This presentation is part of the Proceedings of the Maritime Cultural Landscape Symposium, October 14-15, 2015, University of Wisconsin-Madison
James Moore: Our next speaker is Kenneth Sassaman. He is the Hyatt and C.C. Brown professor at Florida Archeology in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Florida. He earned his PhD in anthropology from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. He’s also worked for 11 years previously with the Savannah River Archeological Research Program of the South Carolina Institute of Archeology and Anthropology at the University of South Carolina.
His field research in Florida has centered on the mid home scene hunter gatherers of the middle Saint Johns River Valley. In 2009, Sassaman launched the lower Suwannee archeological survey to develop data on costal living pertinent to the challenges of sea level rise today.
Kenneth Sassaman: Thanks Jimmy. Morning everyone. I don’t mind telling you that I’d never heard of Maritime Cultural Landscapes before Mike Russo called me a couple months ago. He said, “Why don’t you read Westerdahl and Ben Ford’s intro to his book.” And I did, that day. Found a few points of entry. It was encouraged that I actually could contribute something. I certainly was encouraged that it would an opportunity what’s been nagging at me since midlife crisis, which is make archeology more relevant to policy issues and moving forward as a society. That was encouraging but also, I’ve always been embracing the landscape concept, not necessarily with any theoretical perspective in particular but I guess if you had to pigeon hole me, I’m a phenomenologist.
All that sounds really scary and stuff, it really is just the study of subjectivity of experience. As archeologist we can’t get to the subjects, at least I study aboriginal human experiences in the new world. So, we’re at a loss there. We certainly can document experience in some sort of material sense, we can look at the biophysical world that people inhabited, how they made a living, the resources they collected, where they chose to live, bury their dead, and so forth, that’s the bread and butter of archeology, certainly we can do that pretty well.
The subjectivity of it though, short of having indigenous input and I’m a little envious of my colleagues working northwest coast, in California and so forth that have descending communities. I once said that at Berkeley once and Sonja Avaly, when she was still a student there, and she said, “Just ask any Indian.” By that she meant basically, just think about it outside those who were victimized by the enlightenment Cartesian reductionism and everything else that makes descendants of European ontologies. Another words, think outside the box, think differently about it.
So when we started this project on the norther gulf coast in 2009 from a phenomenological prospective although not happily so. It involved more than archeology. It involved getting in the community of Cedar Key, that little fishing community, and doing ethnographic work. It meant doing experimental work. It meant being in that environment, being in that place, learning what it was like to live with those tides and those winds and those storms. What it was like when you had a blowout tide in the winter and so forth. So it’s kind of a holistic approach to it I suppose. Ultimately, the experiential part that I’m investigating ties into sea level rise issues from perspective of temporality of at what rate of change is necessary for human perception to form cultural traditions of enduring quality and value that would enable people to intervene against alternative futures. To basically take care of their own futures and not like by fate alone. That’s part of the bias of the western mind that we think of the non-western peoples of the world being subject of fate alone. That’s just patently not the case in an environment that really dynamic like that.
I have 3 objectives here. Conceptually we’ll just quickly go through some of this and I’ll show you some of the results here. So one is that, I think as an outsider maybe I can bring a little fresh perspective, although I was encouraged yesterday by some of the talks that touch some of the points here. MCL should be regarded as relational phenomenon, not essential phenomenon. Clearly, not mounted in time and space. So structured by motion. With motion you get not only moving across space but that’s the basis for time. It’s the basis for temporality. How do we recognize when time elapses? When things move. Whether it’s that clock, or people traversing the landscape or tides coming and going and so forth.
The second thing, and I think this is really where the rubber hits the road, is that we have to think of the historical value of anything archeologically, including the MCL’s, residing in future’s planning. Not just putting something under glass and preserving it as if it has intrinsic value because it happen in the past but we mobilize what we know about past experiences for planning for long term futures. And again, I think what we have in our indigenous counter parts in the ancient past, that sense of temporality, that al strips Western minds manifold, that they were operating at scales of centuries. Perhaps even more, with inscribed memories that could millennial scale.
Then I’ll just quickly review some of the results of the ongoing survey project of Northern Gulf Coast that’s informed by the precepts. So the first thing, MCL’s in motion. Multifaceted perspective on this in my mind. And the one that comes to mind most readily that nobody could argue with is that there’s intrinsic movements in coastal environments that you can just see on a minute by minute basis. That waters moving constantly, there’s the tides of course, they’re diurnal, the currents that flow constantly. Sediments moving around, biota including the human bodies themselves. There’s just constant movement. That’s the first thing that struck me working out there. I’m a land lover and from a land perspective there’s time where I think the world has stood still but that’s not possible in the Northern Gulf Coast and I don’t think that’s true of any coastal environment as well as riverine environments. Extrinsic movements are things that come from outside. I think Westerdahl near the end of his article, brings out the point that MCL’s have to be open ended because there’s movement of things in and out of them. So only storm events precipitated by global forcing variable, El Nino’s and things like that. Migrations of humans and animals and so forth have extra local points of origins and consequences.
