Miami Circle Reflections: Part 1–the Journey Begins

Contributed by Ryan Wheeler

This series of blog posts—Miami Circle Reflections—are my memories of working on the Miami Circle project from fall 1999 through the construction and opening of the Miami Circle Park in February 2011. These reminiscences draw on my archived emails, newspaper-clipping collection, photos, publications, and, well, my recollections of the time. Florida’s Governor and Cabinet directed that my office, the Bureau of Archaeological Research, conduct an assessment to confirm the authenticity of the site (more on that to come!)l. Recently promoted to Archaeologist II, I had relocated from Gainesville to the Bureau headquarters in Tallahassee. I was nominated to lead the site assessment for several reasons: I was from southern Florida, I had studied the archaeology of the area, and no one else wanted to go. A six-week investigation of the Miami Circle property in October and November 1999 led to over a decade of involvement in research and publication, historic preservation and site planning, complicated permitting and politics, and ultimately the construction of the Miami Circle Park.

Two male archaeologists crouch down and examine water-filled basins carved in limestone bedrock. Dirt piles are behind them.
Miami-Dade County historic preservation director Bob Carr (left) examines the Miami Circle with County Archaeologist John Ricisak sometime in early 1999.

However, before I can tell about the events of fall 1999 I need to back up to the end of the previous year. December 1998 found me in Fort Lauderdale spending Christmas with my parents. Over breakfast one day just before Christmas, my father handed me the newspaper with a story about a mysterious archaeological discovery in the heart of downtown Miami. I scanned the story, which included claims of animal effigies carved in the soft Miami limestone and Maya visitors who brought stone axes to the site; I searched the story for the names and faces of familiar archaeologists, like Bob Carr, long time Miami-Dade County Archaeologist and then director of the county’s historic preservation program. Little did I know that the site described in that article—the Miami Circle—would change the direction of my career and dominate my professional life for the next decade. A week later, I shared the article with my colleagues back at the Bureau of Archaeological Research in Tallahassee. Over the first months of 1999, the Miami Circle ruled the archaeological news and each new day brought some new—often more incredible—claim. Most interesting, however, was the growing movement to save the site and the associated political twists and turns. Positioned at the very place where the Miami River meets Biscayne Bay, Miami’s twenty-first century rebirth would begin at its heart, with the destruction of the Miami Circle site and construction of two 40-story hi-rise towers.

Three archaeologists work inside a circular excavation pit filled with holes and basins carved in the limestone bedrock.
Excavation of the Miami Circle feature by Miami-Dade County Archaeologist John Ricisak and a volunteer team, early 1999.

Archaeological investigations had first begun at the parcel known locally as Brickell Point in 1998 when a block of 1950s-era apartments were demolished and the property was being prepped for development by Michael Bauman’s company Brickell Pointe Ltd. Miami-Dade County has one of the most stringent local historic preservation ordinances, largely due to the efforts of long-time County Archaeologist Bob Carr. In the 1980s, Miami-Dade County enacted its ordinance and required that municipalities follow suit or develop even stricter historic preservation laws. The City of Miami tried to sidestep the requirement, but ultimately created its own historic preservation framework. Parcels in sensitive zones required archaeological surveys and could receive protective designations from the city’s historic preservation commission. In 1998, County Archaeologist John Ricisak took over the investigation of the Brickell Point site when it was determined that the developer’s contract archaeologist was doing substandard work. With a team of volunteers, Ricisak tackled what he believed would be a salvage project—the recovery of information from the site prior to destruction for development. However, local schoolchildren, followed by activists and Native Americans, began to insist on the preservation of the site. This led to tense moments in the field for Ricisak, including a plan by the developer to hire a stonemason to cut the 38-foot diameter Miami Circle feature out of the soft Miami oolite limestone and relocate it to a nearby park. Public outcry encouraged Miami-Dade County’s major, Alex Penelas, to sue the developer, citing eminent domain: the county planned to seize the Miami Circle parcel purely to save the ancient archaeological site. This action is almost unheard of in legal and historic preservation circles. The county feared that the court might accept the developer’s valuation of the property, exponentially greater than the $8 million paid for the parcel, while the developer worried that public sentiment might influence the decision, resulting in a punitively low value to be paid for the site. In this milieu, the developer and the county reached a compromise. The property would change hands; the sale price (including fees) was $26.7 million dollars. The county had to scramble, however, to secure the funds, or the deal would be off. Financial commitments came from the Knight Foundation, the Trust for Public Land, and the State of Florida. Contributing $15 million the State of Florida had several conditions—namely that the parcel would become state lands and that a state sponsored investigation could take place.

Image of newspaper articles spread out about the Miami Circle site.
A montage of the author’s newspaper clipping collection about the Miami Circle.

Much of the above happened on the periphery of my involvement. I tracked the story carefully and collected a file of newspaper clippings through the first months of 1999. One big development was the response to the outlandish claims made about the site. Remember the Maya traders bringing stone axes, or the fabulous carved animals? Those were tame compared to the Druids, Atlanteans, and Extraterrestrials offered as possible builders or visitors to the site. This was 1999 and the beginning of the Internet Age. The Web was in its infancy, but stories like the Miami Circle attracted considerable fringe interest. The Circle was a regular topic on Art Bell’s Coast to Coast AM paranormal-themed radio show. Richard C. Hoagland (of the faces on Mars fame), and one of Bell’s regular guests, visited the Miami Circle and set up a webcam in a nearby hotel. One could log on and observe the site at any hour (not much was happening, as the developer had shut down most work at the site). Magician and paranormal debunker James Randi (aka The Amazing Randi) issued a challenge in February 1999. Randi claimed that the circular features that formed the Miami Circle were, in fact, part of the Brickell Point Apartments 1950s-era septic system and not an actual archaeological site. There were other skeptics, including Florida Museum of Natural History curator Jerald T. Milanich, who championed the septic tank theory. In April 1999, Milanich visited the site with State Archaeologist Jim Miller and other state representatives in response to an application to acquire the site using Conservation and Recreation Lands funds. Miller returned with his impressions, and not long after archaeologist Richard Haiduven visited Tallahassee and briefed us on the site. Haiduven had volunteered on the county-sponsored excavations and provided the most detailed account of conditions at the Circle.

