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.

AWIARE and FAM 2019


Family Archaeology Event

Every March, Florida celebrates Florida Archaeology Month (FAM). FAS chapters, archaeologists, heritage professionals, museums, historical societies, and the public come together to promote and celebrate Florida’s archaeological sites and knowledge about the past through events, workshops, lectures, and archaeology days.

On March 2nd, the Weedon Island Preserve was full of archaeological activities to celebrate Florida Archaeology Month. Heather Draskovich and Kendal Jackson, who are University of South Florida graduate students, gave two short presentations focusing on current archaeological project at the Weeden Island site. Heather discussed her research to determine when and where Indigenous people were occupying the site and Kendal presented a summary of the University of South Florida St. Petersburg (USFSP) excavations undertaken since 2007.

Also, Rebecca O’Sullivan and Kassie Kemp from the Florida Public Archaeology Network (FPAN) created an inventive pop-up exhibit outlining the USFSP excavations with associated artifacts of shell tools, pottery, stone tools, and plant specimens, which gave attendees a new perspective of what has been uncovered at the site over the last 12 years. While people were enjoying the lectures and the pop-up exhibit, visitors also were able to walk over to the AWIARE Research Station where AWIARE’s Secretary Phyllis Kolianos exhibited artifacts from her recent archaeological excavations at two Weeden Island sites along the Anclote River.

The final act of the day was a short hike out to a portion of the Weeden Island site where USFSP and AWIARE have been excavating and Dr. John Arthur (AWIARE’s President) and Elizabeth Southard Razzouk (AWIARE’s Vice President) gave a lecture of the excavations and what they have been finding at the site. If you missed this year’s celebration of Archaeology Month at the Preserve, we will be doing something similar next year. So come on out and celebrate Archaeology Month next March!

FAM 2019: Shared Collections—Shared Stories

A major highlight during the month-long celebration is always the new FAM poster, developed every year to illustrate a unique theme within Florida Archaeology. For the 2019 poster and theme, the FAM team drew from the vast network of archaeological collections on display throughout the state.


Weedon Island Pottery Featured on WEDU


Weedon Island Pottery

Two experts discuss pottery types and styles of the Weeden Island Culture

Early this year, a student from SPC contacted us about wanting to do a short video segment on the Weeden Island culture and the Weedon Island Preserve that would be produced by WEDU Public Media. The segment aired in July 2019, and features Dr. Robert Austin of Alliance for Weedon Island Archaeological Research and Education (AWIARE) and Dr. Thomas Pluckhahn of USF Tampa, Department of Anthropology. Check it out!

AWIARE Lab In the News


Archaeologists and Volunteers at Weedon Island Lab are Piecing Together the Past

A nonprofit group takes old artifacts and makes sense of their stories.

Volunteer Bob Austin holds a red chert (silicified coral) projectile point from Hillsborough County that was used at the end of a spear or knife.

Volunteer Bob Austin holds a red chert (silicified coral) projectile point from Hillsborough County that was used at the end of a spear or knife. He says artifacts help tell how different cultures lived.

After more than four decades of archaeological work, Bob Austin can't handle the Florida summers like he used to.For years, he loved digging into the ground and excavating multi-thousand-year-old artifacts. But now, at age 68, Austin's body limits most of his work to the other aspect of archaeology, the one spent indoors studying the artifacts, compiling data and piecing together history to uncover what life looked like thousands of years ago.

That Austin is able to do this with ancient, mostly broken pieces of pottery or stone tools is what has drawn him to archaeological work for his entire professional life. He doesn't need to be outside digging, even if he'd prefer to be.

"One of the things I've always liked about it was that you have that fieldwork part, but you also could involve your brain and your intellect," Austin said. "What really keeps bringing me back is trying to figure stuff out."

One of 11 board members of the nonprofit Alliance for Weedon Island Archaeological Research and Education (AWIARE), Austin is an expert on lithic technology, or how ancient stone tools were made and used. He received his Ph.D in anthropology from the University of Florida in 1997.

