in both units when we reached the intact prehistoric component because we did not want to disturb cultural material that would not be disrupted from the water line work. Another benefit from this small project was that we were able to talk with employees from the City of St. Petersburg’s Parks and Recreation Department about archaeology and AWIARE. The crew was very engaging and asked some great questions.

Elizabeth Southard

Grant Recipient Studies Pottery Production

AWAIRE / Levitt Grant Recipient Studies Tampa Bay Pottery Production

University of Florida Ph.D. student, Trevor Duke, is analyzing pottery from the Tierra Verde mound (8PI51) in the Lyman Warren Collection curated at AWIARE.

University of Florida Ph.D. student, Trevor Duke, is analyzing pottery from the Tierra Verde mound (8PI51) in the Lyman Warren Collection curated at AWIARE.  This research is being funded in part by an AWIARE/Levett Foundation Grant.  According to Trevor, “Tierra Verde’s assemblage is unparalleled for a site in this region for its diversity in style, form, and surface treatment. My preliminary technological analyses of Weeden Island and Safety Harbor sherds housed at the AWIARE research lab indicates that a variety of potters of differing skill levels made mortuary pottery in and around Tampa Bay.”  Pottery samples from Tierra Verde and the Safford Mound (8PI3) in Tarpon Springs are being prepared for petrographic analysis and Laser Ablation-Inductively Coupled Plasma-Mass Spectrometry. These analyses allow archaeologists to assess the mineral and elemental content of clays used to make pottery, which ultimately can highlight pottery production hotspots in both Tampa Bay and across the Southeast. The most recent phase of Trevor’s project has involved the extraction of charred residue from potsherds for radiocarbon dating. Obtaining dates from sampled sites will help to identify the timing of specific changes in pottery production practices in the Tampa Bay region, which is paramount for understanding the development of social networks. 

Remembering Tocobaga

Remembering Tocobaga: Recent Archaeology Safety Harbor Site

The Safety Harbor site (8PI2), located within Pinellas County’s Philippe Park, is one of Tampa Bay’s most iconic archaeological sites.

The site is widely recognized as the probable location of the native town of Tocobaga, where Spanish Governor Pedro Menéndez de Avilés established a short-lived mission-fort in the 1560s. It later became the location for the planation owned by one of the area’s most legendary settlers, “Count” Odet Philippe. Philippe is said to have been a childhood friend of Napoleon, the first European settler of Pinellas County, the first to cultivate citrus in Florida, and the first to introduce cigar rolling to Tampa Bay; generally omitted from such tall tales are his likely Afro-Caribbean heritage, reputation as a maritime smuggler, and the fact that he owned enslaved Africans.

In 1948, Pinellas County purchased the property from Philippe’s heirs for the creation of its first public park. Visitors to the park today can walk a paved path to the top of Safety Harbor platform mound for a sweeping view of the bay; this is presumably the “the highest and most prominent place” described in historical accounts as the location of the chief’s house, where Tocobaga met with the Spanish Governor in 1567. The mound’s summit is a good place from which to imagine the village of Tocobaga, although envisioning the historic landscape is a challenge to even the most informed observer given the changes that have taken place to the site over the intervening 500 years. One side of the mound has been terraced and landscaped in an effort to stabilize damage wrought by hurricanes, including one in 1848 that reportedly reduced the mound’s size by one-third. The presumed plaza at the foot of the mound has been paved for a parking lot. A picnic shelter has been built on one arm of the village. Farther in the distance, another picnic shelter and a playground now occupy the area where a burial mound formerly stood.

Despite the historical importance of the native town of Tocobaga and Philippe’s plantation, the Safety Harbor site has been minimally investigated, and rarely using modern archaeological methods. Matthew Stirling of the Smithsonian Institution excavated the burial mound in the 1930s, resulting in the recovery of hundreds of human burials. However, the methods were coarse and the results were scantly reported. The first modern-era professional investigation of the Safety Harbor site was conducted by John Griffin and Ripley Bullen in 1948; they excavated a test trench in the platform mound and several additional trenches in the village. Several groups of avocational archaeologists conducted investigations at the Safety Harbor site in the late 1960s, but unfortunately the results of this work were never adequately reported and most of the artifacts and documentation appear to have been lost. In 2012, Phyllis Kolianos and AWIARE conducted salvage excavations of ground disturbance resulting from a fallen tree on the slope of the platform mound. 

