Featured on Fox 13 News: Discovering Weedon Island’s Past

Discovering Weedon Island’s Past
Fifteen hikers recently got to walk out to an archeological dig site on Weedon Island where a USF professor and his students are learning about the first people to inhabit Pinellas County.

Weedon Island walk leads hikers to archaeological excavation site

By Photojournalist Mike Hughes | Published March 17, 2022, Pinellas County, FOX 13 News

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - Fifteen hikers recently took a two-mile walk to an active archeological dig site on Weedon Island to learn about the indigenous cultures that lived here long ago.

John Arthur, a professor of anthropology at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg, led the walk to give hikers an opportunity to see what he and his students are working on.

"We’re really just trying to understand the first Floridians that lived here," Arthur explained. "How did they adapt to the environment? What were their world views? How did they harvest the bay? What can we learn from them? How can we learn from the past to understand the present and future?"

Arthur started excavating at Weedon Island in 2007 and brought his students out so they could learn how to do real-world archeological methods. The team discovered native people were living there at Weedon Island until the Spanish arrived and inhabited the area.

"For people that are coming out on the hike and visiting with us today really allows us to be able to educate the public, to realize Weedon Island is more just hiking, paddleboarding and kayaking," Arthur said. "That this is a really important site that has some of the first Floridians that lived in Pinellas County."

The hike was limited to only 15 participants and sold out quickly, but Weedon Island Preserve plans to offer more hikes periodically.


Michael Francis Appointed to Florida Historical Commission, Honored by the King of Spain

A history professor known for his groundbreaking research and archival work on early Spanish Florida has been appointed to the Florida Historical Commission (FHC) by Governor Ron DeSantis.

Michael Francis, the Hough Family Endowed Chair of Florida Studies at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg campus, was named to the commission along with four others on September 3.

"It's such a unique privilege to serve on this committee," said Francis. "My area of research is the Spanish colonial era. So, I'm particularly interested in Florida's archaeological and colonial history."

The Florida Legislature established the FHC in 2001 to enhance public participation and involvement in preserving and protecting the state's historic sites. Members are considered to be experts in their respective fields.

Francis will serve a two-year term on the Commission. He will review grant applications, vote on proposed nominations to the National Register of Historic Places and advise the Florida Division of Historical Resources concerning policy and preservation needs.

Along with being a professor, Francis is the executive director of La Florida: The Interactive Digital Archives of the Americas. The project brings early Florida's diverse population to life through short videos, interactive maps and a searchable population database housed at the USF St. Petersburg campus.

The repository received national attention when it was unveiled in March 2018.

"It's a digital portal designed to introduce a global audience to Florida's rich colonial history,” Francis explained. “It's a place where anybody at any level can go and have free and open access to the site."

Francis previously served on the FHC for one year. The temporary appointment is a highlight of his career.

"It was wonderful. I think one of the most exciting things I got to see were the incredible 19th and early 20th century buildings and sites that I think so many Floridians are unaware of in existence."

Francis was appointed to the commission along with Rick Gonzalez, an architect in Juno Beach, Kathleen Kauffman, a historic preservation officer for the City of Gainesville, Judith Bense, founding member of the FHC and anthropology professor at the University of West Florida and Clifford Smith, a historical archaeologist and senior planner for the City of Sarasota.

Courtesy of USF Campus News, September 2021

Honor Bestowed by King of Spain

Francis was awarded a decree by the Consul General of Spain. King Felipe VI's decree inducts Francis into a Spanish civil order to recognize his work uncovering the early Spanish roots in Florida’s history. He has been awarded the Officer’s Cross, signifying a third class rank in the Order of Isabella the Catholic.

Francis, the director of the La Florida project, which digitized much of Florida’s early history, said he’s humbled by the honor and credited the undergraduate students he’s led on trips to Spain to examine early archives. He also praised the late philanthropists William and Hazel Hough, who endowed his position at USF and had a passion for making the state’s history accessible.

