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Tribal Historic Preservation Office awarded grant to examine effects of Hurricane Irma on cultural resources

By Maureen Mahoney
Tribal Archaeologist, Tribal Historic Preservation Office, Seminole Tribe of Florida

The Seminole Tribe of Florida Tribal Historic Preservation Office (STOF-THPO) was recently awarded a $400,000 grant from the Supplemental Historic Preservation Fund from the National Park Service. The grant funds will be used to determine the impact that Hurricane Irma had on cultural resources on the Seminole Tribe’s reservations. As a result of this project, damage caused to sites within the interior of Florida will be better understood. While it has long been clear that hurricanes wash away sites along the state’s coastline, the interior of Florida, has been similarly hard-hit, yet has been little studied for impacts to sites. Based on the work that the THPO will do through this grant award, any impacts to these important interior sites will be better recognized and assessed prior to future damage.

Cultural resources identified during survey work often include animal bones, which highlight what people used to eat, as well as pottery sherds, lithics (stone tools), historic objects such as glass bottles, and other items people have used throughout the thousands of years that reservation lands have been occupied. At this time, any damage to these objects and the sites that they are found within is unknown. Impacts may have occurred from uprooted trees or rising waters that occurred during the hurricane, which may have caused damage to these undocumented artifacts.

In order to determine the damage, archaeologists from the THPO will complete about 8,000 shovel tests (round holes that are approximately 1.5 feet in diameter and are roughly 3 feet deep) to assess the artifacts and archaeological sites. While in the field, the archaeologists will document any soil disturbance, uprooted trees, or water damage that could have been a result of the storm. All artifacts collected during fieldwork will be assessed in the THPO laboratory, which will be able to assess microscopic damage and evaluate trends in object integrity.

This project is partially funded by the Emergency Supplemental Historic Preservation Fund, National Park Service, Department of Interior. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material do not constitute endorsement or necessarily reflect the views of the Department of the Interior or U.S. Government.

Hurricane Irma’s wrath included damage to the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum boardwalk in September 2017. (file photo)
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