Two men--John Ricisak and Jerry Milanich--stand on the carved holes and basins of the Miami Circle site. Buildings of the Miami skyline and fluffy white clouds are in the background.
John Ricisak and Jerry Milanich at the Miami Circle, April 1999.

As the legal fight to acquire the Miami Circle wore on in the spring and summer of 1999, the site remained in the news. The big milestones came in May and June 1999. In May, Florida Governor Jeb Bush and the Florida Cabinet, sitting as the Board of Trustees of the Internal Improvement Trust Fund, gave acquisition priority to the Miami Circle in the ranking of Conservation and Recreation Lands properties. A month later Miami-Dade County won the right to acquire the property through eminent domain. A trial to determine the value of the property was set for October 1999. A lot happened in September that year. The county and the developer reached a settlement, as described above, and the State of Florida agreed to participate in acquisition, pending a state investigation of the site. Two other things happened. Jacqueline Dixon, geologist at the University of Miami, conducted a sourcing study of the stone axes found at the site during John Ricisak’s salvage project. They were made of basaltic stone from the vicinity of Macon, Georgia, and were, in fact, not of Maya origin. Ricisak was pushing back against the far-fetched claims. Influential Archaeology magazine published archaeologist Jerry Milanich’s critique “Much Ado about a Circle.” Milanich, as mentioned above, had taken up The Amazing Randi’s notion that the site was not real and his push intensified as it looked more likely that the county and state would save the site. I’ve always believed that Milanich’s piece gave the Miami Circle story a boost at a point where media interest had begun to wane.

Image of protest signs left in front of a chain link fence.
Signs left by protesters at the construction entrance to the Brickell Point property. Local shaman Catherine Hummingbird Ramirez frequently visited the gate and smudged visitors and archaeologists alike.

This is where my Miami Circle journey began. After the Governor and Cabinet authorized our office to investigate the site, I began planning for the project. Using the information provided by Jim Miller and Richard Haiduven, I developed a plan to investigate the remainder of the 2.2-acre parcel. John Ricisak had focused his efforts on the Miami Circle feature itself, and then been restricted by the developer from working elsewhere. The Circle was found somewhat fortuitously, with Ricisak and surveyor Ted Riggs noting that large, basin-like features in the limestone seemed to form a circular arc. They then marked the presumed path and excavated the 38-foot diameter Circle. Like other sites in the area, darkly stained archaeological deposits called midden (from the Danish word køkkenmøddinger for kitchen midden) capped the limestone bedrock. Midden deposits here are refuse and living surfaces left behind by the Tequesta Indians and their ancestors. I used maps of the site to plot a grid where we would excavate test pits. I hired a crew and planned to use a desk and phone in Bob Carr’s Archaeological & Historical Conservancy office in Little Havana, not too far from the Brickell Point site. The site remained fenced with 24-7 security guards and all entry required the developer’s approval. The investigation was relatively straightforward. We soon found, however, that a dense layer of construction debris capped the parcel. We abandoned gas-powered augers and the county loaned us a backhoe and a crackerjack operator, who carefully removed rubble to expose the old midden surface. We also cleaned profiles left from the demolition of the mid-twentieth century apartments, ultimately documenting three things: 1) about 70 percent of the 2.2-acre parcel had intact midden deposits and additional features carved in the underlying bedrock; 2) previous construction activity had removed the upper portions of the archaeological deposits, but left the lower layers intact; and 3) there were lots more carved holes to be found, including many in an area we dubbed “the Valley of the Holes.”

Black and white line drawn map of the Brickell Point property, showing the location of the Miami Circle and the extent of the limestone bedrock. The lines on the map are similar to those on a weather map.
A map of the Brickell Point parcel showing the elevation and extent of limestone bedrock at the site. The author made of series of these maps, which were crucial during the later park development at the property.

We also wanted to tackle some of the claims made by conspiracy theorists, namely that the site wasn’t real. We asked that the State Geologist’s office inspect the underlying bedrock and the carved holes and basins that formed some of the most interesting parts of the site. Harley Means visited and made some interesting observations, ultimately published the following year. He noted that the Miami oolite limestone (oolite is composed of minuscule balls of calcium carbonate—or ooids—glued together to form a soft limestone rock) had a laminated coating formed by the interaction of acidic groundwater and dissolved minerals. This was a normal feature of oolite, but it was clear that the crust, formed over hundreds or thousands of years, covered the carved holes and basins. This meant that the holes and basins discovered by the county and state archaeology teams were quite old and not from the 1950s! If this wasn’t enough, I decided we needed to locate and excavate another one of the 1950s-era septic tanks. One was coincident with the Miami Circle, which had fueled the claims of a recent origin by the Amazing Randi and Jerry Milanich. Using the septic plans that John Ricisak had located at the town engineering office, we pinpointed the location of another tank (a large, concrete-encased structure). In a phone conversation with Jerry Milanich prior to the launch of my project he suggested that if we excavated another septic tank on the site we would find another circle of carved holes in the adjacent limestone. We found the tank quickly, but no associated features were located. Jerry was undeterred. A few years later when we nominated the site as a National Historic Landmark he suggested the Miami Circle was the foundation for an early twentieth century gazebo that could be seen on an old postcard of Brickell Point. Other skeptics (there were many) suggested the large midden-filled basins were “banana holes,” a geological feature known in the Bahamas that also involves the dissolution of cavities in soft limestone bedrock. The pattern of the hole at the Miami Circle, however, did not support the “banana hole” theory. Excavations on the north bank of the Miami River a few years later identified a similar circular feature, also measuring 38-feet in diameter, and directly opposite the Miami Circle. This discovery clinched our second attempt to list the Miami Circle as a National Historic Landmark!

Image of the author shooting pictures at the site. He is wearing dirty blue jeans and a green work shirt. He has closely cropped hair. The Brickell Bridge is in the background and piles of rock and rubble are present.
The author at the Miami Circle in fall 1999. We still relied heavily on film cameras at this time–shooting black-and-white film and color slides. John Ricisak had a digital camera, but the images were low-res.

