February 8, 2024: Davide Tanasi

New 3D Digital Studies on the Roman Villa del Casale at Piazza Armerina (Sicily)
Davide Tanasi, Department of History at the University of South Florida



3D digitization for the study of archaeological heritage and the global dissemination of knowledge has proven to be extremely beneficial to the discipline. These digital approaches are increasingly used to drastically change archaeologists’ and art historians’ perspective on Roman villas, their decorative apparatus, and the artefacts found within them. The villa del Casale at Piazza Armerina (Sicily) is one of the most important examples of late Roman villas with its 2500 m2 of well-preserved mosaic floors and long use-life. Yet, the site is characterized by significant conservation issues, a relatively poor understanding of its later use-phases, a great deal of untapped legacy data, and relatively poor accessibility from a digital perspective. Thus, 3D visualizations hold great deal of potential to contribute to iconographic and architectural studies, monitoring changes in the physical state of the mosaics, and the recontextualization of legacy data, while contributing to the availability of globally accessible Roman material culture online. This presentation highlights methodological best practices in 3D digital imaging and visualizations developed around the emblematic case study of the Roman Villa del Casale. The project is part of the Archaeological Heritage in Late Antique and Byzantine Sicily (ArchLABS) initiative, an international and interdisciplinary research program focusing the reassessment of the entire site based on new excavations, innovative studies on its architecture, and analysis of its legacy data. A new season of digital explorations at the Villa were carried out in 2022 and 2023 as part of the ArchLABS campaigns, completed the 3D digitization of the villa through terrestrial LiDAR and digital photogrammetry and created digital replicas of legacy data from the 1950s excavations for the virtual recontextualization of artifacts in the rooms they were found. Preliminary findings offer promising evidence for advancing best practices in 3D digitization for the study of Roman villas.

Davide Tanasi is a professor in the Department of History at the University of South Florida, where he is also founder and director of the College of Arts and Sciences’ Institute for Digital Exploration and scientific director of the Mediterranean Diet Archaeology Project with the Institute for the Advanced Study of Culture and the Environment. He is an archaeological scientist specialized in archaeology of ancient Sicily and Malta, with research areas of interest in pottery and glass technology, bio-archaeology, biomolecular archaeology, 3D digital imaging applied to archaeology and cultural heritage study. In that field, he has authored over 170 articles and several books and special issues of journals including the recent volume Archaeology of the Mediterranean during Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages (University Press of Florida 2023). He is currently P.I. of the HADES project (Heloros Advanced Digital Exploration and Surveying) at the Greek city of Heloros in Sicily and Co-P.I. of the ArchLABS project (Archaeological Heritage in Late Antique and Byzantine Sicily) for the remote sensing study and excavation of the Roman Villa del Casale at Piazza Armerina, in Sicily, and Co-P.I. of Melite Civitas Romana project for the archaeological excavation of the Roman Domus at Rabat, in Malta.

This monthly Archaeology Lecture series is co-sponsored by the Alliance for Central Gulf Coast Archaeological Society (CGCAS) and Weedon Island Archaeological Research and Education (AWIARE).


January 11, 2024: Dr. Jessica Cook Hale

Sea Changes: The Current State of Submerged Paleolandscape Prospection and Assessments,
Inside and Outside the Private Sector

Dr. Jessica Cook Hale, University of Bradford, West Yorkshire, UK

Archaeologists once assumed that submerged, formerly terrestrial components of the shallow continental shelf retained little to no evidence of human occupations drowned by sea level rise over the last 20,000 years. Unfortunately, a great deal of human history must have played out in these regions, including episodes of human migration across the globe. The last forty years of submerged offshore discovery have proven this assumption to be wildly incorrect, however. Further, increasing development offshore is forcing a reckoning in world archaeology, challenging the discipline across the globe to develop new technologies and ethnologies for grappling with these sites. It is ever more critical that scientists and communities work together to identify and protect these priceless examples of shared cultural heritage. In this discussion, I will thus focus on the archaeological questions we ask and answer on the continental shelf here in the Western hemisphere, drawing upon my own work to share the details of such advances. My goal is to expand the community of those who both understand the necessity of this work as well as its best practices, including supporting increased awareness of regulations and policy that influence public and private sector decisions about these landscapes.

Dr. Jessica Cook Hale is a specialist in paleo landscape reconstruction. She is an associate scholar with the Aucilla Research Institute in Monticello, Florida and maintains scholarly affiliation with the Department of Geology at the University of Georgia. Dr. Cook Hale's research focuses on human responses in coastal environments to marine transgressions and climate change, primarily during the Middle and Early Holocene in the southeastern United States.

This monthly Archaeology Lecture series is co-sponsored by the Alliance for Central Gulf Coast Archaeological Society (CGCAS) and Weedon Island Archaeological Research and Education (AWIARE).  

