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Extreme weather in Florida could help uncover ancient artifacts, experts say

Tom Flanigan

Tallahassee's recent tornadoes uncovered what could be a treasure-trove for archologists. WFSU Public Media caught up with a curious amateur excavator, as well as a professional who shared some words of advice and caution when it comes to digging up the past.

Following the storms of May 11th, tree debris removal crews continue to work the city's hardest-hit areas.

One of these areas is the Indianhead Acres neighborhood. Given that name, it would seem the place would have a connection to the area's original residents. Not to mention the fact so many streets there have the suffix "nene," Seminole Indian for "trail" or "path" in their name. But tangible remnants of those times, with the exception of the nearby Hernando DeSoto encampment just off Lafayette Street, are rare. All this fascinates Indianhead Acres resident Kevin Sansom. He's very interested in history and archeology.

"Everything I've heard is that there is a very significant Native American population lived on the site where this neighborhood is. And I've heard from other people in the neighborhood that several people have found remnants and artifacts of these people. So I really want to find some stuff."

The tornado provided some unexpected help in that regard. The winds uprooted numerous giant trees, exposing deep holes in the ground that could reveal ancient Native American artifacts. Sansom has been rooting around - literally - where a massive and very old live oak was blown over near a stream that flows through the neighborhood.

"I'm an amateur. This is the first time I every attempted to do this."

Barbara Clark, regional director for the Florida Public Archeology Network, admires Sansom's enthusiasm.

"Of course when the root ball of trees comes up, if it's within an archeological site, it could unearth artifacts. And a lot of people have a lot of interest in that and we at the Florida Public Archeology Network love that!"

But Clark cautions that real archeology in no way resembles the exploits of Indiana Jones, who typically grabs the treasured trinket and flees, just steps ahead of the bad guys.

"Archeology is not about the thing. It's about the people who created and used that object, whatever it may be. The context in which it is found - even if you think the context has been removed from the ground via a tornado - you can't say that for certain unless you do an archeological excavation and I always tell people, you haven't done archeology until you have written a report and done your proper documentation. Because archeology is not a renewable resource."

Luckily, Clark says her organization is prepared to partner with amateurs like Kevin Sansom.

"We are launching a wonderful program called the Heritage Monitoring Scouts. This is a citizens' science program and if somebody has an interest in archeology, as I'm sure a lot of people do, and those that are out there looking at those root balls obviously do, we have a program designed just for you that helps you navigate that blurry line between what is ethical and what is legal and still gets you involved in archology in a way that's productive."

Copyright 2024 WFSU

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