On the ground in fall 1999, the project had a few unusual elements. Protests at the site demanding the preservation of the Miami Circle had abated, but we still had the occasional visitor. Mostly we had to talk with folks through the fence, as the developer had forbidden guests inside the parcel. Catherine Hummingbird Ramirez was a fixture at the entry gate. Catherine is a local shaman and Carib Tribal Queen, originally from the Caribbean. She had been actively involved in the push to save the Circle and had created an altar on and just outside the entrance gate. The altar included laminated photos of celebrities that had visited the site, shells, woodcarvings, and beads. Catherine stopped by frequently to check on us. On Tuesday afternoons, people would gather for a vigil. Catherine smudged visitors (and our field crew members) with sage. We met other interesting people too, including Ishmael Bermudez. Ishmael stopped by one day to share information on dinosaurs and the Fountain of Youth, both located during excavations under his nearby Little Havana home. He told me about being at the Brickell Point site in the 1970s and receiving an energy surge. He lamented that he could not enter the property anymore. I motioned him to follow me to part of the property adjacent to the Sheraton Hotel next door. Here was a place where a driveway cut down through the limestone creating an exposure facing the hotel. I suggested he could “plug in” here. He did and left very satisfied a little while later. Ishmael frequently stopped to wave at us from Brickell Avenue Bridge, which bordered the west side of the property. In a cavernous storage space under the bridge the Florida Department of Transportation graciously allowed us to store our gear and the artifacts and samples we were collecting on a daily basis.

A crowd of reporters outside the chain link fence at the Miami Circle site.
One of the press conferences held at the Miami Circle during the author’s investigation of the site. The author is somewhere in the middle of that throng of reporters!

Another unusual feature of our field project were the press conferences. Once the protesters were gone the daily media attention abated, but the county was interested in keeping the Circle in the spotlight, especially as they worked to secure funds for the acquisition—something that was still uncertain, despite the legal settlement. If I remember correctly, we had at least two of these, coordinated by Michael Spring, the head of the county’s arts programs. During one of these we agreed to share some of the finds, including the jaw of a massive grouper and an unusual object made from the primary ore of lead (galena). The fish jaw was local fare, and probably provided the centerpiece of an ancient Tequesta feast, but the lead ore had come from as far away as Missouri! I was worried about speaking and trying to share the objects, especially if someone decided to make a grab for one of them. I asked Victor Longo, a Florida Atlantic University anthropology student and one of our crew, to serve as “artifact wrangler.” In this capacity, Victor would share the objects on my signal, but was prepared to snatch them to safety at the first sign of trouble. He served admirably, and no artifacts were lost or harmed! This might sound a bit paranoid, but during the county’s investigation of the site a volunteer or visitor stole one of the exotic stone axes. Richard Haiduven, who had joined our crew, later related the story and his daydream of recovering the axe in a SWAT-type raid evocative of the Elián González saga, which was playing out just after our time at the Circle. Victor is now a successful realtor in Delray Beach.

Image of Richard Haiduven excavating midden soil at the Miami Circle.
Archaeologist Richard Haiduven excavates an unusual find at the Miami Circle–the burial of a five-foot shark. The five-gallon buckets protect the dark midden soil that contain the shark remains.

We concluded our investigation of the Brickell Point-Miami Circle parcel just before Thanksgiving 1999. I returned to Tallahassee to prepare my report and get back to my other projects, which had languished now for several months. Just before the year ended, the money changed hands and the Miami Circle officially became a state-owned property. And despite all the things that had happened since the discovery of the Miami Circle feature in October 1998, there was so much more to come! And since I had led the state investigation, I became the state Miami Circle guy. Stay tuned for my next Miami Circle Reflections blog where I detail the worst idea I’ve ever had.

Tamaulipas Orchid

Contributed by Ryan Wheeler

Early in his archaeological career Richard “Scotty” MacNeish, the Peabody’s fifth director, used funds from the Wenner-Gren Foundation to investigate caves and rock shelters in northern Mexico. MacNeish had found that some of these sites contained preserved plant remains, basketry, twine, and other perishable artifacts while a graduate student at the University of Chicago. Early in 1949 his crew chief discovered tiny corn cobs in La Perra Cave in the Sierra de Tamaulipas. The rich biodiversity of this area in northern Mexico, near the Gulf Coast and Texas border, had attracted other scientists interested in the flora and fauna of the so-called cloud forests. Perhaps it is not surprising that the ancient people of the area experimented with plants, including early crops like corn. MacNeish’s work in the Sierra de Tamaulipas pushed corn origins back to 4,500 years ago (about half of the now-acknowledged age).

A man in a white t-shirt and khaki pants sits in an excavation pit and removes samples.
Scotty MacNeish removes samples from La Perra Cave, Sierra de Tamaulipas, March 1949. Collection of the Robert S. Peabody Institute of Archaeology 2018.0.0741.

The Peabody houses a small type collection of materials from MacNeish’s work in Tamaulipas, including artifacts, photographs, and fieldnotes. Last year we collaborated with the Boston Public Library’s Digital Commonwealth project to digitize the archival records associated with MacNeish’s Tamaulipas project, primarily to facilitate access by Mexican archaeologists working in the region. Those files are available on InternetArchive. We also digitized many of the photos from the project, available via PastPerfect Online. Recently, Peabody staff member Emma Lavoie has been cataloging the artifacts from Tamaulipas. Looking over Emma’s shoulder one day at the many preserved plant remains, I was surprised to see part of an ancient orchid!

Image of dried plant remains in a labeled plastic bag.
Dried pseudobulbs and roots of orchid from Sierra de Tamaulipas. Collection of Robert S. Peabody Museum of Archaeology 2019.6.396.

