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Randell Research Center conducts dig at Pineland

By Staff | Aug 12, 2015

Nothing is more exciting to an archaeologist than when he gets to dig in the dirt. Bill Marquardt, curator of South Florida Archaeology and Ethnography and director of Randell Research Center, led an excavation on Pine Island at the corner of Pineland Road and Waterfront Drive Tuesday morning for the Randell Research Center.

“This is an opportunity, thanks to the Randell family, to excavate here before a septic tank is installed on this property,” Marquardt said. “There are three rental houses on the property that the tank will serve. The Randell’s gave us an opportunity to come over and dig before the tank is installed.”

A hole, approximately 4 feet square and 4 to 4 -feet deep, was dug where the septic tank will be installed. Karen Walker, research and collections manager of archaeology at the Florida Museum of Natural History, was excavating in the hole into the shell midden (a mound or deposit containing shells and other refuse).

“What Karen is doing,” Marquardt said “is sifting through the shell midden. What we found today is extraordinarily well preserved organic materials such as un-charred wood, seeds and even some intact netting. This material dates to about 500 or 600 A.D. about 1,500 years ago. The only other time we’ve found this type of organic material is about 200 yards from here at an old shoreline that dates between 600 and 800 years ago. These two digs might give us a window as to how they (the Calusa) were manipulating plants.”

Several volunteers gathered around a box with screens and running water.

“This has several screens, each with a smaller mesh underneath, so when things are cleaned, the larger items stay on the top, washing the smaller items down until we’re only gathering mostly seeds,” Marquardt said. “We even get down to preserved fish scales.”

The Randell Research Center is a program of the Florida Museum of Natural History, which has conducted research and education programs in Southwest Florida since 1983.

The RRC has existed since 1996 when Donald and Patricia Randell gifted more than 53 acres of the Pineland archaeological site to the University of Florida Foundation.

The property the Randell Center is on is now state-owned.

Visitors to the Randell Research Center can tour the Calusa Heritage Trail, a 3,700-foot interpretive walkway that leads visitors through the mounds, canals and other features of the Pineland archaeological site. The RRC maintains a book and gift shop with information about Calusa archaeology and related subjects. The shop is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday, and during special events.

“Every time we dig, we learn something,” Marquardt said. “There’s just so much more to learn and the Randells are just so supportive to give us an opportunity to get in here before the heavy equipment begins excavating.”

Contact the Randell Research Center at 13810 Waterfront Drive, Bokeelia, FL 33922, or call 239-283-2157.