Iconography and Wetsite Archaeology of Florida’s Watery Realms

In April the University Press of Florida published Iconography and Wetsite Archaeology of Florida’s Watery Realms, my new book, co-edited with Oxford’s Joanna Ostapkowicz. Watery Realms highlights current research on sites and artifacts preserved in anaerobic environments throughout Florida. This blog reproduces some of the book’s first chapter, which recounts the origins of the volume and some of the exciting research presented.

Image of presenters at the 2016 Society for American Archaeology symposium The Archaeology, Art, and Iconography of Florida’s Watery Landscapes with Barbara A. Purdy. From left: Joanna Ostapkowicz, Dan Seinfeld, Bill Marquardt, Michael Faught, Julia Duggins, Karen Jo Walker, Phyllis Kolianos, Steven Koski, Barbara Purdy, Jim Knight, and Ryan Wheeler.
Presenters at the 2016 Society for American Archaeology symposium The Archaeology, Art, and Iconography of Florida’s Watery Landscapes with Barbara A. Purdy. From left: Joanna Ostapkowicz, Dan Seinfeld, Bill Marquardt, Michael Faught, Julia Duggins, Karen Jo Walker, Phyllis Kolianos, Steven Koski, Barbara Purdy, Jim Knight, and Ryan Wheeler.

The book grew out of the symposium The Archaeology, Art, and Iconography of Florida’s Watery Landscapes that we organized at the 81st annual meeting of the Society for American Archaeology (SAA) in Orlando, Florida, not terribly far from some of the amazing sites being discussed. By coincidence, the icon of the 2016 SAA meeting was the Hontoon/Thursby owl, which was the focus of our conference presentation and recent study. This made the venue doubly relevant in highlighting the importance of Florida wetland archaeology. As the session grew into the Watery Realms book, it expanded to include other contributors and has inspired new collaborations. A generous grant from the Toomey Foundation for the Natural Sciences helped underwrite the symposium and ensure that presenters from graduate programs, government agencies, cultural resource management firms, universities, and museums were able to attend. William Marquardt, a co-presenter on the wetsite resources of the Pineland site with Karen Jo Walker, volunteered to write a chapter for the book on the interesting corpus of wooden anthropomorphic figurines from southern Florida. Rick Schulting, who was involved in the strontium isotope analysis of the Hontoon/Thursby carvings in our study, linked with Julia Duggins over ways to test her ideas about Florida canoes and watersheds, a project that secured a Wenner-Gren Foundation grant. Plans for future collaborations on the anthropomorphic figurines and Key Marco material are also under way. Our discussants Jim Knight and Lee Newsom pointed out many of the ways the presenters could connect their work and explore Florida’s wetsite art.

Archaeologists Christine Newman and Ray McGee excavating the Lake Pithlachocco canoe site, 2000.
Archaeologists Christine Newman and Ray McGee excavating the Lake Pithlachocco canoe site, 2000. Dugout canoes like these figure prominently in the Watery Realms book.

The idea for the symposium emerged through a rather circuitous route. It began at the SAA’s 78th annual meeting in Hawaii, where I first meet Joanna Ostapkowicz. We were participants in a general session called By Design: Iconography in Social and Cosmological Negotiations, which included an interesting array of papers on everything from Dorset art to Egyptian textiles. Our papers contributed to enlarging the geographical scope to Florida (Wheeler: “Thinking about Animals in Ancient Florida”) and the Caribbean (Ostapkowicz: “The Sculptural Legacy of the Jamaican Taino”). Before and after the session we talked about how many iconographic wood carvings were known from Florida, from Key Marco to Fort Center and everything in between. Joanna suggested that the techniques she had been using with Caribbean wood carvings might have interesting applications in Florida. Many of the Caribbean pieces had traces of pigments and adhesives that were modified over relatively long periods of time. Some of this could be understood with a combination of microscopic examination and AMS dating. She also suggested that it might be possible to use isotopic analysis to understand the origin of a piece and how it could have been moved during its use life. In responding to slides in Ryan’s presentation, Joanna said something that was intriguing, namely that none of the carvings bore much similarity to Caribbean pieces, the potential connections between these geographically close areas remaining a hotly debated topic in some circles of Florida archaeology. We agreed to collaborate and decided that the Hontoon/Thursby and Tomoka carvings would be a good pilot study. We secured a National Environment Research Council (UK) grant to undertake AMS radiocarbon dating on the four sculptures. The results of that collaboration are explored in Chapter 9 of Watery Realms and in our recent article in the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports. During our field trip to visit the Hontoon/Thursby and Tomoka carvings, we linked with many colleagues who are doing research on Florida’s wetsites, both collections-based study and reanalysis, and learned of new discoveries. After canvassing people about their work and interest, we decided to organize the SAA symposium.