The Orchidaceae are one of the largest families of flowering plants, known to most of us from the cultivated examples with colorful and fragrant blooms available at grocery stores and garden centers. Commercial growing of orchids as houseplants began in the nineteenth century as the demand for “parlor plants” increased and diverse hybrids were created, many with fantastically shaped and colored blooms. Most of the orchids available for sale are of the genus Phalaenopsis. In the wild there is considerable diversity too, with terrestrial and epiphytic examples and a range of shapes, sizes, colors, and scents. Perhaps the best-known orchid is vanilla, a terrestrial form from Mexico.

We do not know what genus or species the dried pseudobulbs and roots of the Tamaulipas orchid represent. Notes on file show that botanist C. E. Smith, a student of Paul Mangelsdorf at Harvard, identified the orchid. Mangelsdorf worked closely with MacNeish on his early corn project, and Smith pioneered the field of archaeological botany. Quick searches of the literature did not reveal many examples of archaeological specimens of orchids in the Americas. We do know from some of the few preserved screen-fold books made by the Mixtec, Aztec, and their contemporaries that a variety of orchids were used in medicine, some may been collected for their hallucinogenic properties, and others were used to produce a special glue used in featherwork.

Image of a page from an illuminated manuscript showing three scenes of Aztex featherwork in the left hand column.
Image of Aztec featherwork from Sahagun’s sixteenth century Florentine Codex.

Carlos Ossenbach, in his 2005 study “History of the Orchids in Central America, Part 1: From Prehispanic Times to the Independence of the New Republics,” laments that the destruction of the majority of the screen-fold books by the Spanish also destroyed considerable information on the use of orchids in Mesoamerica. Between 1547 and 1577 Bernardino de Sahagún compiled his History of Things of New Spain (also called the Florentine Codex), which includes considerable information on the use of plants, including orchids, among the Aztec. Here Sahagún documents the use of the Encyclia pastoris orchid for glue making, when he describes how the pseudobulbs of the orchid are cut and soaked in water to produce a sticky substance called tzacutli. The complete codex can be viewed online: https://www.wdl.org/en/item/10096/view/1/35/ Researchers have documented at least twenty-three different orchid species and their use by the Aztec, Maya, and their neighbors, primarily as medicines, adhesives, fixers for pigments, and as ornamental specimens.

Image of pick and white orchids.
Orchids in Ryan Wheeler’s mom’s shadehouse, Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

The Tamaulipas orchid reminded me of the many terrestrial and aerial orchids that we often encountered at archaeological sites in Florida. Limestone and shelly soils encouraged their growth. It also brought back memories of my work at the Miami Circle site in late 1999. During the fieldwork I stayed with my parents and I was fortunate to accompany my mom on an orchid ramble one Saturday. A bus packed with orchid enthusiasts left Fort Lauderdale and visited at least half a dozen orchid growers in Homestead and Redlands, south of Miami. During the ramble we entered a raffle. I was surprised to receive a call Sunday evening. The gentleman calling informed me I had won a raffle prize and asked if I could collect it after work on Monday. After another intense day at the Miami Circle I navigated my Ford F-150 long-bed pickup through Miami’s crowded streets, onto Florida’s Turnpike, and then onto the Homestead extension. It was dark by the time I found the orchid grower. We entered the massive greenhouse and the grower–the gentleman who had called me the night before–gestured to one of the tables covered with orchids. I assumed I had won one of the orchids. He corrected me in a mellifluous English accent, I had won ALL of the orchids on the bench, approximately 100! He helped me load them into the F-150 and I headed north. My parents were disbelieving upon my return home. After I persuaded them to come outside, however, they acknowledged the enormity of the prize. My dad helped me unload and we struggled to find room in my mom’s orchid shade house. Some are still thriving today, while others were lost to hurricanes.

I’m interested in our Tamaulipas orchid. Could we determine the genus and species? Would that help us better understand why the orchid was in a cave deposit? Maybe as a drug,  or for glue making, or as a mind-altering hallucinogen? Perhaps we can connect with a specialist and answer some of these questions!

Early Sites

Contributed by Ryan Wheeler

Richard “Scotty” MacNeish (1918 – 2001) was a preeminent archaeologist of the mid to late twentieth century. Along with roles at the National Museum of Canada, the University of Calgary, and Boston University, Scotty was the fifth director of the Robert S. Peabody Foundation for Archaeology (now the Robert S. Peabody Institute of Archaeology). First associated with the Peabody in the early 1960s, he worked closely with Frederick Johnson and Douglas Byers, who assisted him with the Tehuacán Archaeological-Botanical Project, probing caves in central Mexico for the world’s earliest corn. Throughout his career, MacNeish sought the intertwined origins of agriculture and civilization, working in various parts of Mexico, Peru, China, Belize, and North America.

Image of Scotty MacNeish, wearing heavy black framed glasses and a tweed blazer holding a large, crude stone chopper tool and the end of a large sloth leg bone.
Richard “Scotty” MacNeish with a stone chopper tool and giant sloth bone fragment from Pikimachay Cave in highland Peru. MacNeish believed the earliest human occupation of the cave dated between 22,200 to 14,700 years ago.

Along with impressive ceramic chronologies and pretty old—if not the oldest—examples of corn, Scotty often also reported evidence of great human antiquity in the Americas. At a site highland Peru MacNeish claimed that the earliest levels had evidence of crude stone tools and Pleistocene megafauna dating to well over 14,000 years ago.

Image of Scotty MacNeish, an older, balding man with wire frame glasses using a jeweler's loupe to examine a point stone tool from Pendejo Cave, New Mexico. Bookshelves are in the background, slightly out of focus.
Richard “Scotty” MacNeish in February 1992 examines a stone chopper tool from Pendejo Cave in New Mexico.

At Pendejo Cave on the Fort Bliss military base in New Mexico he claimed even earlier dates, including occupation levels between 25,000 and 31, 000 years ago. This was at a time when Clovis—named for the type site of distinctive fluted spear points dating to around 12,000 to 13,000 years ago—was considered the earliest human occupation of the Americas. Scotty was a strong proponent of the pre-Clovis hypothesis, which now dominates in archaeology.

