Archaeology in Peril

Climate and Sea-level Change

We hope this gets your attention. Be advised that much of our prehistory – our shared heritage – is undergoing destruction. This means the very archaeological sites that are needed to provide information about past human lifeways and culture development along coastal Florida will be lost before it can even be basically addressed. In short, we will lose our past due to coastal erosion. There is no point worrying about a catastrophe that you never knew existed. This catastrophe exists. Most Floridians have no real idea that the record of Florida’s first people stretches out into the Gulf of Mexico. Much of the evidence for our earliest cultures is already drowned by sea level rise. Only underwater archaeology has a prayer of accessing that and that will never rise to the level of representativeness. And the seas are still rising in 2018. The archaeological resource base that currently survives is horribly threatened and the interpretation of that rides a precipitous wave of generality and with it, perhaps, a bit of speculation. We may yet all lose what is left due to indifference to calamity or inability to do the necessary legwork. We do think it is important to understand our past. From what little is known about the past it portends to be great stories of survival, adaptation to changing conditions, and the development of complex cultures. But, even the fragments of those incompletely revealed stories are but a fraction of an old and venerable history we may never know. The remains of this unknown history is very imperiled at this moment by rising seas and marine actions and time is of the essence to locate, identify, evaluate and prioritize those sites that can be afforded protection before we lose them all. Most if not all will be destroyed and the best argument for protecting ahead of their loss is the development of a system that will prioritize sites on the basis of their context and content and the survivability of their archaeological component, associated ecology, and physical environmental against erosional marine and estuarine forces.

To meet these challenges, over the past 20 years GARI has developed an efficient method for tracking coastal changes of archaeological resources and their associated landforms. This Rapid Midden Assessment (RMA) program is designed to continuously conduct nearshore monitoring of archaeological sites and their associated ecosystems and physical platforms to assess near and long-term damage due to natural and cultural impacts. It requires a lot of multi-disciplinary information and the disciplined recording of such. To this end, GARI uses staff professionals to record coastal contexts. Our approach differs widely from other programs that utilize private citizens to monitor just archaeological sites. So, why not use citizen monitors? Timing is everything and what is at stake is much more than the loss of archeological sites.  Our program uses an interdisciplinary approach designed to identify the transition of coastal environments from stable to change states and that involves the recording of coastal ecological, physical environmental, and archaeological data. We need and use detailed data sets. We do anticipate providing specialized training to citizen volunteers in the future to optimize on the coastal coverage. Those volunteers will build on the previously recorded detailed data when and where possible. So, those of you who have biology, physical science, or archaeology interests stay tuned to our website for information about program volunteer training opportunities.

Though we utilize state and federal grant funding, coastal monitoring is a prodigious task. However, it is one that returns actual information about changes in the coast that provide actual actionable recommendations for resource protection. Since 1995 the GARI program has spent untold hours assessing coastal changes. There is no better time than now to rise to the challenges of understanding the how and why of our changing coastline so that information may serve proactively in protection. The alternative, that is, waiting for debilitating events to occur and then salvaging our past, is costly. Protecting forward through the GARI program requires fewer public monies and greater protection options. Please consider providing what you can toward this powerful application tool and help GARI to continue connecting the past to our future.

The RMA Report

This Summer the GARI coastal resources team finished up two major projects, one is south of the Withlacoochee River and the other on the Crystal River and the islands south of Fort Island. The Historical Ecology study of the Withlacoochee River (HEWE) involved the monitoring of 27 sites and the test excavation of site 8CI1319. This study produced much needed radiocarbon dates to the prehistoric sequence at site 1319, but also baseline ecological, physical environmental, and archaeological data for lower end of the Withlacoochee River. The RMA study of Crystal Bay produced precise information on the condition of 20 sites subject to coastal stressors. These sites have known rates of decay due to long-term marine impacts including storm surge, wave and tidal actions, and human pedestrian use. The sites, many devoid of intact cultural remains, will now serve as indices of various states of change that may be applied to other sites within the larger Crystal Bay environment.

Upcoming Coastal Research Projects

 The GARI coastal resources team will be initiating two new historical ecology grant projects south of the Withlacoochee River in 2018 and 2019. The 2018 project will evaluate site 8CI1325 to recover both cultural and historic ecological information. This project will also evaluate and monitor surrounding sites and physical environmental contexts as a follow-up to the HEWE project. Radiocarbon dates obtained from site 8CI1325 will enhance the dating of site 8CI1319 and permit a better understanding of the clock of prehistoric life in the estuaries south of the Withlacoochee River. The 2019 grant will move south of the Cross-Florida Barge Canal to investigate site 8CI1185 and the condition of a large suite of sites currently under severe marine stress. This project will further enhance our understanding of historical ecological context during the late prehistory and further support earlier Withlacoochee estuarine project information. Moving forward, the GARI team will work its way south into the inner and outer islands within Crystal Bay and then southward into the Ozello Archipelago down to the Homosassa and Chassahowitzka Rivers and their respective estuarine systems. These studies will serve to enhance knowledge about both prehistoric coastal lifeways and provide new information on the nature of coastal change through time.

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