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Archaeology of the Unseen

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Earlier this month was the annual conference for the Florida Anthropology Society (FAS). It was held in Orlando, at the Shakespeare Theater. This meant a lot to me, because the building was once the Central Florida Science Museum and later the John Young Science Center. My Mom worked there in the 1960s and 1970s. Yes, the building where I ran around in as a kid. And at one time, Mom was also an officer for the Central Florida Anthropological Society (CFAS), and board member with the state FAS organization. The CFAS held its meetings in the building at one time. So if she was still alive today, I know that Mom would have been proud that the state meeting was held here. And not only that, but there was record attendance.

Last year the FAS conference was held down here in Fort Myers. The talk from that conference which I enjoyed the most was a student paper given by Lee Bloch of New College in Sarasota. Lee won the award for best student paper at the FAS conference. It was about the dual gender of the hawk figure on the copper plate excavated from the Lake Jackson Mounds in Tallahassee. Lee had done a lot of interesting research, looking at archaeology from the past and reexamined iconography where the interpretation may have been biased by western views of gender roles in society. The hawk figures on the copper plates from Lake Jackson and several other similar objects found by archaeologists exhibit dual genders and features that area both male and female, or what can be called third and fourth gender figures.

I was so impressed with Lee’s presentation that I made contact with him for further research into this topic. I took him up to Tallahassee and got him into the state archives and archaeological site file room. I also introduced him to people who remembered the archaeological excavation of the Lake Jackson Mounds, and even had oral history and stories about the place, going back centuries. For example, one of their stories was about a new type of rat coming to the area of the Lake Jax Mounds, followed by a plague that killed off many people.

So Lee’s research had some new opportunities to expand and continue. This past month, for a second year, he again won the best student paper at the FAS conference, and will be published in the FAS quarterly in the future. His new presentation was titled, “Archaeology of the Unseen, On Collaborative Archaeology and the Decolonization of the Past: Re-Imagining the Lake Jackson/Okeeheepkee Site.” Lee’s paper was about “unseen” factors used in archaeology research, like oral history and eyewitness accounts to piece together a picture of the past. For example: using oral history, we know more about Mound 3 at the Lake Jackson site. It was leveled years ago by the land owner to build his work shop. Mound 3 is the mound which the copper plates were recovered.

My description here will fall far short of the many complex issues covered in the paper. So I am only touching on a couple things.

Recording oral history can be a double edged sword. You may become aware of things that are in variance with currently accepted history or historic paradigms. Once you hear some things, you can’t take the spoken words back. You can be exposed to knowledge of which you will never be the same. These things should not be discarded. This could become a link or reference in the future, and end up changing accepted historic paradigms. But for now, all we can do is file this information away, or as I say, put it in a box on the shelf to save for later. There are many things that Lee recorded that he could not use. Some of the information will have to remain private and confidential. Not always do the people which are interviewed carry a favorable opinion of well-known archaeologists. And there are some things that archaeologists have done that could be considered fraud or fabrication. That is just the world we live in, and for now, some things will just have to stay buried.

But on the positive side, is that the oral history of Native people is given more serious consideration than in the past. Concepts are being revisited and reexamined. Western bias is recognized, and past interpretations are being reexamined. The good thing is that the Native people who built the mounds will not be looked upon as primitive people wearing furs and doing nothing more than killing animals and producing hoards of sickly children. The mound building culture in the southeast was a complex civilization that was on par to other great civilizations of the ancient world, which did extraordinary things and had a very complex and highly developed society.

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