Image of brown road signs and Bureau of Land Management sign pointing the way to the Calico Hill Early Man Site. The background is the Mojave Desert of California, with low hills in the distance and dirt and desert plants in the foreground.
Signage for the Calico Hill Early Man Site near Yerma, California, May 1979. From a slide recently acquired by Ryan J. Wheeler.

But Scotty MacNeish wasn’t the only twentieth century archaeologist with claims for early sites. In the 1960s California archaeologist Ruth DeEtte Simpson recruited Louis Leakey to aid in investigation of a site on Bureau of Land Management property in the central Mojave Desert. This was the Calico Hill Early Man site, which produced crude chipped stone tools, some possibly dating between 100,000 and 200,000 years ago! As you might imagine, these early dates caused quite a stir and led many archaeologists to reject the Calico Hill site. Some argued about issues with dating, while others posited that the stone tools were really just natural phenomenon. Prior to his death in 1972, the Calico site may have caused a rift between Louis and Mary Leakey. And despite criticism, Simpson continued excavations.

Image of archaeologist Ruth Simpson, an older woman with short gray hair, a yellow plaid shirt, holding a plaque. In the background is an old field vehicle from the 1950s or 1960s.
Archaeologist Ruth “Dee” Simpson receiving an award on the twentieth reunion of the Calico Hill Early Man site excavations, November 1984. From a slide recently acquired by Ryan J. Wheeler.

A conference on the site failed to garner critical support from other archaeologists—many lauded the careful techniques employed, but balked at the early dates (see report by Walter Shuiling 2015). In his 1978 review of early sites in the Journal of Anthropological Research, MacNeish writes, “The most disputed of these is Calico Hills of California with geological estimates ranging from 50,000 to 200,000 years ago.” He goes on to say that, despite doubts about the site and its contents, he believes the tools are “pebble and slab choppers, spokeshave-like tools, large side scraper and plano-convex scraping planes or cores” like those at other early, pre-Clovis sites.

It is probably not surprising, given his support for the site, that Ruth Simpson invited MacNeish to participate in a thirtieth anniversary celebration of the Calico Hill Early Man site. The event, sponsored by the Friends of Calico, the San Bernardino County Museum, and the Bureau of Land Management, was held over two weekends in 1994. MacNeish delivered his talk, Pleistocene Man & Animals in the Pendejo Caves on Saturday, November 5, 1994. MacNeish acquired a set of nice resin casts of the artifacts from Calico Hill at this time, which he gifted to the Peabody. These include the Rock Wren biface—another large chopper-like tool—that has been dated to a more recent era with thermoluminescence dating.

Archaeologist Ruth Simpson, an older woman with short gray hair wearing a khaki field shirt, poses with a friend--an older, unidentified woman with gray curly hair, wearing a floral shirt and blue jacket. Vehicles are parked in the background, and low desert hills of the Mojave are further back with a dark blue sky.
Archaeologist Ruth “Dee” Simpson (left) with a friend at the Calico Hill Early Man site, November 1986.

The Calico Hill Early Man site, however, does have a little company in the contention for earliest possible human habitation in the Americas. A recent paper in Nature reports on the remains of a 130,000 year old mastodon site with some evidence of intentional bone breakage. Interestingly, the Cerutti Mastodon Site is in San Diego, about 186 miles from Calico Hill in the Mojave Desert. Like Calico Hill, most archaeologists have dismissed the San Diego site. Despite the skepticism around the claims for very early sites, archaeologists have continued to push back the earliest dates for humans in the Americas, with some sites dating to between 14,000 and 19,000 years ago.

Florida Collections at the Peabody

Contributed by Ryan Wheeler

There is a New England tradition of visiting southern climes during the coldest months. At the beginning of the twentieth century, archaeological collections made during these southern expeditions ended up in northern museums. The Peabody has a number of such collections, including objects excavated by Charles Peabody and Warren Moorehead at sites in Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, and Maryland.

Antique photo of men and small boat along high river bank shell mound site.
Clarence B. Moore’s image of the shell mound at Hontoon Island, Florida. Excavation of the Precolumbian shell mound on Hontoon Island – Volusia County, Florida. 1893. Black & white photonegative. State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory. Accessed 10 Jan. 2020..

The best-known and most prolific archaeological snowbird, however, is undoubtedly Clarence Bloomfield Moore (1852 – 1936). Moore, from a wealthy Philadelphia family, studied under Frederic Ward Putnam at Harvard. Beginning in the last years of the nineteenth century and carrying through the first two decades of the twentieth century, Moore plied southern rivers during the winter, ultimately excavating hundreds of sites during his career. Only sites not accessible from his steamboat went unexplored. Back in Philadelphia during the summer, he prepared photographs and descriptions of his finds, most of which appeared as large folio volumes in the Proceedings of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia.

Drawing of Clarence B. Moore's steamer, The Gopher, a stern wheel steam boat.
Clarence B. Moore’s most famous steamer, The Gopher, as drawn by Philip Ayer Sawyer, 1938 for the Florida Merchant Marine Survey, a project of the Works Progress Administration during the Great Depression. State Archives of Florida, S 2382

Moore’s most intensive period of excavation coincided with the establishment of the Phillips Academy Department of Archaeology (now our Peabody Institute). Moore consigned large lots of his collection to the newly created Peabody, reducing what he perceived to be duplicates and largely undecorated pieces of pottery. The result was an extensive collection of ceramic vessels and other artifacts from sites in Florida, Alabama, Georgia, and other Southern and Midwestern states.

White to yellow colored artifacts carved from seashells, including adze or celt shaped tools, plummets, whole gastropod shell tools, and other artifacts carved from the central spire of whelk shells.
Shell artifacts collected by Clarence B. Moore in Florida.

Moore’s legacy looms large in southeastern archaeology. He excavated a large number of sites, often completely leveling them. His publications are equally numerous, but are primarily descriptive. His field methods were those of an antiquarian, focused on recovering impressive objects of stone, shell, and clay—and, in fact, he recovered some of the South’s most iconic artifacts. He was generous with his collections, and deposited artifacts with many institutions, from the Springfield Science Museum in Massachusetts to the National Museum of Health and Medicine. George Gustav Heye ultimately acquired the bulk of Moore’s collections, which and are now curated at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian. Moore is, however, the person that southeastern archaeologists love to hate—his lack of control, destructive tendencies, and relatively poor record keeping tarnish whatever good he might have done.

