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.

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