Francis and his team will launch a new project called “Europeans, Indians, and Africans: Lost Voices from America’s Oldest Parish Archive, 1594-1821.” It will digitize and translate more than 8,300 pages of early records and documents.

Providing direct access to history is important, he said.

“So they can see it for themselves, it’s not just a historian telling them this,” Francis said. “Especially now, there is a level of cynicism, of skepticism. There’s a lot of this popular mistrust. At the same time — as historians, as scholars — part of our responsibility is to make material available to the public and make it available in a way that’s accessible.”

The framing, he said, is also important. “(It’s) a complicated history,” he said. “A history that’s not without violence and conflict and some pretty tragic moments. We didn’t want to whitewash any of that.”

Weedon’s Prehistoric Past Gives Glimpse to Native American Culture

By Mike Hughes | Tampa Bay History | FOX 13 News

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - At approximately 3,700 acres, Weedon Island Preserve is an ecological jewel within an urban landscape on the shores of Old Tampa Bay in St. Petersburg.

Weedon Island is known for its nature, kayak trails and walking trails, but there is a rich human history of the island that began thousands of years ago and organizations like the Alliance for Weedon Island Archaeological Research (AWIARE) are uncovering its past. Robert Austin, AWIARE co-founder and archaeologist, says most people really don’t realize that Weedon Island has a deep-rooted Native American history that probably goes back at least 8,000 years.

"One of the reasons, maybe the primary reason I do archaeology and a lot of archaeologists do archaeology, is to bring that information about the past, not just to describe how people lived but also to give them a sense of the deep history that we have here," Austin shared. "That the people that lived here thousands of years ago, we’re sophisticated people that really knew how to live off the environment."

In the 1920s, the Smithsonian Institute came to the island, did an excavation and found decorated potteries in a burial mound. It took archaeologists a little while before they were able to integrate the items found at Weedon Island into a wider pre-history of the Southeast. As it turns out, the Weedon Island site is considered the type site for a prehistoric Native American culture.

"I would say probably much less than 10 percent of the site has been professionally excavated. We anticipate finding much, much more," Austin explained.


Austin says some of the most fascinating parts of understanding Weedon Island and its history is the history of everyday life, domestic areas and how people really lived in a prehistoric marine environment.

"We really haven’t scratched the surface even though there has been a lot of archaeological work out here in the past 20 years or so. We anticipate finding much more and we think sites like Weedon Island make us very lucky here in St. Petersburg because we have several major archaeological preserves in city parks people can visit," Austin explained.

He also hopes when people leave this site they have a better understanding of our past and why it’s important to preserve these sites.

(Thank you Fox 13 for this wonderful article and video) 





AWIARE held its first Adult Archaeology Camp February 22 – 26, 2021. Eight participants spent a week of performing archaeological activities that included field and lab experiences at Weedon Island Preserve and informative site visits. The camp enjoyed great weather the entire week. Protocol was in place for Covid-19 restrictions at all times.

On Monday, after the participants were welcomed by Phyllis Kolianos, the group learned about the area’s archaeological past in a slide presentation from Dr. Robert Austin followed by a trip to the Weedon Island Preserve Cultural and Natural History Center to view the ancient canoe and exhibit area.  After lunch, the campers hiked to an excavation area of the Weedon Island site for a talk by Dr. John Arthur with Kendal Jackson and George Stovall about the USFSP research and excavations, and to view the trench area where the group would participate in field work for the rest of the week.

Tuesday through Thursday, the participants were divided into two excavation teams led by Austin and Kolianos with morning and afternoon shifts of working in the field excavating and doing artifact and shell analysis in the lab at the research station.  Heather Draskovich assisted the campers in the field and Cindy Martin worked with the lab team. 

On Friday, Austin led a caravan to visit the important south St. Petersburg sites of Pinellas Point Mound and Maximo Park.  The participants were given informational hand-outs, as Austin spoke of the context of these mounds and their archaeological history and importance. With the success of this inaugural camp, future camps are being planned.  The 2020 camp was underwritten in part by a donation from the Margaret and David Perry Foundation.

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/Levett 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.