Searching Sand and Surf


If you have never visited one of Florida’s mound sites, you are missing a unique opportunity to witness the landscapes of her aboriginal peoples. So come with me as we travel back in time and experience a glimpse of Florida’s history.

You arrive at Turtle Mound before dawn. The sky is dark, but the first trace of light is spilling from the eastern horizon. It’s a cold February morning and your fingers tingle as the icy wind cuts through your gloves. The mound is shrouded in darkness and the soft roar of the Atlantic washes over your back. You begin the climb, winding your way up its eastern side. Birds are just starting to wake. You hear them rustling from their hiding places.

As you make your way up, you smell the ocean, the mud from the marsh, and the faint skunk-like scent of the white stopper trees. You reach the platform that looks out over its western face, across the lagoon that spreads north and south. The early light paints the water’s surface gray. Its glassy face is broken by the backs of dolphin as they hunt, their warm exhalations rising skyward.

You reach the top and the wind finds you, as the first calls from shorebirds echo across the lagoon. The turkey vultures swoop low, their graceful wings like silken sheets being pulled across the sky. They settle among the barren branches of trees that blanket the mound, searching the horizon, sniffing for death.

A great blue heron glides silently overhead, eyeing the distant shores where he will hunt for his breakfast. The sky is brightening quickly, turning the horizon from pale yellow to bright pink. You can just make out the silhouettes of the oyster shells covering this massive mound, their pale faces turned skyward. They were once held in the hands of natives, their meat consumed by generations long dead who thrived along the shores of the lagoon, dependent on its bounty.

This mound serves as tangible evidence of their existence, as do the artifacts they left behind: carved stone, chiseled bone, shell fashioned into tools, weapons, and jewelry, and intricate pottery, molded and incised by cultures now vanished. These objects speak of another time, a very different Florida.

The few remaining mounds are portals to a distant past. We can walk where the natives walked, touch the landscapes they touched, and glimpse Florida as it was, before the rest of the world descended.

This book will also serve as a portal to the past. These articles represent the development of a discipline that has painstakingly revealed Florida’s rich history: archaeology.

The goal of Searching Sand and Surf is to shed light on the origins of archaeology in Florida. You will not find a detailed chronology of each stage in the discipline’s evolution. My hope is for you to pursue specific areas of interest through the Suggested Reading list provided in the back of the book (I have tried to limit the list to books on selected Florida subjects, since to include journal publications is beyond the scope of this list). What you will find is a collection of articles that represent the emergence of archaeology in Florida through the questions posed, the sites investigated, and the conclusions drawn. You, as the reader, will witness the steady increase in understanding, the growing sophistication of techniques utilized, and the refinement in methodology as Florida’s first archaeologists comb through the faint traces of human habitation in an attempt to understand Florida’s deep and complex past.

The articles have been culled from over one hundred years of publications within The Florida Historical Quarterly, the scholarly journal of the Florida Historical Society. First published in 1908 and originally entitled Publications of the Florida Historical Society, the Quarterly, for decades, was the only outlet for early archaeological research in the state. Our methodology has evolved dramatically over the past hundred years. It is apparent when you compare the earliest articles to more contemporary research. Our terminology and spelling have also evolved, but the historic spelling of names and locations within the articles has been retained, since they speak to the era in which they were written.

The book is divided into four sections; the articles are grouped temporally. Each section will open with an introduction, which will set the stage for the articles to follow and briefly highlight the major events taking place within the emerging field of Florida archaeology.

Today, archaeologists have numerous avenues in which to publish, but the Quarterly continues to foster the close relationship between history and archaeology. This book represents the hard work, gifted insight, and dedication of some of the first professional archaeologists in the state and the direction they set for those who have followed.

From its simple and speculative beginnings, the emergence of archaeology and its evolution as a profession is lain bare through the articles in this book. So settle back and delve into Florida’s history, and witness the origins and advancement of archaeology in our state.

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