Then it gets more interesting when you start looking at the variations on the scale. This gets really complex and it’s hard to model this kind of stuff but there’s so many scaler questions about movement. The things that occur on a minute by minute basis. We got decadal, we got century scale things, we’ve got millennial scale things. All that stuff, of course, can be modeled as natural phenomena. Then we have the human elements too of things like building environment, the infrastructure that’s put in place, the sense of duration, permanence that goes into things like that. Then abandonment and dismantlement of those sorts of things.
Then for me, the real critical value here looking at all this movement as a synergies of the movement, this is where it gets really complex and requires really detailed data. Interdisciplinary data. I’m learning a lot about this environment that I never imagined I’d ever have to learn but it is relevant. Things like marsh aggregation on the north gulf coast keeps pace with sea level so in fact you do get long stretches of time where although waters coming up through eustatic sea level rise, marsh aggredations keeping pace with it so things are both rising simultaneously like that. But if you take the oyster bayou hearns that enable that aggredation and you start impacting those by increasing salinity levels by decreasing fresh water inputted into the estuaries, estuary environments, you’ve basically break down that barrier that’s keeping that water and that sediment in place and you get this overstepping effect that can really strip those environments of their base levels near shore quickly and produce these instantaneous, eventful changes in that landscape.
So the synergies are really critical and that’s the complexity of experience. The human experience of knowing the accommodation of winds, tides, salinity, the viability, and the health of the oyster buyer herons, all that stuff is relevant, all that stuff requires very complex knowledge and it doesn’t require PhD’s but it does require a lot of experience out there. So the locals know. They’re not indigenous people, they’re descendants of European colonists, but they know what it’s like to be out there so we’re learning from them too. And then, of course, it’s all relational in a sense as opposed to essentialist because it’s connected through movement of time and space.
The future part of this perspective from me is twofold. One is that the sense that we study the past for the future. There’s all those old additives that we can sight, and isn’t it nice, they’re all platitudes in my mind. The spirit of the law may be that we study the past to plan for the futures but the letter of the law doesn’t specify that. There’s nothing in law that says every archeological site that’s identified as being significant must have a competent that can be mobilized for future’s planning. I know when I looked at the sea grants, the first thing the sea grants administrator is for Florida, told me was, “hey, archeology’s all cool and that but how can we package it in a way that will help the economic viability of coastal communities?” How can we package it in a way to help us understand the ecological sustainability of these local environments? So he was telling me straight up, your stuff does not have intrinsic value. It has to be packaged and mobilized for application, applied anthropology, right? Everyone loves archeology. It has intrinsic value as an aesthetic, as an entertainment value and all that. But to make a policy relevant, having a place at the boards of industry and the tables of lawmakers and so forth, is going to require a different way of thinking of archeology.
The leads to the second point of view that is instead of looking at archeology as an achieve of extinct experiences and past humans who lived these lives and then became something else. They evolved into something else. Then we look at the archeology record as an archive of alternative futures. Not just ones that we can mobilize for our own futures, but the sense that all our ancient counterparts intervene in their worlds to determine their own fates. That they stepped in and took care of, through their own experiences, what was to come. And that really is the matter of perception, a matter of recognizing long term patterns, knowing when those patterns are disrupted. Knowing how to deal with those disruptions. Certainly, there’s moments of time where events have occurred in the archeological past where there was no prior experience that would enable people to understand how to move forward effectively. Those sorts of revolutionary moments, I think we see in the archeological record all the time. Jeff talked about one there, the cosmological transformation from Swift Creek to Weeden Island may in fact coincide with a major environmental event like that.
The last thing conceptually for me, is this idea that it doesn’t have to be linear, it doesn’t have to be continuous. One of the dilemmas we face as archeologists is that if we’re going to look at the ancient past and try to bring it towards the future. Do we in fact have continuity of practice or do we have continuity of human lineages, actual traditions that would allow us to talk about it as homology, as the descendant practice as opposed to analogical stuff. And I don’t think that matters. I think this was a point that Jim Delgado made yesterday in regards to shipwrecks no longer being on the beach. As long as there’s a memory there, there’s a carry forward of value and meaning that could be reinterpreted and redeployed for various purposes but that doesn’t require that continuity of materials presence for that to happen. I think that’s true in these landscapes because they accreted not only in marsh environments or sediments and forth but there’s a lot of anthropogenic stuff there that just makes that world patently a product of what happened a long time ago. The town of Cedar Key for instance, wouldn’t exist today if it didn’t have 2-3 meters of shellmintent that accumulated between 4000-2000 years ago beneath it. It would be underwater, right?
