GARI in the news!

New institute director looks forward — into past

Sunday, January 15, 2017 at 9:45 pm

Diane Dobry

For the Chronicle

Seven years after doctoral student Michelle Sivilich first met Gary Ellis, she was living in Virginia and had completed her dissertation study for the University of South Florida on the Second Seminole war. Ellis invited her to return to work at Gulf Archaeology Research Institute (GARI) with the intent that she would eventually take over his leadership role there.

In November, Sivilich was named executive director of the institute, and she has already created a five-year plan.

“My goal is to raise our visibility to national, if not international awareness,” she said.

Based on her own interest in Indian wars in Florida and her experience in a number of archaeological settings, including Revolutionary War sites throughout the northeast United States and Thomas Jefferson’s home, Sivilich is interested in creating a forum for discussion of asymmetrical warfare.

“I want to bring in scholars from different fields, a collaborative research center, that includes historians or military strategists and tribal people whose voices are not always heard in this,” she explained. “What I want to see in five years is a global hub for scholarship.”

Sivilich will write grants and develop fundraising and donor activities to make that happen. Currently, she says, the institute’s specialty is Florida archaeology, with a staff of researchers writing grants every year to find funding for projects, including studies on climate change and rising sea levels, what can be done to protect the coastlines and historical sites in those areas.

At the celebration, she noted “Florida is in a heritage emergency. We are losing our archaeological sites and historic places at an alarming rate to sea level rise, development, looting and a general lack of awareness of how important these places are.”

She added that by raising awareness, something could be done to help prevent that from happening.

“We do public engagements, library talks, and radio interviews on who we are and what we do,” she said, adding that the simplest way to help is to sign up for their newsletter and share their Facebook posts across social networks.

While Sivilich will still study Seminole Wars, she is now juggling that with administrative responsibilities and managerial functions.

“It’s been fun. Gary has been amazing giving me latitude,” she said. “When you design something, it is your baby, and it can be hard to pass it off. But he has given me free rein, and he is excited to see what we’re going to do.”

Ellis supports the new leader, unequivocally, and noted, “Her skill sets are well-rounded, broad and diversified, and for that reason, she is the ideal person to bring the institute into the rest of the 21st century.”



Changing of the guard

Longtime director of archaeological institute stepping aside

Diane Dobry

Sunday, January 15, 2017 at 9:43 pm

<div class='source'>Amber Sigman/For the Chronicle</div><div class='image-desc'>Gary Ellis, founder and former director of the Gulf Archaeology Research Institute (GARI), speaks to the crowd during a “farewell and welcome aboard” event Saturday at the Crystal River Archaeological State Park, honoring Ellis’ 20th year of service with GARI, and over 40 years of experience in the archaeology field, while introducing new Executive Director Michelle Sivilich. Ellis will be stepping aside for a new role as director emeritus.</div><div class='buy-pic'></div>
Amber Sigman/For the Chronicle
Gary Ellis, founder and former director of the Gulf Archaeology Research Institute (GARI), speaks to the crowd during a “farewell and welcome aboard” event Saturday at the Crystal River Archaeological State Park, honoring Ellis’ 20th year of service with GARI, and over 40 years of experience in the archaeology field, while introducing new Executive Director Michelle Sivilich. Ellis will be stepping aside for a new role as director emeritus.

While he won’t be retiring anytime soon, Gary Ellis, founder and director of the Gulf Archaeology Research Institute (GARI), has turned leadership responsibilities for the organization over to former Assistant Director Michelle Sivilich, who is now executive director.

“Sometimes I think it is better for smart young people to communicate with other young people in ways that are more efficient than the way I can do it,” Ellis said.

Since 1991, Ellis has been interested in exploring and analyzing Florida’s natural resources with the goal of understanding humankind’s place within them. That is when he laid the groundwork, operating as Ellis Archaeology, by creating a team of scientists, obtaining equipment, and finding a place to house the operation, and, by 1995, to become the non-profit that is now GARI.

He brought with him not only enthusiasm for this kind of work since his youth, but an education in anthropology from Southern Illinois University and a graduate degree from USF. He was the first state archaeologist for the state of Indiana, a faculty member at Indiana University-Purdue University, and archaeologist for the Indiana State Museum.

“As a young person and professional, I built a template of how I would approach archaeology from a natural, physical and social standpoint to look at the complete picture,” Ellis said. “Our goal is not just research for the sake of doing research, but we need to deliver answers that provide benefits directly to property owners, counties, cities and land management organizations.”

The institute’s mission is to “connect the past to our future.” Its work includes historical research, National Historic Landmark nominations, analyzing and assessing soil and the environment, studying and monitoring coastal change, analyzing and cataloging artifacts, doing public outreach and much more.

“People think we dig and get a pile of artifacts,” Ellis noted. “Conservation requirements are enormous — everything has to be cleaned and put through analysis and go into databases we use that allow us to answer challenging questions about what life was like in the past. This is done for potential application for assisting and protecting resources.”

