Saturday, October 23, 2021

Unearthing ancient artifacts

Camille Richie, Andrew Smith and Emily Smith categorize artifacts. PHOTOS BY NATALIE STROM/COASTAL BREEZE NEWS

Camille Richie, Andrew Smith and Emily Smith categorize artifacts. PHOTOS BY NATALIE STROM/COASTAL BREEZE NEWS

By Natalie Strom

natalie@coastalbreezenews.com

With the last phase of the new Marco Island sewer system under way, contractors Mitchell & Stark are working closely with archaeologists as they discover ancient artifacts within the rolling hills area of Caxambas.

Prior to the construction of the sewer system in Caxambas, the City of Marco Island paired with the Marco Island Historical Society and the Marco Island Historical Museum to ensure that ancient artifacts and burials would not be destroyed or desecrated during the process. Advanced Archaeology, Inc., of Ft. Lauderdale was hired for a three-phase project that includes shovel testing, precise unit digs and monitoring the overall sewer progress.

“The overall site, known as the Caxambas Point Site is one of the largest prehistoric sites in South Florida,” explains Advanced Archaeology President, Joe Mankowski. “Based on Phase I testing, or shovel

Joe Mankowski digs up the past.

Joe Mankowski digs up the past.

testing, we were able to determine areas that were more significant than others. Areas of minimal disturbance, where the integrity of the site has been kept intact, are places that we will be focusing on for Phase II.”

Phase II consists of specific digs at three different locations; one located on Addison Court and the other two located on Caxambas Drive. Each dig is squared off, about three feet by three feet, and dug down at eight inches at a time. Advanced Archaeology plans to dig down a total of three feet at each location. “This will generate an idea of subsistence patterns and settlement patterns from the Calusa Indians. They were here from 750 AD to 1200 AD. The zone we are in now, this upper zone, represents the later time, probably around 1000 to 1200

Sifting through the pieces.

Sifting through the pieces.

AD,” explains Mankowski. “One of the reasons I know this is because of the decorated pottery we are finding. It’s a nice time marker, if you will, for that period as it’s not found until about 1000 AD.”

“We get this information from previous digs around the state,” adds Field Director, Gene Erjavec. “There becomes a name to the pottery being found, and along with other science attached, such as carbon dating, we are able to recognize the decorations and can make that connection to an overall timeline.”

The general consensus is that the deeper one digs, the older the artifacts. Advanced Archaeology has literally just begun to scratch the surface at the Addison Court site, but has already recovered numerous bags full of ancient tools, pottery and food remnants. “Where we are at now is on

An example of a shell hammer.

An example of a shell hammer.

the edge of the main Chief’s mound. The little satellite mounds were camp sites, where the ‘commoners’ lived. It was a hierarchy. There was a Chief and nobles and then there were the commoners, or the workers. They were the potters, the fishermen, the weavers. They did the day-to-day tasks for the society as a whole. This is why we are finding these type of artifacts in this area,” explains Mankowski.

Some of the typical findings consist of shell hammers. Hollowed out shells, fixed with pieces of wood to create a handle, were used to dig out canoes, open oyster shells, chisel, hammer and so on. “They were useful tools that were easy to manufacture and used over and over again. Once they wore them out, they just grabbed another shell and made a new one,”

Gene Erjavec holds a map of Caxambas Site Point while Joe Mankowski points out areas of interest.

Gene Erjavec holds a map of Caxambas Site Point while Joe Mankowski points out areas of interest.

adds Erjavec. Oftentimes these shells are found completely worn down from multiple use.

Arc shells are also a common find. “We are finding a lot of them in the upper zone,” continues Mankowski. “The shell is pierced on top deliberately and is used as a net weight.”

Fish jaws, sea turtle bones and shark vertebrae are also typical finds as these were the main food source for the Calusa.

As they dig, precise markings are made as to where the artifacts were found. Buckets of dirt are run through a large sifter, where Erjavec, Mankowski and their two archeologists-in-training, Andrew and Emily Smith, of the Caxambas community, slowly go through each piece, determining its value or use. Anything of significance is bagged and marked. The artifacts are then sent to the Marco Island Historical Museum for cleaning.

Volunteers have signed

Jerry Masters volunteers, cleaning an ancient shell once used as a tool.

Jerry Masters volunteers, cleaning an ancient shell once used as a tool.

up to help clean the artifacts. In fact, volunteers can sign up to help in almost any aspect of the excavation process. “It’s very exciting to get people involved from every level, from the County, the State, the City, the Museum and the volunteers,” adds Erjavec. “We’re making a difference. We’re getting it done in a high efficient, low-budget manner.”

In order to keep the digs cost-efficient, Advanced Archaeology, Inc., has donated about half of its time working on this project. The rest of the cost has been divided between the City of Marco Island and the Marco Island Historical Museum.

All the artifacts found will be donated to the Marco Island Historical Museum for display as well as to establish an archive base. “A big part of this is documenting the site before it’s destroyed for

The archaeologists share their findings with Mitchell & Stark employees.

The archaeologists share their findings with Mitchell & Stark employees.

future generations and researchers. There are so few of these sites left to begin with and every day they are being impacted and destroyed by modern development. Where we come in, we can at least make some level of record of what was here before it’s gone forever,” states Mankowski. Considering that the last state records regarding archaeological digs in Caxambas date back to the early 70’s, Advanced Archaeology, Inc., is honored to be able to update the archived information and provide a home for the artifacts found.

Erjavec, a Marco resident, sits on the Museum committee in charge of artifact displays. “We will be with the Museum along the way, trying to make a difference,” he adds.

While Erjavec and Mankowski are excited about their finds, they also take their job very seriously. Phase III of

A small sampling of what was found as they just begin to scratch the surface.

A small sampling of what was found as they just begin to scratch the surface.

the project entails monitoring as the sewer lines are dug. The main purpose is to ensure there is no desecration of unmarked graves. Florida State Statute 872, “basically protects any unmarked burials; historic, prehistoric and modern,” adds Mankowski. By monitoring the sewer progress, they can make sure any unearthed graves are dealt with properly and with respect.

As the sewer progress continues, Advanced Archaeology will also be collecting large dirt samples to be sifted through. These piles will be set on a private piece of property donated by the owner. Advanced Archaeology and the Marco Island Historical Society will be looking for even more volunteers to help search for ancient artifacts among these piles. The sewer project is expected to last through the summer.

If you are interested in volunteering, contact the Marco Island Historical Society at mihs@aol.com. Now is the time to get your hands dirty!

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