December 14, 2023: Thomas Pluckhahn

Sticks of Fire: Toponymic Imaginaries in Tampa Bay
Dr. Thomas Pluckhahn, University of South Florida

It is a story repeated so often as to be widely accepted as fact: the city of Tampa—and, by extension, the eponymous estuary on which it is located—take their names from a word for “sticks of fire” or “split wood for quick fires” in the language of the Calusa. But the translation appears to have little basis in fact and is only the most recent of several that have been offered over the years. Dr. Pluckhahn traces the history of these imagined translations and speculates on why modern residents of Tampa Bay seek meaning in a toponym whose actual translation is likely lost to history.

Dr. Thomas Pluckhahn is a Professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of South Florida. His research focuses on the understanding of small-scale social formations, particularly on the Native American societies of the Woodland period (ca. 1000 BC to AD 1050) in the American Southeast and those of the Swift Creek and Weeden Island cultures of the Gulf Coast.

This monthly Archaeology Lecture series is co-sponsored by the Alliance for Central Gulf Coast Archaeological Society (CGCAS) and Weedon Island Archaeological Research and Education (AWIARE).  

November 9, 2023: Marie Meranda

Four Years and Two Shipwrecks in LaSoye Bay, Dominica

Marie Meranda
Doctoral Candidate (Anthropology), University of South Florida

Maritime archaeology work began in LaSoye Bay in 2019 as a dissertation project to complement research on a settlement discovered on LaSoye’s shore during the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in 2016. Over years of archaeological research, we have determined that the bay is the site of an underwater and above-ground harbor that has been used for centuries. Onshore structures include a seawall, bollard (for docking ships), and an abandoned warehouse. Two sites within the bay have been identified as shipwrecks, hinting that seafaring the rough Atlantic waters of Dominica was not uncommon despite LaSoye’s small size. Such features are reminiscent of past economies reliant principally on the sea for trade, transportation, and migration. Underwater debris such as anchors, ballast stones, bottles, pottery fragments, pipe stems, and metal support the argument that the bay was a site of both fishing and extra-local trade. Here, I will discuss the survey techniques that led to these discoveries and place these underwater features and artifacts in Dominican and larger Caribbean contexts.

Marie Meranda is a PhD Candidate at the University of South Florida in Anthropology. She has a Master's degree in Maritime Archaeology from the University of Southampton and Bachelor’s degrees in Humanities Fine Arts and Anthropology from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. As a Scuba Instructor and AAUS Scientific diver, she has worked on a variety of underwater and terrestrial projects in the Caribbean, Mediterranean, Black Sea and the Southeastern U.S.


This monthly Archaeology Lecture series is co-sponsored by the Alliance for Central Gulf Coast Archaeological Society (CGCAS) and Weedon Island Archaeological Research and Education (AWIARE).  

October 12, 2023: Rachael Kangas

Climate Change and Cultural Sites in Florida 

Rachael Kangas, M.A.
Director of the West Central and Central Regions, Florida Public Archaeology Network

How do we protect cemeteries, historic buildings, and archaeological sites that are threatened by climate change in Florida? How is it decided which sites get attention and which do not? Join the Central Gulf Coast Archaeological Society in collaboration with the Alliance for Weedon Island Archaeological Research and Education for a special presentation of how archaeologists are currently answering these questions, what significant threats are observed in Florida, and how the public can help!


Rachael Kangas is the Director for the West Central and Central Regions of the Florida Public Archaeology Network, and she conducts public archaeology and outreach in the regions. She earned her M.A. from the University of Central Florida (UCF) in 2015 and is certified as a member of the Register of Professional Archaeologists (RPA). She has participated in fieldwork in the Americas and conducted lab work and teaching during her time at UCF. She is also an American Academy for Underwater Sciences (AAUS) diver, allowing her to assist with underwater research around the state.

This monthly Archaeology Lecture series is co-sponsored by the Alliance for Central Gulf Coast Archaeological Society (CGCAS) and Weedon Island Archaeological Research and Education (AWIARE).  

International Archaeology Day

Saturday, October 21, 2023 - 9:30 a.m. - 10:30 a.m.

Be a part of International Archaeology Day with youth activities at Weedon Island Preserve. AWIARE will lead a special Youth Workshop on Ancient Pottery that is for youth ages 6 and up. Learn to make pottery like the ancient people who once lived at Weedon Island. Over 1,000 years ago, early potters made coiled pots out of clay and sand for cooking vessels and ceremonial functions. This workshop will teach youth how to form a small-coiled pot and add distinctive decorations using early techniques. Register on-line at Weedon Island Preserve Calendar/Classes.

