New Radiocarbon Dates

New Radiocarbon Dates for Tampa Bay Sites

Being able to date archaeological sites and components are critical to documenting cultural and environmental changes through time and, more importantly, how people responded to these changes.  Research supported by the AWIARE/Levett Foundation student grant has contributed new dates for the Tampa Bay region.  University of Florida Ph.D. candidate Trevor Duke, obtained radiocarbon dates from two previously undated sites in Pinellas County, Tierra Verde (8PI51) and Maximo Point (8PI19).  Trevor is analyzing pottery from both sites as part of his dissertation project on the role of mortuary pottery specialization in creating, maintaining, and transforming social connections in the region during Safety Harbor and Weeden Island periods.

A date of AD 1024-1155 was obtained from soot on a Tucker Ridge Pinched vessel sherd from the Tierra Verde burial mound.  The sherd is one of several from AWIARE’s Lyman Warren Collection, which are being studied by Trevor.  The date obtained for this vessel is squarely within the Safety Harbor period (AD 1000-1750), however Tucker Ridge Pinched is typically considered a Weeden Island ceramic type, and Weeden Island pottery from the mound has been interpreted as representing cultural continuity between the two periods.  This sherd may represent the use of an heirloomed vessel during burial ceremonies.

A second date of AD 1045-1250 is from a sherd of Pinellas Plain pottery excavated from the domestic midden at Maximo Point by William Sears in 1958 and curated at the Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville.  This date also falls within the Safety Harbor time period consistent with Sears’ and others interpretation of this large mound-midden complex that once existed at the southern end of the Pinellas peninsula.

Trevor is currently thin-sectioning sherds from both of these sites for petrographic analysis in order to determine if different pastes were used in the manufacture of mortuary and domestic vessels.

AWIARE/Friends of Weedon Island Grant

AWIARE/Friends of Weedon Island Undergraduate Student Grant

The AWIARE Student Grants Committee selected Morgan Grieg, USFSP undergraduate student in history, to receive the 2020 AWIARE/FOWI Student Grant.  Morgan will receive $1250.00 to help support an eight-week research trip to Spain to conduct original archival research in Badajoz, Zafra, and Seville on the Hernando de Soto expedition.  Morgan is working under the supervision of Dr. Michael Francis.  The central goal is to locate information related to the expedition's participants, and to assemble a detailed inventory of the supplies and provisions brought on the expedition. The new material will be integrated into the open-access digital database titled La Florida: The Interactive Digital Archive of the Americas.

Excavations Uncover Daily Life at Weeden Island Site

USF St. Petersburg Excavations Uncover Daily Life at Weeden Island Site

This winter for five Fridays you could hear the chatter and laughter as USF students strolled down the Weedon Island trails to the famous site of Weeden Island*. Fifteen students and three volunteer graduate students, including Elizabeth Southard, AWIARE’s Vice-President, worked with Dr. Arthur from USF St. Petersburg to continue their excavation of households dating from AD 900 to 1450. Dr. John Arthur, who is President of AWIARE, began this project in 2007, to give undergraduate students the opportunity to actually experience archaeology outside of the classroom and to learn archaeological techniques.

In some field schools, students dig for days and do not find much, but at the Weeden Island site there is ample evidence of people living and prospering along the banks of Tampa Bay. The area contains an abundant evidence of daily life where people were eating their meals and making and using their tools over a 550-year period. The site is rich with a variety of food remains from shellfish, fish, and terrestrial animals. There is also a great diversity of artifacts made from shell such as bead blanks, beads, hammers, awls, adzes, as well as pottery vessels, grinding stones, and hand stones.

Over the last two field seasons, excavations have uncovered a house floor. All the artifacts are found within a 7 cm or less horizontal stratum located beneath the shell midden. What caught our curiosity was that many of the artifacts are laying in a horizontal position and the diversity of artifacts is greater than what we have found in previous excavated units.

Two remarkable finds we uncovered this field season is a hearth and a possible bone hairpin that may have had feathers attached to the end. The hearth area is void of artifacts and contains large pieces of charcoal.  We hope to be able to identify the types of wood people were using to fuel their house fires as well as how people were spending their time around the hearth. The bone pin was found next to the hearth and while more research needs to be conducted on this beautiful carved pin, it represents a very intimate object that belonged to one person who left it there about 1,000 years ago.

The excavations now lead us to the lab located on the USFSP campus where the artifacts are stored and curated. Over the next year, students will begin to clean, sort, and analyze all the artifacts they have uncovered this field season. It is in the lab where we begin to tell the story about how some of the earliest inhabitants who lived along Tampa Bay lived. This story is ongoing as we answer questions that lead to new questions that open a window into the past.