Their projects in Florida have included helping to find the original location of Fort King in Ocala and investigating Chinsegut Hill in Brooksville, a plantation with a long history dating back to pioneer days. A key focus has been an archaeological study of the Seminole Wars and an investigation of more than seven period forts and six major battlefields. Sivilich first met Ellis when she was a doctoral student studying the Second Seminole War.

“Michelle is one of those people who, during the course of your life, you meet who is unlike other young people going into archaeology, who are narrow in their interests, and you wonder how they will live,” Ellis said. “She is able to maintain research interests unique to her and yet see the big picture.”

Although the transfer of leadership actually took place in mid-November, the official announcement was made Jan. 15 at the Crystal River Archaeological State Park museum with close to 40 guests, including family, friends, Institute staff and board members.

Ellis’ daughter Alexis regaled visitors with stories of what it was like growing up as the child of an archeologist. Friend and board member Matt Clemons commented on Ellis’s work and his unique life experiences, including tasting mammoth meat as a young man.

Sivilich’s father, Dan Sivilich, also an archeologist, described his daughter as a natural at field work, adding that by the age of 15 she was a field school supervisor for Rutgers and Brookdale Community College archeology students.

In her official presentation, Donnie Brown, president of GARI’s board of directors, recalled Ellis’ many accomplishments, including a project to recover the remains of a mastodon in northern Indiana, which was later displayed at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. She presented Ellis with a gift certificate to buy a new office chair, which was met with surprised laughter. On a more serious note, Brown announced the establishment of the Gary Ellis Special Projects Fund to honor his work.

“Through this fund, not only will the work that Gary has established continue in the future, but others may have the opportunity to research, preserve and protect those resources that are near and dear to Gary Ellis,” she said.

“We are starting a new era here,” Ellis said recently, adding he would like the institute to try new things, but not too radically new. “Michelle will be doing that and in that process expanding our social media and website, and doing more public events and public education. We are so excited that she is at the helm.”




Connecting past and future

At archaeological institute, uncovering means more than digging

By Buster Thompson
Thursday, December 10, 2015 at 9:34 pm

History — how a place came to be — can be easily forgotten in today's hectic, everchanging

For a group of archaeologists based in Citrus County, understanding and preserving past societies and landmarks isn’t just work for a trowel and screen.

“We have a more integrated, systematic research than just archaeology,” GARI Director Gary Ellis said about his staff researching Florida’s prehistoric, historic and underwater archaeological sites. “By integrating social, biological and physical sciences, we have an opportunity to look at the larger behavior of humans within these large systems.”

“It’s not artifact-oriented, it’s context-oriented,” he said.

Founded in 1995, GARI — the Gulf Archaeology Research Institute — is a nonprofit research institute headquartered in Crystal River. It offers a variety of services, from surveying and reconstructing sites to hosting educational programs, for private and public parties interested in maintaining and strengthening historic sites.

“We can do pure research and thumb our nose at the world and say, ‘Don’t bother us, we wear white coats and we’re scientists,’” Ellis said. “But at the end of the day, you need a solution to something that land managers and property owners can go, ‘I can protect this site.’”

Some of GARI’s recent research topics revolve around the origins of pre-Columbian cultures living near waterways, relationships between indigenous and Euro-

American peoples, climate change and the Seminole Wars, Ellis said.

“That had a dramatic impact on this nation and on the development of Florida,” Ellis said about the Seminole Wars, a series of three conflicts between U.S. forces and the Seminole Tribe spanning from 1816 to 1858. “It also set a lot of precedence on Indian-American relations.”

GARI Assistant Director Michelle Sivilich, Ph.D., has been specializing in the Seminole Wars, studying in a field known as conflict archaeology.

Sivilich’s research indicates how nativistic battle tactics trumped and shaped the regimental formations taught to graduates of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York, who served in the harsh swamplands of Florida.

“My argument is that West Point really hindered their ability to operate in Florida,” Sivilich said. “They were leaning very Napoleonic tactics ... they kept failing, and it was a really high turnover of officers.”

By looking at a battlefield and determining what its landscape looked like in the past through tools like soil excavation, GARI researchers can incorporate cultural and biological research into their analyses.

“We can look at that and take one side, or we can look at the battlefield and say, ‘Forget about what it looks like today,’” Ellis said. “Then you can look at the battle at a totally different perspective. ... Wouldn’t you want to know both sides of the story?”

Through a National Park Service grant, one of the institute’s local projects studies the nature and extent of the Battles of Camp Izard and the Withlacoochee River in early 1836. 

By merging field archaeology and data analysis at riverine battlegrounds east of what’s now State Road 200, GARI hopes to address the historical implications of the Camp Izard battle — at which outnumbered U.S. forces were overcome by Seminole fighters — by, say, comparing it to the Battle of the Alamo, where settlers were overrun by Mexican forces.

In addition to reconstructing battles lost to time, GARI also works with governments and historical societies to uncover, restore and display artifacts — from items as small as iron buckles to as those as large as Fort King in Ocala.

