The Archaeology, Art, and Iconography of Florida’s Watery Landscapes

Part of: Society for American Archaeology 81st Annual Meeting, Orlando, FL (2016)

Frank Hamilton Cushing’s 1896 excavations at Key Marco revealed astonishing carved and painted objects of wood rarely seen by archaeologists. Those following in Cushing’s footsteps have assembled a corpus of aesthetic objects from Florida, often in perishable materials. These range from an embarrassing number of dugout canoes, to the elaborate paddle-stamped pottery of Swift Creek, and from the wooden animal carvings of Fort Center’s mortuary pond to the owl totem of Hontoon Island. Connections to neighboring areas have been sought with some success; in general, however, the diversity of imagery often makes comparison a challenge. The papers in this symposium explore new discoveries and revisit existing museum collections, asking new questions or employing innovative analytical techniques. Cushing concluded his slim Key Marco report with the surmise that the boundless life of the sea provided the energetic impulse behind the artworks that he uncovered. While we might reach a different conclusion today, it’s clear that ancient Florida is difficult to comfortably place within the Southeast or Caribbean and that much of that difficulty arises from the iconography born of Florida’s watery landscapes.

Resources Inside This Collection (Viewing 1-8 of 8)

  • Documents (8)

  • Early Archaic through Middle Archaic Design Elements on Artifacts from the Basin at Little Salt Spring (8SO18), Sarasota County, Florida (2016)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Steven Koski. John A. Gifford.

    Underwater excavations in the basin of Little Salt Spring by the University of Miami since 1992 have recovered seven artifacts made from bone, wood, and shell with applied design elements from contexts associated with Early Archaic through Middle Archaic periods. These design elements represent some of the earliest known from Florida; as early as 10560 to 10253 Cal. BP (2‐sigma). An analysis of these artifacts will be presented, with their relative and absolute dates, and compared to regional...

  • Fort Center's Iconographic Bestiary: A Fresh Look at Fort Center's Zoomorphic Wood Carvings (2016)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only S. Spivey.

    The zoomorphic wood carvings excavated by William Sears from the mortuary pond at the Fort Center (8GL13) site in South Florida are a chronically understudied assemblage. These artifacts are generally interpreted as totems carved into a single contemporaneous dock structure built above the mortuary pond, later excavated in various states of degradation. I propose a preliminary typology through which to interpret their function. Beyond that, I discuss the form the carvings individually take and...

  • The Karst Spring Vent as Receptacle with Meaning: Chassahowitzka Headsprings Weeden Island Period Dolphin Fin Effigy (2016)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Michael Arbuthnot. Michael Faught.

    Restoration dredging of the Chassahowitzka Headsprings along the west coast of central Florida produced a wealth of artifacts representing virtually all culture periods including Paleoindian, Middle Archaic, early (Deptford) Woodland, late Woodland (Weeden Island), and Contact period Native American, as well as 16th through 20th century Euro-American (Historic) such as rare (broken) Majolica bowls and an asymmetrical paddle. All of the Euro-American artifacts can be attributed to secondary...

  • Mortuary Ritual at the Fort Center Mound-Charnel Pond Complex (8GL12): New Insights from an Accidental (Re)Discovery (2016)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Daniel Seinfeld.

    William Sears’s reconstruction of a Hopewellian charnel platform with wood carvings at Fort Center (8GL12) is one of the more vivid imaginings of prehistoric ritual in Florida archaeology. This model has been influential in our thinking about ritual in the Okeechobee area. It was long believed that Sears’s excavations completely destroyed the pond-mound complex and that further data recovery would be impossible. Recently, wallowing wild hogs (Sus scrofa) uncovered wood artifacts in the Fort...

  • The Original Spaghetti Junction: Using Canoe Locations to Trace Routes of an Ancient Transportation Network in Florida (2016)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Julia Byrd.

    This paper presents results of spatial analysis on Florida’s 400 dugout canoes recorded in the Florida Bureau of Archaeological Research’s canoe database. Patterned concentrations of canoes located at the edges of basins suggest that prehistoric people had a system of drop-off points, where canoes were left for later use. Such a system is consistent with ethnographically recorded canoe-use practices among indigenous peoples in Florida and beyond. Drop-off points represent important places on the...

  • The Pineland Site Complex: A Southwest Florida Coastal Wetsite (2016)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Karen Walker. William Marquardt. Lee Newsom. Merald Clark.

    South Florida is internationally known for its waterlogged sites, Key Marco and Fort Center being perhaps the best known. In 1990, the Florida Museum of Natural History was given a marvelous carved wooden bird figurehead, 27.4 cm in length, later interpreted as part of a mechanical waterbird figurehead (ca. A.D. 865-985). It had been found in 1971 in a spoil pile adjacent to a mosquito-control ditch at the southern boundary of the Pineland complex. That such an important but normally perishable...

  • ‘Totem’ owls, otters and pelicans: 14C dating central Florida’s prehistoric sculptures (2016)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Joanna Ostapkowicz. Ryan Wheeler. Lee Ann Newsom. Fiona Brock. Christophe Snoeck.

    Florida’s wealth of prehistoric wood sculpture includes three large zoomorphic ‘totems’ dredged in the 1950s and 1970s from the banks of Hontoon Island, along the St Johns River, and a stylistically unusual anthropomorphic figure from the Tomoka River. Some, like the Hontoon owl, have had a long history of museum conservation, display and interpretation. These central Florida sculptures form a unique corpus that can inform on the diversity of artistic expression within a region long dominated by...

  • Wood Preservation Dilemmas of Florida's Prehistoric Saltwater Sites: Famous Key Marco and Recent Weedon Island (2016)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Phyllis Kolianos.

    Almost 120 years has passed since Frank Hamilton Cushing recovered hundreds of wood artifacts from a peaty muck lagoon at Key Marco, Florida. Relatively few of these extraordinary, fragile wood specimens remain in existence today due to difficulties with excavation and preservation methods in the late 1800s. In 2001, at Weedon Island Preserve, another mangrove peat saltwater site was discovered containing an ancient waterlogged canoe and pole. The salvage of Florida’s longest and only maritime...