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Our scientists study archaeology and ethnography of North America, focusing on the Southeastern United States, Caribbean, and Latin America. We also have a strong environmental archaeology collection that includes modern comparative and archaeological specimens of zoological and botanical materials and archaeological soils.

Latest Research News

Research Highlights

Fort Mose: The First Free Black Settlement in North America

Dr. Deagan with Fort Mose artifacts
Dr. Kathleen Deagan with Fort Mose artifacts. Florida Museum photo by Eric Zamora

More than 250 years ago, African-born slaves risked their lives to escape English plantations in the Carolinas and find freedom among the Spanish living at St. Augustine, Florida. The Spanish freed the fugitives in return for their service to the king and their conversion to the Catholic faith.

In 1738 the Spanish governor established the runaways in their own fortified town, Gracia Real de Santa Teresa de Mose, about two miles north of St. Augustine. Mose became the first legally sanctioned free black town in the present-day U.S. and it is a critically important site for Black American history.

After its abandonment, the Mose settlement lay forgotten until a team of specialists headed by Distinguished Curator of Historical Archaeology Kathleen Deagan uncovered the settlement and carried out extensive archaeological and historical investigations of the site.

Centuries-old documents recovered in the colonial archives of Spain, Florida, Cuba and South Carolina tell us who lived in Mose and something about what it was like to live there. The archaeological investigation of Fort Mose is helping to document the poorly understood role of African Americans on the colonial frontier.

Kingdom of the Calusa

Research conducted over the past 20 years by Curator of Florida Archaeology William Marquardt and Assistant Scientist Karen Walker has uncovered a culture that rivaled that of the Mound Builders of the Mississippi River valley and the great Native American maritime cultures of the Northwest Coast. The Calusa were once the most powerful people in South Florida. For many centuries they built huge shell mounds, engineered canals and sustained tens of thousands of people from the fish and shellfish found in the rich estuaries near Fort Myers.

Much of this research has focused on the Pineland site complex, a Calusa Indian village for more than 1,500 years where enormous shell mounds still overlook the waters of Pine Island Sound. Remnants of an ancient canal that reached across Pine Island sweep through the complex, while sand burial mounds stand in the woods.

Pineland is particularly important to archaeology and ecology due to its water-logged deposits, which have preserved ancient botanical remains found nowhere else in North America. Pineland also provides a key to understanding even larger issues. Its accumulated deposits record sea-level fluctuations and even climate changes of interest to scientists who study the Earth’s environmental history.