Museum archaeologist uses tree-ring data to test climate events in ancient Mesoamerican codex

February 1st, 2012

By Danielle Torrent

In ancient Mesoamerica, as the Aztec calendar predicted the end of the world with a total solar eclipse followed by a cataclysmic earthquake, neighboring cultures also looked to the heavens for signs of their future.

Their painted books depicted solar eclipses, comets and other celestial patterns, for the skies brought good fortune or bad, a successful crop season or dreaded famine.

Predictions and records of climate cycles appear in the Codex Borgia, the finest of the five Borgia group manuscripts to survive the Spanish conquest of the Aztec in 1521. Many scholars over the last   few centuries have offered interpretations of events documented in the Codex Borgia, a 76-page screen-fold book made of deerskin, but they had not taken into account its origin in Tlaxcala and notation of real events. (more…)

Museum archaeologist receives $20,000 to analyze Swift Creek pottery

July 11th, 2011

Photos available

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida Museum of Natural History researcher Neill Wallis recently received a $20,000 grant from the Wenner-Gren Foundation to analyze and digitally document pottery made by prehistoric people of the southeast U.S.

The grant will help Wallis analyze Swift Creek Complicated Stamped pottery used by hunter-gatherers of northern Florida, Georgia and eastern Alabama from A.D. 100 to 800. Methods include recording vessel shape and form, photographing designs, and conducting neutron activation and petrographic analyses and radiocarbon dating soot on the pottery. The grant will fund the neutron activation and petrographic analyses.

“This will be useful to many archaeologists working in Florida, Georgia or Alabama – there are a lot of sites that have Swift Creek pottery,” Wallis said. “It’s really going to give us a sense of how hunter-gatherers interacted with other hunter-gatherers.” (more…)

UF researchers unearth only stone mission church in St. Augustine

June 2nd, 2011

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — University of Florida archaeologists uncovered the remains of a more than 300-year-old building Friday in St. Augustine that may predate the famous Castillo de San Marcos fort.

Researchers from the Florida Museum of Natural History located coquina stone and tabby foundations of an at least 90-by-40-foot-structure, making it one of the largest churches in colonial Spanish Florida and the only mission church made of stone.

The team believes the church may be the oldest stone structure from Spanish colonial Florida. It was found on the site of the first Franciscan mission in Florida, the Nombre de Dios, which was the longest-enduring mission in the Southeast, in operation from 1587 until 1760. (more…)

UF research detailed in new book sheds light on importance of pottery to early peoples

February 1st, 2011

Photo Available

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — A new book by a University of Florida researcher challenges traditional theories about the exchange of prehistoric pottery and its value among ancient peoples in north Florida and southern Georgia.

“The Swift Creek Gift: Vessel Exchange on the Atlantic Coast” by Neill Wallis, an assistant curator of archaeology at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus, provides evidence early peoples found symbolism in seemingly insignificant items such as cooking pots. (more…)

Florida Museum curator emeritus named fellow in American Academy

April 21st, 2010

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Jerald T. Milanich, contributing editor at Archaeology magazine and curator emeritus in archaeology at the Florida Museum of Natural History, has been named a fellow in the American Academy of Arts & Sciences.

Milanich is among 229 new fellows who join one of the nation’s most prestigious honorary societies and a center for independent policy research. The scholars, scientists, jurists, writers, artists, civic, corporate and philanthropic leaders represent universities, museums, national laboratories, private research institutes, businesses and foundations. (more…)

Small islands given short shrift in assembling archaeological record

October 30th, 2008

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Small islands dwarf large ones in archaeological importance, says a University of Florida researcher, who found that people who settled the Caribbean before Christopher Columbus preferred more minute pieces of land because they relied heavily on the sea.

“We’ve written history based on the bigger islands,” said Bill Keegan, a University of Florida archaeologist whose study is published online in the journal Human Ecology. “Yet not only are we now seeing people earlier on smaller islands, but we’re seeing them move into territories where we didn’t expect them to at the time that they arrived.”