* We can thank Jesse Fewkes from the Smithsonian Institution for misspelling the Weeden Island site with an “e” and causing us to spell the Preserve as “Weedon” and use “Weeden” for the culture area and the site.

AWIARE/Levitt Foundation Grant

University of Georgia Student Receives AWIARE/Levett Grant

Lindsey Parsons, graduate student in geology at the University of Georgia, was selected to receive this year’s AWIARE/Levett Foundation student research grant.

Lindsey Parsons, graduate student in geology at the University of Georgia, was selected to receive this year’s AWIARE/Levett Foundation student research grant.  The $10,000 grant will  support her MS research to study how scallop harvesting practices of prehistoric Tampa Bay Native communities were affected by climate change between ~ A.D. 800 and 1850.  Lindsey will be conducting stable isotope analysis of bay scallops collected during previous excavations at the Weedon Island and Bayshore Homes archaeological sites to paleoenvironmental conditions during the time of scallop harvesting.  She previously conducted a similar analysis of scallop shells from the Pineland site in southwest Florida. Her results there indicated scallops collected by Native inhabitants were larger during the cooler Little Ice Age (~AD 1200-1850) when conditions for scallop growth were more favorable and smaller during the earlier Medieval Warm Period (~AD 800-1200).  She expects to see a similar difference in the Tampa Bay scallops.  In addition to providing information on how Native people adapted their harvesting practices, Lindsey’s study will have important implications for how climate change may affect modern marine shellfish populations.

AWAIRE / Levitt Foundation Grant

AWAIRE / Levitt Grant Recipient Studies Tampa Bay Wetlands

University of South Florida doctoral candidate, Kendal Jackson, is using radiocarbon dates to assist in dating relict estuarine flooding surfaces to determine how human-environmental interaction shaped the establishment and development of late-Holocene (ca. 6500 BP-present) estuarine ecosystems in Tampa Bay.

Over the course of the last couple of months, I have collected and analyzed surface reference soil samples from different types of intertidal wetlands in Tampa Bay. These modern reference data will be essential for understanding and characterizing ancient sediment beds that I plan to intersect with core samples. In addition, I’ve collected short cores (1-2 m depth) in areas of mangrove swamp within Tampa Bay and have analyzed their stratigraphy to chart changes in sediment and fossil compositions. So far, the records show that many of Tampa Bay wetlands have undergone dramatic conversions from salt prairie and salt marsh communities to mangrove forest. These changes seem to have unfolded only since the mid-20th century, and may represent ecological responses to industrial scale mosquito ditching that accompanied expansive residential development in the region, but preceded environmental research and regulation.

We have also been working at Safety Harbor site (8PI2), a site which will certainly play into my dissertation work. We have been able to map the spatial plan of the Pre-Columbian village there, and early radiocarbon assays which place major occupation across the 14th and 15th centuries. Work is ongoing on the soils, zoo-archaeological remains, and artifact assemblages.

Testing is being planned at other sites, including Ross and Good Islands, this coming winter. The primary goals of this future work is to understand the geochronology of Tampa Bay’s nearshore estuary basins and to research the role of coastal Pre-Columbian peoples in engineering the coastal strand.

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

Remembering Tocobaga

Remembering Tocobaga: Recent Archaeology Safety Harbor Site

The Safety Harbor site (8PI2), 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.

AWIARE Provides Grants for Weeden Island Research


Grants Awarded

To further our mission of facilitating archaeological research and educational opportunities, AWIARE, in cooperation with the Levett Foundation, is offering up to $10,000 in grant funds annually to support student research on Weedon Island and the Weeden Island culture.

This year the awards committee chose three worthy recipients to receive funding. University of South Florida doctoral candidate Kendal Jackson will receive funding for 12 radiocarbon dates to assist in dating relict estuarine flooding surfaces to determine how human-environmental interaction shaped the establishment and development of late-Holocene (ca. 6500 BP-present) estuarine ecosystems in Tampa Bay. Kendal’s project is a fine example of using an interdisciplinary approach (archaeology and geo-sciences) to address a topic that also has relevance for today.

Trevor Duke, from the University of Florida, will receive funding that will contribute to his petrographic and instrumental analysis of clays used to make pottery found in mortuary and domestic contexts at Weeden Island and Safety Harbor culture sites in Tampa Bay. Determining whether mortuary pottery was made with different or more restricted varieties of clay, would support the hypothesis of ceramic specialists and will contribute to his doctoral research topic of assessing the role of mortuary pottery specialization in creating, maintaining, and transforming social connections in the region during these periods.

The final recipient, Heather Draskovitch, is an MA student at USF who is currently surveying and testing the Weeden Island site to better understand its chronological development. Her grant funds will help obtain radiocarbon dates to document this development. Congratulations to all three recipients for submitting clear and well-developed proposals that are consistent with the overall mission of AWIARE.