Austin still consults for his former employers, private archaeology companies around Florida, while volunteering for AWIARE. The alliance gets most of its funding from individual donations and the occasional grant.

Many of the rooms at the AWIARE lab on Weedon Island are filled with old artifacts - spearheads, shards of pottery, animal bones. Some are laid out on a large table, a collection of items donated over the years to AWIARE and the Weedon Island Preserve Cultural and Natural History Center.

Austin and the lab's other volunteers are organizing the artifacts so they can compare them to items already stored in the lab. That process will help uncover where the donated items came from and perhaps clarify what  purpose they served.

One of the volunteers at the lab, Penny Seabury, is cataloguing a collection of documents belonging to local archaeologist Lyman Warren. After Warren died, his family donated his massive collection of artifacts and papers to AWIARE. Seabury's goal is to create a digital version of the collection that will allow other archaeologists to access Warren's work.

AWIARE's biggest project, and the one that garnered the most publicity, was the excavation of an 1,100-year-old canoe on a Weedon Island Preserve beach. In 2011, Austin and Phyllis Kolianos, another AWIARE board member, led a trip to remove the 40-foot canoe from the ground in pieces. Austin said he also worked with designers to set up the canoe's display, located in the Cultural and Natural History Center.

"It was our really big project," Austin said. "And that's what got us publicity and got us funding."

An artifact as monumental as the ancient canoe is an anomalous discovery; most of AWIARE's work involves items of lesser significance. But they  each offer a glimpse of Florida's prehistoric era. Austin's job is to figure out what the shards of pottery or worn-down stone tools might reveal.

That process is tricky for even the most experienced archaeologists. Interpreting old artifacts and data such as measurements and locations  requires a large amount of guesswork. But the results can be revealing.

"It helps you understand how different cultures, people who belong to different cultures, lived," Austin said. "That there are differences  between cultures, but there's also a lot of similarities."

Bob Austin measures projectile points used as spears or knives.

Bob Austin measures projectile points used as spears or knives. Austin and other volunteers are organizing artifacts to compare them to items already stored at the lab.

One advantage of archaeological research that is different from other methods of studying history is its capacity to reduce historical bias, Austin said. While those in power often dictate what is remembered, they have little say in what gets discovered thousands of years later underneath the ground.

"History is written by the winners," Austin said. "And history is slanted.  People forget things, or they don't want to talk about certain things, or they want to slant things a certain way."

To express this point, Austin likes to use an adage from the late Florida archaeologist Calvin Jones: "The dirt don't lie."


Artifact Spotlight


Evidence of Novice Pottery Making

Unique Tierra Verde Mound artifact sparks interest

As AWIARE catalogs the artifacts and documents it received as part of the Lyman O. Warren Collection several interesting artifacts have been identified. One of the most interesting is a small pot with an incised decoration that appears to be the work of a novice potter, probably a child. The vessel is from the Tierra Verde mound, an early Safety Harbor period site on Tierra Verde (formerly Cabbage Key).

The pot is incomplete, consisting of six sherds that conjoin to make about one-third of a small, shallow bowl. The design consists of concentric loops arrayed along an incised line parallel to the vessel’s lip. One loop has a series of fingernail punctations and two triangular elements radiating outward. These design elements are similar to those of a style of pottery known as Safety Harbor incised, but are not as well executed as typical incised vessels. Estimation of the bowl’s size and shape is based on the partial rim diameter and vessel curvature.

Based on these, the bowl was only 16cm (a little over 6’’) in diameter with a depth of about 7.5cm (3”). If, as seems likely, this was made by a child, then its recovery provides insight into participation in burial ritual by adolescents, an often overlooked segment of prehistoric societies.

Research & Excavations


Researchers uncover evidence of Pinellas County's past in Weedon Island Preserve

Tucked away off Gandy Boulevard in St. Petersburg, Weedon Island is home to evidence of the Tampa Bay area’s past.

