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Tribal Historic Preservation Office awarded grant for Natural Resource Conservation Service projects

A THPO archaeologist digging a shovel test. (Courtesy THPO)

Editor’s note: Mark Savany, THPO field archeologist, submitted this report for the Seminole Tribune.

The Seminole Tribe of Florida Tribal Historic Preservation Office (STOF-THPO) was awarded a $347,000 grant from the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) in September 2020. The grant funds have been used to determine areas where people have lived for the past 5,000 years prior to agricultural development projects.

The THPO has undertaken these investigations by digging shovel tests (round holes that are approximately 1.5 feet in diameter and are roughly 3 feet deep) throughout the Brighton Reservation and St. Thomas Ranch. To date, the THPO has completed over 5,200 shovel tests in order to assess those areas where people once lived. This assessment helps to understand how people used the land, what they ate, and where they settled.

A projectile point THPO found in a shovel test. (Courtesy THPO)

This grant also offers the THPO a chance to determine the exact location of settlements and whether these areas are significant and should be listed on the National Register of Historic Places or Tribal Register of Historic Places. Based on the work that the THPO will do through this grant award, any impacts to these sites will be avoided or minimized during any ground disturbance for the agricultural projects.

Information about who lived at sites and what they did at them is derived from artifacts that are collected from the shovel test excavations. Artifacts include any item made or used by a human that can be carried. Following fieldwork, lab work is conducted at the THPO’s archaeological laboratory on the Big Cypress Reservation to examine these artifacts.

Approximately 15,600 artifacts have been found for this project, including burned animal bones (commonly snakes, fish and turtles), 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.

Some of the more interesting and out of the norm artifacts found during these projects have been bones from beavers, squirrel long bones, water moccasins, and a projectile point (pointed stone tool i.e., arrowhead) that dates 3,000 to 6,000 years ago.

At the end of the grant what the THPO hopes to achieve is a better understanding of how people lived in the past and to identify the level of significance of sites and areas that should be avoided from being disturbed.