Here’s our survey area, I’m going to go through this really fast because we don’t have that much time, of course. I’m like the rest of these guys, I could talk on forever but I didn’t want to write this down because I think that gets a little tedious too. So here you go, that’s our study area, it’ about 40 kilometers from Cedar Key, the Horseshoe Beach and the so called Big Bend area. There’s not a lot of physiographic detail here but I do have the shoreline of 5500 years ago on that dotted line out there. The gray polygons there, the Oyster Bayou Hearns that formed after 5000 years ago. Much reduced these days because of change in salinity and rising sea and so forth. Pretty much like Tod Rijays methodology, we go out and survey this coastline it’s a crenelated one to show you some of the USGS topos a little more detail. Archipelagos that is the Cedar Key area, another area with a lot of sea islands. Small little tree hammocks and other sorts of hammocks there. We also have just a plethora of these relic dunes that formed in the late ice age. They are the major source of sediment. The Suwanee River going through course diplography doesn’t carry much sediment down. You really wouldn’t have an estuary environment without the combination of fresh water and sediment for sea grass development and the marsh development aggradation and so forth.
So these dunes as they eroded with sea override provided all that sediment being trapped because these Oyster reefs to allow the aggradation to occur so there’s a lot of that. There’s the mouth, there’s the Suwannee, the delta the Suwannee, which is the center point of our study area. Moving further north, another area there, is doesn’t have a lot of islands and a lot of dunes but a great deal of tidal creek development. Another little point that sticks out there in Horseshoe Beach. Each one of these areas will be called survey track and we go out and do like Todd was saying, we basically we just go out and survey the coastlines here and there. They’re very conspicuous. They’re also, each one of these, the center of a civic ceremonial center during Swift Creek and Weeden Island time so post A.D. 200 about that and 900. Each of those blotches there contain at least one mound center that had a large resident population and mortuary complex associated with it. Some of blotches contain more than one but they each have at least one. They’re roughly spaced evenly apart and they do map on to the physiography in a way that kind of make sense intuitively.
This is what it looks like when you just go around with canoes and so forth. We found, or I shouldn’t say we, local citizens found most of the sites for us long before we started working there. Many of the responsible citizens that have done this and reported it to the state and turned over collections to us so we have these massive collections. There’s two guys in particular that picked up everything, including little tiny pieces of non-de script pottery and shell and so forth. And they kept it all separate so they site little riverine, bless their hearts. In addition to that on these dunes, and the local collectors laughed at us when we started surveying the dunes, because the dunes are basically free of any surface deposits, generally. But quite a few of them have these anthropogenic deposits we refer to as terraforming these days because they were deliberately constructed in many cases in these U-shaped things much like Jeff was talking about during that St. Mara’s, Wood Creek, and Weeden Island. None of these date back as early as the Wade Archaic like Matt was talking about. But we do have quite a few of these, some of them like the bottom left is just small little domestic rings and then the one in the upper right and then of course, the Garden Patch site to the upper left there. Much more massive constructions to have the mortuary complexes with them as well.
We see these in each one of those survey tracks. I think all together we’ve got about two dozen now that we would call anthropogenic constructions that were deliberate, not just defacto, not just trash, as Jeff has pointed out these things are sighted in ways that would suggest that they also have alignments to solstices, perhaps other celestrial alignments as well. Some of the archeology below the ground, there’s just an incredible array of features at all these sites. Lots of post holes, we haven’t quite dug off our samplings been extensive and not extensive excavation at any site here but as you can see there’s post holes that show up. The one on the upper right there, second from the upper right. We sometimes get chanking of shell in the post. I don’t know if that’s technological as much as it is ritual or symbolic. And then the bottom left there, these massive pits much like the ones Matt was talking about, these aren’t late archaic. These date to the last 2,000 years. There’s places where they’ve dug up dozens of these things. They can be 2 meters wide and 2 meters deep. And they’re in sand so they’re not lasting very long. I think they lined with something and if so, I don’t know what. But they are ritually in filled sometimes. That’s kind of cool.
