Press Release for Tuesday, May 12, 2009

UNF Archaeological Dig Gets Recognized by Historic Preservation Commission

The Jacksonville Preservation Commission will honor University of North Florida archaeologists Dr. Robert Thunen, a professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, and Dr. Keith Ashley, a research coordinator in the same department, for their findings at Betz-Tiger Point Preserve during their annual awards ceremony at 6 p.m. on Thursday, May 21, at the Jacksonville Main Library.

UNF will be presented the award by the Historic Preservation Commissioners in the Archaeological/Landscape Category. This annual awards ceremony recognizes outstanding projects and services that promote historic preservation in the Greater Jacksonville Area.

“The archaeological findings by UNF provide a better understanding of native life in Northeast Florida and will further the ultimate goal of the division to construct an Archeological Center at the Betz-Tiger Point Preserve that will serve as a premier facility for research, education, archival space and interpretive exhibits,” said Nathan Rezeau, division chief, Waterfront Management & Programming, City of Jacksonville’s Recreation & Community Services Department.

Preservation project parks serve to protect environmentally and culturally significant lands, provide a balance to urban sprawl, protect watersheds and offer the public diverse passive recreation opportunities. Betz-Tiger Point was purchased in 2003 and is currently in design to develop the first phase of access amenities. Before this could be done and because much of the park is considered to have highly significant cultural resources, the city sought to conduct research utilizing Division of Historical Resources grant funds to conduct an in-depth site analysis of the proposed amenity areas along with other significant sites on the property.

Last summer, UNF conducted its annual field school at the Betz-Tiger Point Preserve in Jacksonville. Prior to the summer field school, UNF archaeologists surveyed the 548-acre city preserve and excavated 466 shovel tests. Seven archaeological sites were discovered, unearthing artifacts that ranged from a 6,000-year-old stone projectile point to pieces of dinner plates dating to Hudnall occupation of the property during the early 1800s. Falling between these two points in time were also a wide assortment of Native American ceramic fragments. Among these was a style archaeologists call “Orange,” which is one of the oldest fired-clay pottery types in North America, and dates back to 2000 BC.

Following on the heels of the survey, 10 UNF students assisted Drs. Ashley and Thunen in testing four archaeological sites on the Betz-Tiger Point property. While this site was first reported to the state in 1963, no excavations had ever taken place there before this dig. The Tiger Point site consists of a series of shell middens, which are simply piles of garbage that include soil and a lot of shell. Also in the shell middens found at Tiger Point were animal bones and broken pieces of pottery. What makes this garbage so important to archaeologists is that it’s more than 700 years old.

After six weeks in the field, students returned to the UNF laboratory for analysis, where all artifacts and bone were washed, identified and counted. The results of the dig uncovered a better understanding of native life in Northeast Florida. UNF archaeologists and students learned that the Tiger Point site was not a major village but rather a seasonal camp, where small family groups came to live and eat what they fished, hunted and gathered from nearby habitats.

Fish and shellfish made up the bulk of their diet. Oysters would have been harvested at low tide from the creek banks, mud flats and salt marshes. Fish, which included catfish, mullet, flounder, seatrout and drums, would have been caught with nets from shallow estuarine waters.

Seasonality information derived from measurements on fish and odostomes, small parasites of oysters, let the archaeological team know that natives lived at the Tiger Point site during the summer and early autumn. Artifact styles and radiocarbon dates indicate the site was occupied around 1300 AD.