Public Archaeology

The information in this website is just a brief introduction into the exciting prehistoric and historic archaeology of northwest Florida. If you are interested in learning more information check out some of the links. There is also a page compiling all of the resources referenced by this website that will help you better understand the long and varied prehistory and history of this region.

Some of the University of South Florida’s activities at past public archaeology programs are shown above: on the left, artifact displays at the Neal Civic Center in Blountstown; on the right, spear throwing with an atlatl into a hay bale at the Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve in Apalachicola.

What is Archaeology?

An excited child holds a thousand-year-old pot found on the lower Chattahoochee

Archaeology is part of the social science known as anthropology, which studies humans in both their cultural and biological manifestations. But archaeology uses a very different method: examination of the material remains that humans leave. So archaeology concerns past human behavior as interpreted by the artifacts and their contexts. But it doesn’t have to be the distant past (you can do the archaeology of someone in your house by looking at what is distributed around the room!)

If you’d like to learn more about what archaeology is and how it’s done, read Archaeology for Dummies.

Community Involvement

Remember that the professional archaeologist can never understand the past without the help of those who live on the land, collect artifacts, know its history, and appreciate its resources. University of South Florida archaeologists have been honored to be invited by various people in all the counties along the river valley to share site and artifact information. Some have invited us to dig on their land to find out what is there, or document their extensive collections so the information is not lost.

Ceramic duck effigy broken of late prehistoric pot from 8Ja7 (private collection)

Fort Walton frog effigy pot

Ethical (and Legal) Artifact Collection vs. Looting

Remember that it is illegal to pick up artifacts from federal, state, or other public land! Even on private land, you need permission from the landowner so you are not trespassing. The most important thing to do when you do collect artifacts is to collect their information with them! Write down where they were found, exactly, and when, by whom, and how – this information is called the provenience. Without this scientific information that goes with the artifact, it is worthless. Use waterproof pens or laundry markers on plastic bags, or even put the information into your computer. You could start a database (like you do with, say, your checking account) to show what you found and all the details of the provenience.

It is unethical for professional archaeologists to buy or sell or appraise any value for artifacts – this is like your doctor selling livers or kidneys! On the other hand, we are enormously happy to look at people’s artifact collections and share the information on types, ages, and other aspects of these pieces of the past. We have often asked permission to photograph specimens in private collections and used them in research and publication. If you are interested in contributing to the record of the human past in the lower Chattahoochee-Apalachicola-Chipola basin, please let us know. (contact)

We welcome your questions and comments.