Image of small brown and tan ceramic pots, some are globular, while others are gourd-shaped, rectangular, or have multiple compartments.
Small ceramic vessels collected by Clarence B. Moore in Florida. Many of these were not illustrated in his publications, but were studied by archaeologist Gordon R. Willey in the 1940s.

In Florida, Moore was so prolific that archaeologists of the mid-twentieth century studied his collections and worked to identify the locations he had visited. Archaeologist John Mann Goggin was chief among these, and assigned Moore’s sites numbers in the state’s catalog of sites. Goggin and his students often tried to visit the sites, when they could be located. He also visited the museums that housed Moore’s collections, using the objects to assign sites to cultural and temporal divisions. Likewise, Gordon R. Willey—best known for his synthetic works on the archaeology of South America and Mesoamerica—used Moore’s collections to develop culture histories for much of Florida’s Gulf Coast and panhandle, including the late Woodland age Weeden Island culture, and the various local manifestations of Mississippian culture. Willey relied on Moore’s collections at the Peabody for this work. The University of Alabama Press has reprinted all of Moore’s publications including new introductions and comments by knowledgeable scholars, and the publications by Goggin and Willey are available as reprints as well.

Vintage watercolor painting showing a large, old-fashioned wood and glass case with artifacts., especially pottery.
Clarence B. Moore’s collections were displayed prominently in a large glass and wood case in the earliest days of the Peabody.

Moore made several large gifts to the Peabody, with notable collections of pottery, shell, and stone artifacts from sites in the Florida panhandle, the Gulf Coast, on the St. Johns River, and from the Ten Thousand Islands. Several hundred artifacts from at least distinct 88 sites are present in the Peabody collection. A recent reassessment of the Peabody’s Moore collection correlated each site with its contemporary state site number. This project will assist with repatriation and research. Despite earlier assessments of the Peabody’s C. B. Moore collection, few modern scholars know about our holdings. Hopefully, this blog post will help, along with this Excel spreadsheet of Moore sites represented in the Peabody collections: FLorida_Moore_sites_2020

Missing Artifacts

Contributed by Ryan Wheeler

Since the early 1990s the Robert S. Peabody Institute of Archaeology has been searching for objects missing from its collection. Among the missing items are carved and decorated stone, shell, and ceramic pieces from sites in Georgia and Maine.

The Peabody has celebrated the return of four missing artifacts, most notably the Etowah monolithic axe. The Boston Globe recently covered the story.

At least two engraved shell disks remain at large. A $2,500 reward is being offered for information that leads to the recovery of the missing artifacts.

These objects were excavated at the Etowah and Little Egypt sites in Georgia between 1925 and 1928 by Warren K. Moorehead, then-director of the Peabody Institute. The Etowah and Little Egypt sites date from AD 1000 to AD 1550. Southeastern sites of this period are linked to modern-day Native American tribes through the Creek language. Many of the objects are funerary belongings and subject to repatriation under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA).

Image of shell gorget with dancing birdman figure.

Object:  Hightower or Big Toco style shell gorget

Provenance:  excavated by Warren King Moorehead in 1926 from Burial 37, Mound C, Etowah site (9BR01), Cartersville, Bartow County, Georgia, USA

Description: a small engraved and excised disk cut from marine shell depicting a dancing human figure with decapitated head; approximately 2.5-inches in diameter; Native American Mississippian culture circa A.D. 1250-1375

Catalog #:  62042

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Object: Carters Quarter style shell gorget

Provenance: excavated by Warren King Moorehead, 1925-1927, from either the Etowah site (9BR01), Bartow County, Georgia, or Little Egypt site (9MU102), Murray County, Georgia, USA

Description: highly stylized rattlesnake design incised and cut-out of marine shell disk with perforations for suspension as a pendant or gorget. Approximately 5 inches maximum width. Native American Mississippian culture circa A.D. 1400-1600.

Catalog #: 61440

If you have information about these objects please contact Peabody director Ryan Wheeler at 978 749 4490 or rwheeler@andover.edu.

Repatriation Conference 2019

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This was the second year I participated in the Association on American Indian Affairs annual repatriation conference. The Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation hosted the conference at their hotel and casino complex just north of Phoenix, Arizona. Healing the Divide was the theme—with a focus on mind-body wellness and collaborative work between tribes and museums, both domestically and abroad. A real highlight was the session Healing the Divide from Trauma to Transformation, led by Dr. Noshene Ranjbar and Dennis Yellow Thunder. Noshene and Dennis had everyone up and moving, and Dennis was called on throughout the rest of the conference to supply encouragement, songs, prayers, and jokes. Presentations ranged from The Cost of Theft and Looting to Healing Auction Practices.

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Bad weather prevented some folks from joining in person–here Shannon Martin, director of the Ziibiwing Center of Anishinabe Culture and Lifeways, and Jaime Arsenault, tribal historic preservation officer of the White Nation, share their work. Jaime also is a member of the Peabody Advisory Committee.

Attendees had an opportunity to sit with NAGPRA program manager Melanie O’Brien, who shared some of the ways that the National Park Service was planning to revise and improve the federal repatriation regulations. Despite nearly three decades of repatriation work, 58 percent of the ancestral remains held by museums and federal agencies are still classified as culturally unidentifiable, with only a limited pathway to repatriation. Conference attendees acknowledged that the term “culturally unidentifiable” was troubling and inaccurate. Language is important, and there was a lot of discussion about how to best refer to ancestral remains–there was agreement that human remains and funerary objects were better called people, ancestors, and belongings. We also learned about international repatriation efforts, including the similarities and differences with work by indigenous Australians to reclaim ancestors.

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Dr. Noshene Ranjbar and Dennis Yellow Thunder share important ways to interrupt cycles of trauma. Return of ancestors, funerary belongings, and sacred objects is one way to intervene.