September 14, 2023: Dr. Keith Ashley

Broad-scale Excavations at Sarabay: Piecing Together the Layout of a Timucuan Town 

Keith Ashley, Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of North Florida

This past summer (2023) the University of North Florida (UNF) completed its fourth consecutive field school in what we believe is the center of the Mocama community of Sarabay. In addition to more than 15,000 Indigenous sherds, UNF students have recovered Spanish olive jar and majolica plate fragments along with artifacts depicting Catholic imagery. Among the most tantalizing finds is a posthole alignment suggestive of an Indigenous building, some 60-70 feet in diameter. Archaeological, archival, and cartographic data suggest excavations have exposed an area dating to 1580-1620s. This presentation provides a very up-to-date overview of UNF excavations at Sarabay.


Keith Ashley says about himself: "I grew up in northern Florida and moved north to attend Auburn University, where I received a B.A. in Anthropology. I returned to the sunshine state to earn a M.S. from Florida State University and a Ph.D. from the University of Florida. Over the past 20 years, I have been involved in archaeological excavation and research throughout the southeastern U.S. Field projects have ranged from 4000 year-old shell middens along the Atlantic coast to 17th century Creek Indian villages in central Alabama. Beyond research and teaching, my aim is to draw UNF students into “hands-on” archaeology through fieldwork and laboratory analysis in an effort to prepare them for graduate school and a career in archaeology."

This monthly Archaeology Lecture series is co-sponsored by the Alliance for Weedon Island Archaeological Research and Education (AWIARE) and the Central Gulf Coast Archaeological Society (CGCAS).

April 13, 2023: Melissa R. Price

Tracing Marine Transgression at Manasota Key Offshore (8SO7030) using Crassostrea virginica 

Melissa R. Price

Manasota Key Offshore (MKO; 8SO7030) is a Florida Archaic period mortuary pond (7214 ± 30 cal BP) consisting of worked wooden stakes and human remains preserved in peat. It was initially located inland of the current coastline prior to Holocene sea level rise but is now located in the Gulf of Mexico offshore of Sarasota County, Florida. Discovery of a precontact site containing delicate organics and surviving marine transgression is unprecedented in the field of archaeology and raises the possibility that similar sites may be preserved on the continental shelves. This presentation discusses how oysters (Crassostrea virginica) that were attached to cultural and human skeletal material were used to investigate marine transgression at MKO. Morphometric analysis, sclerochronology, stable isotope analysis, and radiocarbon dating were used to rebuild the paleoenvironment at the time the oysters formed, determine when and for how long the MKO pond was exposed to brackish or marine environments conducive to the growth of oysters, and examine site formation processes as the pond was transgressed.  

Melissa R. Price is an Underwater Archaeologist and Diving Safety Officer at the Florida Bureau of Archaeological Research. She is also a PhD candidate and Affiliated Fellow at Leiden University in the Netherlands. Her current work focuses on submerged precontact sites in the Gulf of Mexico.



Dr. J. Michael Francis: "Lost Voices from St. Augustine's Parish Archive"

Join us for the final event in our celebration of Florida Archaeology Month with a talk from Dr. J. Michael Francis. Dr. Francis will introduce attendees to the oldest surviving parish records in the United States which come from St. Augustine, FL. He will highlight the early history of colonial Florida, focusing on the rich corpus of baptism, confirmation, marriage, and death records housed in St. Augustine's Diocesan Archive. He will share some of the remarkable stories that emerge from the badly damaged pages, and he will introduce a new digital archive that provides unparalleled public access to this unique collection. This presentation will be available for in-person attendance

This lecture series is located at the Weedon Island Preserve, 1800 Weedon Island Dr, St Petersburg, FL 33702

Florida Conversations is free and open to the public. It is underwritten by the Tampa Bay History Center Endowment Fund at the University of South Florida with media sponsorship from WUSF Public Broadcasting. The series is co-sponsored by USF Libraries and the Tampa Bay History Center. Online reservations are encouraged.

March 9, 2023: Kendal Jackson

Shell Mounds, Coastal Evolution, and Indigenous Engineering of Tampa Bay’s Inshore Bayous
Kendal Jackson
In this talk, Kendal Jackson discusses key findings from recent geological and archaeological investigations at several of Tampa Bay’s inshore bayous, including Double Branch Bay, Papy’s Bayou, Cockroach Bay, and Bishop Harbor. Drawing on data from 65 estuarine sediment cores and 38 excavations at Native shell-mound sites—including more than 100 new radiocarbon dates— Jackson outlines a new history of environmental transformation extending back ca. 30,000 years, including detailed sequences of estuary formation and transformation from ca. 6,500 years ago to the present. The new work reveals that millennia of shell-mound construction by ancestral Indigenous peoples substantially influenced the trajectory of inshore estuary development and continues to structure the character and distribution of tidal wetland habitats.

Kendal Jackson is a PhD candidate at the University of South Florida in Tampa. He works in both academic and applied settings, studying historical and ancient environments and how they have been altered and managed by past human societies. He received undergraduate and master’s degrees from USF and has worked at numerous archaeological sites throughout Florida.

This monthly CGCAS Archaeology Lecture series is sponsored by the Alliance for Weedon Island Archaeological Research and Education (AWIARE).