GARI is working with Ocala to acquire a $298,000 grant to partially rebuild the 1837 fort, which was instrumental for U.S. troops during the Second Seminole War. As the public explores the reconstructed part of the fort, other archaeologists can still pursue research nearby.

GARI has also been instrumental in tagging certain areas that are prone to coastal flooding or other disasters, so researchers know which sites are the most vulnerable and should be improved in order to be protected.

“Those episodes need to be recorded,” Ellis said about the fragile west-Florida sites.

Ellis said archaeologists with GARI are not just diggers, but advocates for lands and people on the brink of disappearing.

“Resources need advocates,” he said. “There’re advocates for almost everything, and resources need advocates.” 

GARI’s funding for research student training is provided through grants, research contracts and donations. To donate online, visit

For more information on GARI, or call 352-464-4274.

Contact Chronicle reporter Buster Thompson at 352-564-2916, or via Twitter @BTChronicle.

Ocala helps with Fort King grant Cash, in-kind services pledged

Staff writer
Published: Wednesday, December 3, 2014 at 7:02 p.m.

In order to apply for a State of Florida Historic Preservation Special Category Grant to help reconstruct the fort at the Fort King Historic Landmark site, the Ocala City Council had to agree to match the grant, should it be the successful applicant. On Tuesday, the council voted to commit $75,000 in cash and $$224,500 of in-kind services to match the grant.

The request for the match was not listed on the council agenda; rather, it was walked on during Tuesday’s meeting. Council approved the request 4-0. Councilwoman Mary Rich was absent.

“We are looking for the Fort King Heritage Association to raise some of that,” Catherine Zimmer, the assistant city manager of public services, said about the match. “We will request the county participation in that as well as the city.”

The total estimated project cost is $597,500, of which $298,000 would come from the state grant and $299,500 from the city’s match. As part of the in-kind services commitment, the Fort King Heritage Association and the Gulf Archaeology Research Institute would provide $85,000 in professional services and volunteer labor.

The Fort King National Historic Landmark is comprised of 37 acres owned jointly by the city and Marion County. The site received the National Historic Landmark designation on Feb. 24, 2004. It is the site where the Second Seminole War began. The original fort that was built in 1827 was burned by the Seminole Indians but remained functional. It subsequently was used as Marion County’s first courthouse. Eventually, that structure was abandoned and ultimately disassembled and the building materials salvaged.

The national landmark, located off Fort King Street just east of Southeast 36th Avenue, opened to the public on May 31, 2014.

With the help of Gary Ellis of Gulf Archaeology Research Institute, the city applied for the grant in October. However, the application cannot be considered without a written commitment to match the grant. The City Council made that commitment without any discussion.

In other business Tuesday, the City Council:

• Voted to appoint Jay Musleh as council president and Jim Hilty Sr. as president pro tem

• Agreed to hold its strategic planning session on Feb. 10, 2015 at a time to be determined. It will be held in the conference room at 315 NE 14th St., the former headquarters of Taylor, Bean & Whitaker, now owned by Ralph L. “Larry” Roberts I, CEO of R+L Carriers.

Contact Susan Latham Carr at 352-867-4156 or

Copyright © 2014 — All rights reserved. Restricted use only.


GARI receives American Battlefield Protection Program Grant

This project will seek to define the nature of the Battles of the Withlachoochee and at Camp Izard, crucial battles during the early days of the Second Seminole War. The Cove of the Withlachoochee and Wahoo Swamp were Seminole strongholds throughout the war. The U.S. Army made several attempts throughout the Second Seminole War at dislodging the Seminoles but were unsuccessful. This Battle of the Withlacoochee was significant in showing just how unprepared the military was for war with the Seminoles. Not only was this a pivotal battle for Florida, it also shaped the outcome of the Texas Revolution. General Gaines withdrew his troops without authorization from his station along the Texas border to assist in Florida, leaving Texas vulnerable and ultimately triggering the battle at the Alamo.

The focus of this project is to gather all available archival data relating to the Battles of Camp Izard and the Withlacoochee in early 1836 into a comprehensive relational database that can then be displayed using GIS software. This GIS model will allow for the strength of troops and supplies listed at forts in the vicinity and how supplies were moved around the landscape leading up to and just after the battle. The purpose of this is to show if resources were staged effectively and used to their best advantage. Based upon an in depth analysis of all extant historical documentation and data identified during archaeological surveys, the project will produce military terrain analysis (KOCOA) battle maps and a cumulative final report that may be used as a resource base to ensure preservation and interpretation of these important sites. The project will develop an updated historic context for the U.S. and Seminole forces in the opening of the Second Seminole War, focusing on the differences in U.S. Army operations between contemporary military districts, and the impact of the appearance of the U.S. Army of the West on the prosecution and outcome of the war.  It will also address the historical implications of the relocation of the Army of the West from its post west of the Mississippi River to Florida just prior to the Mexican invasion of Texas in early 1836.