And then distrography which is really what makes me so happy. These are history books right, they’re layered out in ways that not only record human use of the landscape and we can of course mine these things as we do for changes in environment and diet and all that good stuff. But we also have recorded in here, like in the upper left and the next one to it on the right, geological events of storm surge deposits. So we have abandonment’s, things that are precipitated, abandonment’s that are participated by storm surge events that are then reoccupied sites after that, that have additional abandonment’s and so forth. So we have these incredible records and when we put that chronology together, we only have … what do I got now, I just have 16 dates coming into this week so we’ll have 87 now, the beginning. In my mind, to get chronology that will work for this, to get a sea level rise, to look at the human response to sea level rise, how they intervened against these changes it’s going to take somewhere between 500 and 1,000. You do the math on this $600 a pop on AMS, it’ll take a while to accumulate that kind. We have plenty of carbon to date, I don’t date shell. I don’t even want to date shell unless they get local reservoir like they did on St. Catherine’s. You got to do that.
But in any event we got these gaps. The goal now is are the gaps real or imagined? Is it a sampling bias or what not? To put it in more of an interpretable perspective, the vertical bars here, the one on the left is 2300 B.C., the one at 400 B.C. and the one at 200 A.D., the vertical bars there, geologically established overstepping of the coastline. Points where the aggradation of the marsh and rising sea level got out of whack, we get the overstepping of the water and immediate transgression as much as 3 kilometers at a pop that flooded the near shore environment and created habit. So we get after each of those and abandonment’s, we think and then the reestablishment of these populations elsewhere. Or the returning to these landforms when in fact, through human aggregation of the upper genic deposits, it was possible to reestablish themselves at lower elevation.
So real quick, four examples of what I call alternative futures. Ultimately, we’re trying to reconstruct as best we can the details of human responses to these events and these longer term processes. One of which is that we’ve seen, and I think we see this with Todd’s example of the early Holocene stuff, as well as what Matt was talking about, that archaic people, in particular on the left, sea level at the point on the left was down about a meter and so the coastline was 5-10 kilometers to the west of that. So those sites there that date to 4000 years ago they were at higher elevation then and land were. And they had the full suite of marine resources. So they’re taking tidal creeks out to the water, collecting resources to get back. They’re coastal setbacks, it’s smart. It’s what we always should have always done. Doing right. It’s where Miami should have been, like on the next ridge back like where Hialeah is today. Then when we look at the right, this is more recent time which actually shows that along Plato’s Creek, so the upper left of that right map there you see those polygons up to title Creeks, those are the habitation sites during the last 1500 years and now they’re going down those type creeks to do that.
Alternative futures two. There are times like Jeff was talking about where they’re relocating burials. I had the experience years ago, there was a cemetery washing out at an island called McClamery Key, and with the blessing and help of the Seminole Tribe of Florida, because people were looting these exposed burials that dated 4500 years ago, we went in there and got them out and they were going to be reburied. But ultimately, when we were doing this, it was like why are they putting bodies in the ground right there at the water’s edge? Well no, of course they weren’t at the time because sea level was down a meter. The coastline was 5 kilometers to the west. They’re all secondary burials so I have this hypothesis that I’m working on, this theory, that they anticipated the need to relocate the burials with ambient rises in sea level over a period of time when in fact the rate was sufficiently higher. You could notice it in a lifetime. But they’re anticipating the need to relocate their settlements by first taking their cemeteries and relocating them landward about 5 kilometers and then after that through these sequences that we documented, relocating the living communities and then when they abandon those living communities, and placing caches of soapstone vessels, they’re being acquired from hundreds of kilometers to the north there.
So this interesting sequence of the ceremonial process of taking the bodies and moving them landward and so forth. This is all laid out on a solstice grid similar to what Jeff was talking about and if you’re interested I can give you a paper where I’ve extract laid this all the way to poverty point. Poverty Point, LA is to me, the end result of 2,000 years of experience dealing with sea level rise. Using the Solstice reference grid enabled these people to anticipate change, the rate of change, and make the what seemed to be chaotic, ordered and predictable. They were able to bring order to a world of constant change.
So a third one, territorial and place making, when at 8200 we get the establishment of a large civic ceremonial centers, they’re sited back from the coast. Crystal River, 7 kilometers back from the coast line. Garden Patches, 3 kilometers back from the coast line, Chow mound, not so much but at least they’re on the dunes, they go up higher there. So these are places where investments and infrastructure were made that were huge but did it in places that were much more secure at the time.
Then finally, these are places of gathering so ultimately, the last alternative futures here for them were networking. Ultimately the fate of coastal people today as it was back then really dependent on their connections with other people on the interior. Things are flowing to the coast but also populations are moving to the interior at the time when it’s necessary for them to abandon sites. I think we see that at the point of A.D. 700 that Jeff was talking about that we do get these massive shifts of population landward. This is what Miami needs so social scientists of the future, figure out the networks of Miami population, start relocating enclaves landward and what could be Gainesville, FL.