Two images of archaeologist Barbara Purdy: Barbara Purdy during excavations at Hontoon Island, 1980 (left) and revisiting the Container Corporation of America site in Marion County, Florida, in 2017.
Barbara Purdy during excavations at Hontoon Island, 1980 (left) and revisiting the Container Corporation of America site in Marion County, Florida, in 2017. Courtesy of Barbara A. Purdy.

That is not really the whole story, however, as there was another person in the audience of our symposium who deserves a lot of credit for modern studies of Florida’s wetsites, wooden artifacts, and iconography. Nearly all of the presenters that day mentioned Barbara Purdy, professor emerita of the University of Florida. She led a statewide investigation of dugout canoe finds from the 1970s until her retirement in 1992, maintaining extensive files and documentation on hundreds of canoes. She also led excavations at Hontoon Island in the 1980s to probe the wetsite deposits there, followed by a project at Lake Monroe, where I had my first taste of wetsite archaeology as a graduate student in the 1990s. In fact, I tracked down several canoes with Purdy and fellow grad student Ray McGee in the early 1990s; this work prefigured my involvement in the Lake Pithlachocco canoe site some ten years later. In 1991, Purdy published a compendium of Florida’s wetsites in Art and Archaeology of Florida’s Wetlands, building on her statewide survey of wetsites in 1981. That book was followed by Indian Art of Ancient Florida, a survey of Florida’s American Indian art with photographer and curator Roy Craven. It is most appropriate that the Watery Realms book is dedicated to Barbara Purdy, a pioneer of Florida’s wetsite archaeology and studies of wooden artifacts and carvings. Purdy encouraged an appreciation of canoes as fascinating artifacts in their own right that embody information about past lifeways and deserve care and study. Purdy organized and hosted several international wetsite conferences that resulted in important proceedings on the subject and created a community of scholars dedicated to the documentation and preservations of wetsite artifacts. She has continued to advocate for more recognition for Florida wetsites. Archaeologists still avoid damp and low areas during surveys and seldom think about intentional prospecting for these important sites. That is changing, however, largely due to her work, which introduced many of us as students and professionals to the hidden world of wetsite archaeology.

Image of Hontoon Island owl carving.
The Hontoon Island owl carving displayed at the Florida State Museum (now Florida Museum of Natural History), shortly after it was found in the St. Johns River, circa 1955. Black & white photoprint. State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory. Accessed 13 May. 2019.

The rest of Chapter 1 introduces the environment of Florida and gives a brief overview of the other eight chapters, as well as some thoughts about major themes covered in the book and prevalent in wetsite archaeology. Copies are available from Amazon.com and directly from the University of Press of Florida.

#SAA2019 #MeToo

This time of year usually sees a blog post about our attendance at the annual meetings of the Society for American Archaeology (SAA). The meetings are held in late March or April and attract thousands of archaeologists from around the world who share their research, connect with old friends, buy books in the exhibit hall, and generally revel in our discipline. The Peabody and Phillips Academy have a long history with the SAA and its annual meeting. The first ever annual meeting of the Society was held at Phillips Academy in December 1935. Doug Byers, the long-time director of the Peabody, served as the editor of American Antiquity, the Society’s flagship publication. Richard “Scotty” MacNeish was president of SAA.