In 2019, the Department of Anthropology at USF began the first intensive and professional archaeological investigations of the Safety Harbor site in more than 70 years. Recognizing the importance of the site and its protected status (it has been recognized as a National Historic Landmark since the 1960s), the investigations were carefully planned to be minimally invasive. Geophysical surveys (including ground-penetrating radar, gradiometry, and electrical resistivity) provide a glimpse of what lies buried beneath the surface, including everything from buried shell middens associated with the village of Tocobaga to utility lines associated with the development of the park. Small systematic excavations (50-cm square shovel tests and 1-x-1-m test units) spaced throughout the site helped to ‘ground-truth’ the geophysical data and produced samples of artifacts, including: copious quantities of shell, pottery, and stone tools associated with Tocobaga; pipe fragments, pottery, nails, and bricks associated with the later settlement by Philippe, his family, and the enslaved people that worked the plantation; and coins and other modern artifacts associated with modern-era park goers. At each test pit, student excavation crews screened the soils through fine 1/8-inch mesh and took particular care to record and collect the smallest of artifacts, animal bones, and identifiable shell fragments for analysis.

Although laboratory analyses are ongoing, some preliminary results can be reported. GPR survey and coring of the platform mound suggest that it was built in several construction stages, including one comprised of greenish-grey clay and others of shell. Despite disturbances from later occupations and modern park infrastructure, significant portions of Tocobaga village remain well preserved; shell midden stratigraphy and radiocarbon dating suggest two major occupation episodes during the Mississippian period. The diligent work of fieldschool students at the fine-mesh screens during excavation is paying off, and there are early signs of temporal and spatial changes in the presence and relative frequencies of marine shell species in midden deposits. Finally, the distributions of nineteenth-century artifacts seem to conform to the locations of structures depicted on historic maps, and probably indicate the former locations of the houses of Philippe and his enslaved workers.  

The results and interpretations from these recent USF investigations at Safety Harbor site will be summarized in a technical report in hopes will be used by the Pinellas County Parks and Conservation Resources Department to better manage this important historic site. However, we think the history of the site is compelling enough to warrant a number of other publications, perhaps including a book. In addition, we hope to use the findings to improve the public interpretation of the site through online media, community outreach, and enhancements to interpretive aids at the park. 

Tom Pluckhahn and Kendal Jackson 

Platform mound excavations 1948 by Griffen and Bullen.

Philippe Park

Stirling’s excavations of the burial mound at Safety Harbor, 1924

AWIARE / Friends of Weedon Island Grant

AWIARE / Friends of Weedon Island Grant

The Friends of Weedon Island (FOWI) have contributed $2000 to AWIARE for undergraduate student grants in 2020.


Projects must focus on the prehistory, history, or paleoenvironment of the Tampa Bay region.  Grant funds may be used to cover the costs associated with fieldwork, special analyses (e.g., radiocarbon dates, faunal or botanical analyses, soils analysis, etc.), collections research, documents research, travel expenses associated with research projects, and travel expenses associated with presenting a paper based on the student's research at a professional meeting. 

For more information on how to apply, submit inquiries to Dr. Robert Austin, AWIARE/FOWI Student Grant, AWIARE, 1500 Weedon Drive NE, St. Petersburg, FL 33702 or email to The deadline for applications is December 31, 2019.

AWIARE / Levitt Foundation Grant

AWIARE / Levitt Foundation Grant

AWIARE, in cooperation with the Levett Foundation, is again making available up to $10,000 in grant funds to provide assistance to college or university students conducting archaeological, historical, and paleoenvironmental research in the greater Tampa Bay region of Florida.

Research related to the Weeden Island culture and period is encouraged but not required.  

Types of projects that will be considered include field research, laboratory analyses, collections research, and documents research.  Priority will be given to applicants whose proposals include 1) field research at Weedon Island Preserve; 2) research using artifact, faunal, or documents collections at AWIARE; 3) field research at sites in the greater Tampa Bay area (Pinellas, Hillsborough, Manatee counties); 4) research using Tampa Bay area collections held elsewhere (e.g., Florida Museum of Natural History, Bureau of Archaeological Research, Smithsonian, universities, local museums, private collections).  

Individuals interested in applying must be currently enrolled in a university or college. The deadline for applying for the 2020 grant is December 31, 2019.  Individuals interested in submitting a proposal should contact Dr. Robert Austin, AWIARE, 1500 Weedon Drive NE, St. Petersburg, FL 33702 or by email: for application guidelines.