Early Ceramic Age settlements have been found in the U.S. Virgin Islands and Montserrat, for example, but are absent from all of the larger islands in the Lesser Antilles, Keegan said. And all of the small islands along the windward east coast of St. Lucia have substantial ceramic artifacts — evidence of settlement — despite being less than one kilometer, or .62 mile, long, said Keegan, who is curator of Caribbean archaeology at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus. (more…)

UF study: Maya politics likely played role in ancient large-game decline

November 8th, 2007

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — A University of Florida study is the first to document ancient hunting effects on large-game species in the Maya lowlands of Central America, and shows political and social demands near important cities likely contributed to their population decline, especially white-tailed deer.

Additional evidence from Maya culture and social structure at the end of the Classic period (approximately 250 to 800 A.D) strongly supports this assertion. The study by Florida Museum of Natural History Assistant Curator of Environmental Archaeology Kitty Emery appears in the Oct. 31 issue of the Journal for Nature Conservation.

“We’re finding declines specifically in large-game species, and particularly in the species that were politically and socially important to the Maya,” Emery said. “The politically powerful elite Maya had preferential access to large game, and white-tailed deer were especially important to the Maya as food and for their symbolic power.” (more…)

NEH grant to help Fla. Museum care for unique Calusa Indian collection

June 20th, 2007

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida Museum of Natural History archaeologists are rehabilitating the world’s largest collection of Calusa Indian artifacts and specimens, thanks to a $284,504 grant recently awarded by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

The Calusa artifacts and specimens — from fish otoliths and Spanish glass beads to shavings left over from working with wood, shell and stone — are unique because they comprise the only large, systematic collection from a major town site of this people group.

The Calusa occupied Pineland, located west of Fort Myers on the shore of Pine Island, for 15 centuries. Florida Museum archaeologists William Marquardt and Karen Walker and hundreds of volunteers excavated the site, now part of the Florida Museum’s Randell Research Center, between 1988 and 1995. The scientists now face the challenge of conserving and preserving the more than 141,000 specimens, which they say are extremely valuable for education and research. (more…)

Fla. Museum hosts Caribbean archaeology symposium June 29, public welcome

June 19th, 2007

The Florida Museum of Natural History presents “In the Footsteps of Ripley and Adelaide Bullen: A Survey of Caribbean Archaeology” from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on June 29 in Room 122 of Frazier/Rogers Hall on the University of Florida campus. This first-ever event sponsored by the Florida Museum Caribbean Archaeology Program is free and open to the public.

Event organizer and Florida Museum Archaeology Curator Archaeology Bill Keegan said speakers will touch on topics highlighting the multicultural diversity of the Caribbean and historical interconnections between the islands.

“People think of history as an old, dead subject,” said Keegan, who heads the Florida Museum’s Caribbean Archaeology Program. “But two presenters, both of whom are from the Caribbean, are talking about the influence of the pre-European path in modern society. To my mind this shows that the path is still alive today.” (more…)

Fla. Museum archaeologist’s new book explores role of myth in Taíno Indian history

June 19th, 2007

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida Museum of Natural History archaeology curator William Keegan explores the roles of myths and beliefs in his new book, “Taíno Indian Myth and Practice: the Arrival of the Stranger King,” published and recently released by University Press of Florida.

Keegan began investigating Caribbean prehistory nearly 30 years ago, and he infuses his accumulated knowledge about the Taíno, an indigenous pre-Columbian people, with archaeological theory to explain how myths and beliefs not only affect cultures but may also be used thousands of years later by archaeologists interpreting culture.

“Historical events have multiple meanings that are dependent on the different perspectives of the different observers,” Keegan said. “What I have tried to do is sort through a diversity of opinions to gain a clearer perspective on how people of the past and present interact in the creation of history.” (more…)

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