Image of human hand petroglyphs carved on dark volcanic rock at Petroglyph National Monument, New Mexico.
Petroglyphs at Piedras Marcados Canyon, part of Petroglyph National Monument, Albuquerque, New Mexico. Photo by Ryan Wheeler, April 12, 2019.

Peabody personnel have continued to be involved with SAA. Staff members and members of the Peabody Advisory Committee regularly present papers and posters in the annual meeting sessions. Since 2017 we have had a booth in the annual meeting’s exhibit hall to promote the Linda S. Cordell Memorial Research Award, our book Glory, Trouble, and Renaissance at the Robert S. Peabody Museum of Archaeology, the Journal of Archaeology & Education, and generally network with folks in attendance. This year’s meeting was much the same, with lots of comradery with old and new friends, some great New Mexican cuisine, sightseeing at Petroglyph National Monument, and a visit to Albuquerque’s Red Planet Comics, a Native American-owned comic book store.

The difference this year, however, was that our discipline and the Society for American Archaeology have run headlong into issues of sexual harassment and discrimination that have garnered headlines everywhere from the film industry to tech and science sectors, often under the umbrella of #MeToo. These issues have been prevalent in archaeology for decades, and two of the papers in the session that I participated in, Sins of Our Ancestors (and of Ourselves), highlighted the contributions of women in museums and archaeology, and how their voices have often been excluded, their work co-opted, or their names simply excised or omitted from the record.

Image of name tag and program book from SAA conference.
Name tag and program book from the 84th annual meeting of the Society for American Archaeology.

Shortly before the Society’s annual meeting this year news circulated about a Title IX investigation of a prominent archaeologist at the University of Alaska Anchorage. According to news stories published at the end of March 2019, the Title IX investigation into sexual discrimination and sexual harassment found accusations from nine women all credible. The professor was denied emeritus status, and students and faculty were advised to alert authorities if the professor was encountered on campus. This professor apparently registered for the SAA annual meeting on-site. Not long after this, at least three survivors encountered him at the conference and reported his presence to the meeting organizers. Michael Balter, a journalist who has reported on #MeToo in science and who was at the conference for a session on this topic, also reported the individual’s presence and ultimately escorted the professor out of the meetings. He, however, returned later.

While the above is troubling, it’s only the beginning of the story. The current furor in archaeology centers on the Society for American Archaeology’s response to what happened at the meeting. The initial response was sluggish at best and often misguided. Michael Balter, the journalist who ejected the professor, was himself kicked out of the conference by the meeting organizers. Ultimately, over 2,300 people (many SAA members) signed an open letter to the Society that castigates the SAA for its response and demands action.

Apologies to the survivors were late in coming and there has been a general disregard for how this event has impacted all survivors of harassment and abuse who were at the meeting. Social media posts by the Society have blamed others or presented distorted timelines. It’s left many of us wondering how we can encourage the next generation of archaeologists to attend these meetings if they aren’t safe spaces, let alone continue our own support for an organization that is willing to tolerate sexual harassment and all its attendant hurt, trauma, and pain. At least three of the survivors have gone public with their experiences at the conference, including their interactions with SAA professional staff and leadership. Their posts on social media continue to raise concerns.

The SAA’s new president, Joe Watkins, issued an apology via a video message and letter on April 18. Comments on social media indicate that the apology was well received by some, but not all. Watkins, in his letter to SAA members, promises that the Society “will create a body to examine the short-comings in our sexual harassment policy of 2015 and the anti-harassment policy of 2018” and “do our best to ensure that this does not happen again.” He does, however, acknowledge that the recommendations of task forces have often been ignored by SAA leadership in the past.

If you want to learn more about what happened at the meeting and in the ensuing weeks, take a look at these articles by Lizzie Wade, Kerry Grens, as well as Kristina Kilgrove’s resignation as chair of the SAA media relations committee, and follow Norma Johnson on Twitter: https://twitter.com/nmj428

UPDATE 4/26/2019: See Kristina Kilgrove’s blog for a timeline of events.