Archaeology in depth

Global warming may bring the water-front to many Floridians’ doorsteps. But considering that the Sunshine State’s Gulf of Mexico shoreline has shifted north and eastward over the past 10,000 years, forcing prehistoric populations to move several hundreds of miles inland, this phenomenon should not come as a surprise.

If approval goes through next spring as anticipated, students will be able to sign up for a specialty certificate in underwater archaeology, which will make FSU one of only three institutions in the U.S. to offer degrees with a particular emphasis on underwater archaeological research. The preliminary program was launched this fall within FSU’s Department of Anthropology.

The program aims to focus study on many of these inundated prehistoric archaeological sites, some of which date back to 12,000 years. FSU’s close proximity to numerous underwater sites in the Aucilla River, Gulf of Mexico and other rivers attracted Dr. Michael Faught, the new program’s director.

The former field director of Bay County Shipwreck Survey, and an archaeological consultant for the Aucilla River Prehistory Project, both located in Florida, Faught says the program is being established in conjunction with the university’s Academic Diving Program and the FSU Marine Laboratory on the shores of Apalachicola Bay. “Our goal,” says Faught, “is to focus on both historic and prehistoric underwater research themes.”

The better-known historic shipwreck sites, located in salt as well as fresh water, may soon be eclipsed by research on freshwater sites located within the Gulf of Mexico, says Faught. Sinkholes, numerous freshwater springs, and ancient riverbeds where humans might have lived before the seawater level began to rise at the end of the last Ice Age, are covered by water today, and a number of such sites are within easy striking distance of FSU’s marine lab.

FSU has conducted underwater archaeological fieldwork since the 1960s, longer than any other academic institution. Collaborating with the Florida Bureau of Archaeological Research and the National Park Service’s Southeast Archaeological Center (SEAC), the new specialty certification promises students a rich experience in both shipwreck and prehistoric underwater archaeology. See the program’s web site at http://www.anthro.fsu.edu/research/uw/.


Editor’s note: This article appeared in the Fall/Winter 1997 issue of Florida State University, Research in Review.