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.
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.
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.
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.
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.