AWIARE / Levett Foundation Grant

AWIARE / Levett 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 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 --