Next year’s conference will be October 27 and 28, 2020—marking the thirtieth anniversary of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA)—and held at the University of Denver Museum of Anthropology. If you are engaged in repatriation work this is an important event—it would be great to see more museum representation next year!

Toya Family Visits PA, Shares Native Pottery Making

Contributed by Ryan Wheeler

We were delighted that Dominique, Maxine, and Mia Toya were able to visit this fall and spend a week making traditional Pueblo pottery with students in Thayer Zaeder’s ceramics classes. By our reckoning, this is the fifth year that the Toyas have visited PA. Each visit brings lots of excitement in Thayer’s classes, as well as raw materials from New Mexico, including hand-dug clay, polishing stones, micaceous slip, and fuel for the open air firing.

Image of very hot orange fire burning with Native American artists and Phillips Academy students looking on in the background.
PA students look on during an open air firing. Maxine and Dominique Toya are on the far right.

Dominique, Maxine, and Mia are talented artists and educators from the Pueblo of Jemez, also known as Walatowa. Dominique is known for her micaceous spiral vessels, Maxine makes beautiful hand painted figurines of owls and town criers, and Mia makes vessels adorned with butterflies on their lids. All of their pieces are made and fired using the traditional techniques of Pueblo pottery making and include their own distinctive innovations. Collectively they have won numerous distinctions and regularly show their pieces at the Santa Fe Indian Art Market and other juried venues. They also are terrific educators with a passion for sharing Pueblo pottery making.

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Student work emerges after the firing. Many of the pieces incorporate techniques like fine line painting, polishing, as well as a mix of traditional and innovative forms.

The Peabody and PA have a long history with the Pueblo of Jemez. From 1915 through 1929 the Peabody sponsored Alfred V. Kidder’s excavations at Pecos Pueblo, one of the ancestral communities of Jemez. In the 1990s Peabody personnel were involved in repatriation of ancestors and funerary objects from Pecos and began the Pecos Pathways program, a forerunner of today’s Learning in the World programs.

Three pottery figures and vessels, including painted owl figurine, the collaborative piece by Dominique and Maxine, and a swirl pot by Dominique.
Owl figurine made by Maxine Toya (left); collaborative pottery, Dominique and Maxine Toya (center); micaceous swirl bottle by Dominique Toya.

We are very fortunate that several donors and members of the Peabody Advisory Committee have helped us acquire some of the Toyas’ stunning pieces and provide underwriting for their visits. We are so grateful for the time that the Toyas have dedicated to working with PA students and faculty!

 

Science vs. Pseudoscience

Contributed by Ryan J. Wheeler

One of the early topics covered in the interdisciplinary course Human Origins is science vs. pseudoscience. Students watched a short video by Craig Foster, who talks about his experience attending a Bigfoot research conference. Archaeology has long contended with claims for ancient aliens, lost continents, and cryptids, like Bigfoot, Yeti, and the Abominable Snowman. While seemingly fun and harmless diversions, these things can muddy thinking about what science is and how it is done, and contribute to misperceptions about the accomplishments of indigenous people. The nineteenth century Moundbuilder Myth suggested that the ancient earthen monuments of the Ohio Valley had not been built by the ancestors of contemporary Native Americans, but rather by a mysterious lost race. This was used to justify the United States’s expansion westward, as exhibited in the doctrine called Manifest Destiny. If Native people were not responsible for creating the Ohio Valley monuments it called into question their rightful occupation of this territory and empowered American expansion.

Ryan Wheeler, a tall man with glasses and a white Hawaiian style shirt folds the very large cast of a foot, said to be Bigfoot, a cryptid. The relative position of the foot bones has been marked by the late Bigfoot researcher Dr. Grover Krantz.
Peabody director Ryan Wheeler with the supposed cast of Bigfoot. The late Dr. Grover Krantz has marked the position of the foot bones. This copy was obtained from BonesClones, though there are many casts available for sale.

Paranormal and cryptid researchers often use technology and techniques that approximate science. They represent an investigation of the unknown and the possible. During class we discussed perceptions of science and philosopher Karl Poppers’s recognition that falsifiability is the hallmark of scientific investigation. The classic example is Arthur Eddington’s check of Einstein’s theory of relativity. Einstein had noted that it should be possible to observe the gravitational deflection or bending of starlight during as eclipse; if the starlight wasn’t deflected, it meant that his postulates had been proven false. Eddington made a series of photographs during the 1919 eclipse that demonstrated that the Sun did, in fact deflect starlight. Ancient aliens, Bigfoot, and Lost Tribes can never be subject to real scientific investigation like this because the claims can never be tested and proved false.

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Students in Human Origins are printing 3D versions of fossil hominins this term. Here they are learning about the equipment from Claudia Wessner, Oliver Wendell Holmes Library Makerspace guru.

We revisited Foster’s video and his thoughts on the Bigfoot adherents. Why do people believe these outrageous claims? For one, it has to do with context. If you spend time with other Bigfoot believers it reinforces your own thinking. We also discussed belief as a continuum. Some people don’t believe in cryptids or aliens, but are willing to consider the possibility of ghosts. Foster also notes that we are all susceptible to pseudoscientific claims and that the people who believe are perfectly rational and pleasant individuals who will remain unconvinced by arguments or contradictory evidence.

Emma Cook, a woman with long blonde hair, holds the large jaw and teeth of the giant ape Gigantopithecus blacki.
Peabody administrative assistant Emma Cook with our cast of the Gigantopithecus blacki mandible.

During class we also examined a cast of a jaw of Gigantopithecus blacki, a very large primate known from around 9 million years ago in parts of Asia; paleontologists believe Gigantopithecus became extinct around 100,000 years ago. Gigantopithecus is often offered as the real creature behind cryptids like Bigfoot and Yeti. As the claim goes, perhaps the large ape has persisted in remote areas into modern times. Relatively harmless thinking, right? But if we accept claims like this, we are effectively denying Darwin’s theory of evolution. And if we believe that evolution isn’t operating it opens the door for a host of other, more insidious thinking, especially ideas about race.

