Universities share commitment to underwater archaeology

By Dr. Michael K. Faught

The Department of Anthropology at Florida State University recently hired me to direct the Program in Underwater Archaeology working with George Fischer and Gregg Stanton at the Academic Diving Program in teaching underwater archaeology, focusing on anthropological issues associated with underwater sites—be they prehistoric or historic, continuing a hands-on approach to training, and conducting research on local underwater cultural resources. There is a group, a Cadre, of very capable staff and students, both at Anthropology and at the ADP, who are already experienced in underwater archaeological projects, and enthusiastic about learning and doing more. The fact that Anthropology hired an underwater archaeologist demonstrates their belief that this subdiscipline has much to offer our understanding of the past.

Some readers of the Aucilla River Times may not know it, but over the thirty or forty years that this subdiscipline of archaeology has been developing, both UF and FSU have undertaken some landmark projects, developed innovative techniques for doing underwater archaeology, produced influential publications, and trained numerous underwater archaeologists in the process. There isn’t space here to detail all of the projects that have accrued over this history, but there are some milestones and new developments that need to be shared.

In 1960, John Goggin, of the University of Florida, published “Underwater Archaeology - Its Nature and Limitations” in American Antiquity. This early article described several underwater projects Goggin and his students had conducted in the late 1950’s in the rivers and springs near Gainesville. Goggin detailed the kinds of sites to be expected in underwater settings, as well as their condition. This article is pertinent even today, both for its historical value, and for its clear exposition of principles. Another early project undertaken in Florida was Stanley Olsen’s research at the Wakulla Springs, which originated from FSU. Olsen, then State Paleontologist, brought up an amazing array of extinct and modern faunal bones from deep in the spring head, as well as numerous bone pin artifacts. The mastodon currently on display at the Florida Museum of History in Tallahassee is one of these paleontological samples. These two projects rival any others in the United States for their early occurrence and contributions to theory and methodology.

In the 1960’s and 1970’s, much shipwreck archaeology was conducted at FSU in cooperation with the Park Service’s Southeastern Archaeological Center. George R. Fischer came to prominence in the field of underwater archaeology during this time, and he has been involved in several significant shipwreck projects, such as the H.M.S. Fowey (1748) and the Nuestra Senora de Rosario (1622). George has also been instrumental in developing legislation and policies regarding submerged remains, as well as instructing numerous underwater archaeologists over the years. Gregg Stanton has directed the Academic Diving Program at FSU since the early 1970’s. FSU’s ADP is a premiere diving institution, capable of assisting archaeological projects in a wide range of diving conditions. Wilburn Cockrell’s well known operation at Warm Mineral Springs was organized through the Academic Diving Program at FSU for several years in the 1980’s and early 1990’s. These projects and others are highlighted in FSU’s award winning web page (http://www.adp.fsu.edu/uwarch.html).

The Aucilla River Prehistory Project, initially under the leadership of David Webb and James Dunbar, had its beginnings in the early 1980’s out of the Florida Museum of Natural History and the University of Florida. Over the years, as you know, the ARPP has produced a wealth of new discoveries, developed new and innovative methodologies for conducting underwater research, and has provided a training ground for interested and capable students. For the last few years, the Aucilla River project and the Academic Diving Program at FSU have engaged in active cooperation by sharing equipment, underwater research expertise, and students. Many students from FSU have been involved with the Aucilla River Prehistory Project through the years. Here are some Cadre names you may remember: Dave Ball, Chip Birdsong, Rhonda Brewer, Melanie Damour, Grayal Farr, Peter Frank Edwards, Hank Kratt, Alyssa McManus, Chuck Meide, Tammy Montes, Thadra Palmer, Jerry Smith, Brad Stackpoole, Susan Tuttle, and Brian Yates. Tanya Peres got her Master’s Degree from FSU working on faunal remains from Page/Ladson (see “Page/Ladson Faunal Remains and the Paleoenvironment”), and she is now in the doctoral program at UF, under the direction of Dr. Lynette Norr. Jim Dunbar, a leader in prehistoric underwater archaeology nationwide, is working on Page/Ladson related research for his FSU thesis.

With so many cultural resources available for underwater scrutiny, it is no wonder that other Florida Universities are also beginning to conduct underwater archaeological projects. The University of Miami, Rosensteil School of Marine Research has a state of the art research project at the prehistoric site of Little Salt Spring, under the leadership of John Gifford. The University of West Florida has a growing program in underwater archaeology which is focused on the excavation of the early Spanish shipwreck at Emanuel Point under the leadership of Judy Bense and Roger Smith of the Bureau of Archaeological Research. Their conservation lab is world class, thanks to the fine efforts of John Bratten. I might add that FSU students have also worked on both of these fine projects.

One question that might be asked is how these institutions can work together in the future to conduct more research, offer more experience and instruction for students, and contribute to the management of the State’s remaining cultural heritage? There are lots of ideas going around, we are already making some plans, and more are sure to follow. For instance, this April members of the Cadre will be joining the ARPP team to conduct a remote sensing survey of several sites in the Aucilla River, using an ARPP vessel specially modified to tow FSU’s new sidescan sonar. Sidescan is a device that reconstructs the seafloor bottom with sound waves, making virtual photographic images (to be published in the 1999 issue of the Aucilla River Times). These images will be used to illustrate details of the channel system in publications, and to look for new areas for research sites.

My own research plans are to focus FSU based research on the PaleoAucilla offshore; to find, excavate, and evaluate submerged prehistoric archaeological sites. I think we all agree that the offshore research represents a kind of sister operation to the ARPP, in so far as it is focused on the PaleoAucilla offshore. In the Aucilla River Times of September, 1993 (p. 12) Dr. Webb envisioned: “From the Clovis Shoreline .... to several sites on the Wacissa River; the Aucilla River Project has a powerful string of relevant options for further research.” The Clovis Shoreline is approximately 85 miles out to sea and it is a logical step to continue investigations out there searching for early Paleoindian sites. An offshore archaeology field session is planned for this coming July, and students from both FSU and UF have expressed great interest in participating in this research effort.

There is a lot of water in Florida, and archaeological and paleontological remains have been found in many of the rivers, sinkholes, lakes, bays, inlets, and on the offshore. Many of these finds demonstrate that water levels (both fresh and salt) were lower in the past, and that there was a greater area of landscape on which successive cultures could “make a living”. Many shipwrecks of all ages since the times of Columbus are known, and many more remain to be discovered and investigated. Surely there is plenty for all of us to do, and surely more work will get done if we approach it with a commitment to cooperation, rather than a sense of competition or isolation, and this is exactly how we are proceeding.

Frankly, there has been much damage done to sites underwater in Florida, by natural forces, urban growth, and artifact collectors, well intentioned, or not. These sites are truly nonrenewable resources, and there is much to do in order to manage and interpret what remains. We need to do more than just find the physical remains—we need to save the stories that these sites and artifacts have to tell us, and train students in the process.


Editor's Note: Dr. Michael Faught is Director of the Program in Underwater Archaeology, Department of Anthropology, Florida State University.