“Weedon Island Preserve's rich human history began with prehistoric peoples who thrived on the abundant fish, shellfish, plants, and mammals of the wetlands, islands and estuaries of Tampa Bay. These people evolved into the Weeden (alternate spelling) Island culture that lasted some 800 years,” county officials explain.

People lived along the Pinellas County coastline up until the Spanish came in the 1500s.

In the 1920s researchers from the Smithsonian excavated the area, focusing on a burial mound. They discovered pottery that can be traced throughout the Southeast, from southwestern Georgia and Alabama to the Weedon Island Preserve, said Dr. Robert Austin, a member of the Alliance for Weedon Island Archaeological Research (AWIARE) board.

Researchers are still trying to answer questions about who these people were - and what become of them. “We wanted to see more work done here,” Austin said.

AWIARE formed in 2008 to facilitate that effort. Very little research took place in the years after the Smithsonian project. During the 1960s and 70s, before Weedon became a preserve and was placed on the National Register of Historic Places, people dug up pits and took artifacts, Austin explained.

AWIARE works to find, save and share historical artifacts. The organization facilitates research, education and discovery. The alliance works the Central Gulf Coast Archaeological Society, Florida Public Archaeology Network and Pinellas County. They’ve received funding from Duke Energy, the Friends of Weedon Island nonprofit, the Hough Family Foundation and the Florida Humanities Council.

“I think archaeology and anthropology in general gives you a perspective on not just the past but just other cultures and an appreciation for other cultures, an appreciation for people who don’t live the same way we do or did,” Austin said. “Hopefully we can learn stuff from the past that will help us address similar problems today, one of which obviously is changing climate, sea level rise because people in the past had to deal with those problems, as well.”

You get to see how people have lived over a long period of time, how they’ve adapted to not only the natural environment but to each other, other social groups, how the interact, how they deal with problems, and surprisingly a lot of those problems are the same ones we have today so it gives you a historical perspective on all that.”

Researchers want to provide a lens into the everyday lives of the people who lived on Weedon Island. “Archeology provides you with a historical context about how people have lived over a really long period of time,” Austin said.

AWIARE board member and University of South Florida anthropology professor Dr. John Arthur brings students to Weedon to conduct research. “This is the most densely populated county in Florida, and we have Weedon Island that is really a jewel,” he said. “There’s a lot of questions that we still have to address. Archeology takes a lot of time. It takes a lot of labor,” Arthur said.

In 2011 archaeologists excavated an ancient canoe from the Weedon shoreline. The nearly 40-foot canoe is the longest dugout thus far in the State of Florida. “It was a very substantial find, one of the very first or maybe a very rare saltwater marine canoe,” AWIARE board secretary Phyllis Kolianos said. “It really gave us new perspective.”

Most of the canoes previously found had been located in lakes or rivers - not open water like Tampa Bay.

Radiocarbon dating revealed the canoe to be from around AD 890. “The makers of the canoe are considered to belong to the Manasota culture, a prehistoric Native American people who hunted and fished the bay, leaving shell mounds along the coast,” researchers write.

That canoe offered a glimpse into how people who lived thousands of years before us communicated and traveled. “Learning about people that lived here hundreds of years ago, even thousands of years ago, is very interesting. It kind of gives us a different perspective on our lives,” Kolianos said. “We’re in a very heavily populated area but beneath our feet other people lived for hundreds of years.”

With many questions left to be answered, AWIARE hopes to continue moving forward to uncover the past. “We don’t know why people left the Weedon Island site. That’s one of the questions that we’re trying to address,” Kolianos said.

Florida is rich with evidence of human history, in large part because of the water, which aided transportation, and the climate. There are historical sites dating back 13,000 years. People set up their homes along rivers, lakes and Pinellas County’s coastline.

“We want to try to preserve in the young the importance of our cultural heritage in Florida,” Arthur said.

BY WTSP NEWS -- MAY 2017 --