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If you want to learn more about archaeology, science, and pseudoscience please attend our inaugural Peabody Lecture in Archaeology & Education, featuring archaeologist and author Ken Feder. Feder will talk about his newest book, Archaeological Oddities: A Field Guide to Claims of Lost Civilizations, Ancient Visitors, and other Strange Sites in North America. Ken will sign copies of the book after his talk. 4-6pm, Saturday, October 19, 2019, Breed Memorial Hall, Tufts University, 51 Winthrop Street, Medford MA. The event is free and open to the public, but we ask that you RSVP: https://events.attend.com/f/1383789424#/reg/0/

Busman’s Holiday: The Scottish Crannog Centre

If you’ve ever wondered what museum archaeologists do on vacation, it’s a bit of a busman’s holiday. As you may have guessed the tropical destinations and theme parks are typically bypassed for museums and archaeological sites. This was true on a recent vacation to Scotland, which featured everything from kitschy shops on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh to breathtaking vistas in Glencoe. But, for the archaeologist, the real highlight was a visit to the Scottish Crannog Centre on Loch Tay in Perthshire.

Image of thatched pile dwelling reconstruction at Scottish Crannog Centre.
Replica crannog at the Scottish Crannog Centre, log boat in the foreground.

So, what’s a “crannog?”  A crannog is an Iron Age pile dwelling, and it turns out that they are quite common in Scotland. At least 347 are recorded in Scotland and more are known in Ireland. Each crannog varies based on local environment and geomorphology, but they are commonly made of wooden timbers set in the lake bed and surmounted by a thatch dwelling. A narrow boardwalk provides a connection to the shore. The crannogs were built and occupied by Iron Age families (and their livestock) some 5,000 years ago. Accumulation of debris under and around the crannogs resulted in artificial islands. Many of these remained in use for a considerable time after the Iron Age, and we even had lunch in a restaurant built on a crannog in Fort William.

Image of dyed materials in a range of colors, all made with Iron Age pigments and processes.
Iron Age dyes replicated at the Scottish Crannog Centre.

The Crannog Centre in Perthshire is a living history museum with an active program of experimental archaeology and hands-on activities for visitors. A highlight is a reconstructed crannog based exactly on archaeological remains located nearby. Construction and repair of the replica crannog, and experiments to recreate ancient foods, tools, and clothes have provided considerable insight into the lives of Iron Age peoples. The interpreters did an outstanding job of explaining what is known and not known about crannogs. We got a sense of what the bustling lake must have been like 5,000 years ago as people tended crops and livestock, created tools and ornaments, cooked and ate their meals, and were entertained by traveling bards. Fragments of a musical instrument, traced to the Iberian Peninsula, provided some clues about connections during the Iron Age. Our guide Jason was a specialist in recreation of Iron Age textiles and shared some of his work in dyeing, spinning, and weaving. We were also treated to a fire-making demonstration, ancient pottery making, and replica log boats.

 

Since the water in Loch Tay was relatively calm that day we were invited to take out one of the modern replica log boats. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time for a paddle, but I was delighted to learn that a 3,000-year-old log boat had been located adjacent to the reconstructed crannog. We had seen examples of these craft in both the Riverside Museum in Glasgow and the Scottish National Museum in Edinburgh. They share a lot with Native American dugout canoes, though the Scottish examples have a plank inset in the stern, creating a distinctive flat transom. And, of course, they are carved with iron tools rather than hollowed by fire.

Image of artifacts, including carved wooded ladles, bowls, and other shapes.
Anaerobic conditions at the crannog preserve wooden artifacts, seeds and nuts, as well as the more typical stone tools found at terrestrial archaeological sites.

So along with Scotland’s castles, sweeping vistas, great food, friendly people, and the occasional bagpiper, we had a real treat at the Crannog Centre. Next time: paddling one of their log boats!

New Acquisition: Toya Collaborative Pottery

The Peabody Institute is pleased to share our latest acquisition, a piece of pottery made by Dominique and Maxine Toya, Pueblo of Jemez. Dominique and her mom Maxine have had a long relationship with the Peabody, first visiting campus in 2014 to share their work in the world of Native American art. Since then they have visited campus in 2015, 2016, and 2017, and plan on returning in fall 2019 to conduct a week-long seminar with students in Thayer Zaeder’s studio pottery classes. We have been lucky to work with Mia Toya, Dominique’s sister, and friend Nancy Youngblood from Santa Clara Pueblo.

Dominique is a 5th generation potter, who combines traditional forms, materials, and methods with exciting innovations in decoration and design. We have two of Dominique’s melon swirl vessels with micaceous slip, courtesy of Marshall Cloyd (PA Class of 1958). Dominique has won numerous awards, including Best of Classification at the Heard Indian Market (2008); Best of Classification at the Gallup Inter-Tribal Ceremonial (2009), Best of Show at the Eiteljorg Indian market in Indianapolis in for a collaboration with Jody Naranjo (2010); and numerous distinctions at the Santa Fe Indian Market; Dominque is currently vice chair of the Southwestern Association for Indian Arts, host of the annual Santa Fe Indian Market. Maxine is a talented artist and educator as well, specializing in hand-painted figurines. She studied with Allan Houser at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe.

Three pottery figures and vessels, including painted owl figurine, the collaborative piece by Dominique and Maxine, and a swirl pot by Dominique.
Owl figurine made by Maxine Toya (left); collaborative pottery, Dominique and Maxine Toya (center); micaceous swirl bottle by Dominique Toya.

Dominique and Maxine have recently begun to combine their talents, with Dominique contributing her beautiful vessels and Maxine painting them with human and animal figures. This piece, like all of their creations, is made from local New Mexican materials, hand decorated and polished, and open fired.

Image of Pueblo potters with ceramics instructor and blog author.
From left to right: Maxine Toya, Thayer Zaeder, Mia Toya, Ward Weppa, Barbara Callahan, and Dominique Toya.

The Toya pottery collaboration is thanks to a generous gift from Barbara and Les Callahan (PA Class of 1968). Many thanks Barb and Les for this beautiful addition to our collection!