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C. B. Moore's excavations on the Aucilla River


More than ninety years ago Clarence Bloomfield Moore, a resident of Philadelphia, initiated archaeological investigations on the Aucilla River. In the spring of 1902 and again in 1918 Moore excavated in a Weeden Island culture mound located on the east side of the river said to be about 2.5 miles from its mouth on a farm owned by Mr. B. F. Lewis of Monticello, Florida (I will refer to this mound as Lewis Mound A; on the 1955 Nutall Rise USGS topographic sheet higher ground and an access road are indicated at approximately this location, probably marking the site of the farm). In 1918 following his excavation of Mound A Moore put several "trial-holes" in a second mound (Mound B) located near the first. He also examined other sites along the river.

Born in 1852, Moore spent the first forty years of his life enjoying the wealth and privilege that he inherited from his father. But he also sought adventure outside of his life as a Philadelphia socialite. In 1876, three years after graduating from Harvard University, he made a west-to-east journey across the Andes and then traveled down the Amazon River to its mouth. Moore also participated in big-game safaris and he traveled widely in Europe.

In 1892 Moore turned to a new diversion, archaeology. For the next quarter century he devoted a part of almost every year to excavating archaeological sites in the southeastern United States, initially in Florida on the St.Johns River but eventually along the coasts and major river systems of the entire southeast. In 1918 at the age of sixty-six he ceased field excavations. Moore ;k died in 1936 at home in Philadelphia, leaving a legacy of twenty-one well-illustrated volumes reporting on his excavations.

Throughout most of his archaeological career Moore traveled aboard his steamship the GopheT. Each year an assistant traveled to the region where the next field season's explorations were to take place to locate sites, make arrangements with land owners, hire crews, and the like. Field seasons generally began in November and lasted to late April. The other months were spent in analysis and writing.

With the flat-bottomed Gopher Moore could navigate the waters of the coasts and larger rivers. To gain access to shallower rivers or to cross bars at the mouths rivers Moore and his assistants used small boats carried aboard the steamship. In the 1917-1YL8 season he replaced these rowed boats with a motor launch. The launch was used in 1918 to explore sites on the Aucilla River north of the Lewis mounds. Moore summarized those later investigations by noting, "A number of other places visited by us on the Aucilla river proved to be only aboriginal dwelling-sites, yielding nothing of interest."

Moore published the results of his 1902 and 1918 Aucilla River investigations in the Journal of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia (the 1902 report is in volume XII, part 2, pp. 325-330; the 1918 report is in volume XVI, part 4, pp. 564~-567). The following information comes from those reports. Moore's field notes are archived in the Huntington Free Library associated with the Museum of the American Indians (now a branch of the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American Indians-NMAI) in the Bronx, New York. The Lewis mounds are in Notebooks 21 and 45.

When Moore first excavated in Mound A at the Lewis farm a large portion of it was covered with a log "stable" and corral probably used in cattle ranching. At the time the 6.5-foot high mound was 64·feet in diameter. In 1918 when he returned to the site the enclosure had been removed, allowing Moore to excavate the remainder of the mound.

Numerous limestone rocks from the size of a human head to irregular masses perhaps 1 foot by 2 feet by 1 foot" lay atop the mound and were found within it. The mound had been constructed in two stages; an upper zone of "clayey sand, black and tenacious, probably from adjacent swamps" overlay a 1- to 2-foot-thick stratum of packed clay. Human burials were found in both strata, all in poor shape probably because of the erosive action of groundwater acids.

In the 1902 excavations three flexed burials were found in the lower Jerald T. Milanich stratum and fifteen in the upper zone. The latter included two "bunched" groups representing eight and four people, respectively. These probably were groups of bundled remains. One flexed interment was present in the upper stratum as were two single crania. Some of these burials were covered by clusters of limestone of rocks. Also found were a chert knife or point and several shell cups with perforations (presumably Busycon cups).

Moore's 1902 excavations centered on the eastern portion of the mound. There he uncovered a cache of fourteen whole or broken Weeden Island I period pottery vessels as well as sherds from other vessels. Six of the items are llustrated in the 1902 report: a dog-head effigy adorno, a Weeden Island Punctated beaker, a Weeden Island Incised turkey vulture effigy vessel, a Weeden Island Incised crested bird effigy vessel, and two Weeden Island Plain compartmentalized vessels.

During the 1918 excavations Moore "dug the mound completely." Skeletal remains representing fifty-two additional individuals were found. Interments again were flexed, bundled, and single crania burials and some were covered with rocks. A shallow grave apparently dug into the ground surface before mound construction contained a child burial. The individual, eight to ten years old, was covered with a large deposit of limestone rocks. Another individual had red ochre next to the pelvis, while two others were interred with shell cups.

A Swift Creek Complicated Stamped squared ceramic beaker with a constricted mouth is illustrated in the 1918 report. Moore notes the beaker and "numerous sherds and a number of vessels, some having parts missing" also excavated that year were the remainder of the pottery cache partially excavated sixteen years earlier.

Another of these cache vessels, also illustrated, is a Weeden Island pedestaled human effigy vessel. The individual depicted wears a headdress that may be the nubs of newly developed deer antlers. On the effigy's back is an open basket or pack; arms are folded across the stomach and the person is attired in a belt or breech clout (or, perhaps, an animal pelt with the head attached; the face bears some resemblance to Andy Hemmings).

Elsewhere in Mound A were "about half a dozen parts of vessels in fragments and piles of sherds from various vessels," chert tools, a fragment of a polished quartz bannerstone, a bone awl, and a sheet of mica.

Mound A is a typical Weeden Island I period burial mound, probably dating between A.D. 400-750. The presence of Weeden Island pottery, an east-side pottery cache, limestone rocks, two-stage construction, and flexed, bundled, and single-crania interments all are characteristic of Weeden Island mounds of that period.

Modern archaeologists probably would interpret the mound as having been used by a single kin group. Most likely the lower stratum M·as a low platform mound on which a charnel house for the storage of deceased relatives bones was built. An initiatory burial was made in the ground surface under the primary mound. Bundles of cleaned bones-skulls and long bones-were later taken from the charnel structure, laid down on the platform's surface, and covered with clayey sand and, at times, rocks. The "black and tenacious" clayey sand may have been a humic zone that had formed on the floor of the charnel house. Over time additional burials were placed on the mound's surface and covered with more clay and occasionally, limestone rocks.

At the time the charnel house was removed and the first burials laid down on the platform, a cache of pottery vessels probably was placed on the east side of the mound. These probably had been used for ceremonial purposes.

The sequence of construction, mound use, human interments, and pottery cache deposit resulted in a typical Weeden Island I burial mound. [For more on the Weeden Island culture, including mounds, see chapter 5 in Archaeology of Precolumbian Florida (University Press of Florida, 1994).]

Moore’s excavations in Mound B at the Lewis farm were far more cursory. The mound, "located a short distance from the landing, was a low sand mound blackened by organic matter." Test units uncovered thirteen flexed burials and three bundled burials. No Weeden Is land pottery or east-side pottery deposit was found, suggesting the mound may have been similar to post- A.D. 750 Weeden Island mounds. One individual was interred with an S-inch long greenstone celt; other artifacts in the mound were a flat limestone tool 3.5 inches long, a bone awl, a sheet of mica, and several chert tools.

Both of the mounds probably were associated with a nearby village. Moore states "in all directions near the landing at the Lewis Place, the ground gives evidence of former aboriginal occupancy, and the discovery of several objects of interest in it are reported by Mr. Lewis." We might guess that these artifacts were associated with a village midden that was eroded when the area was cleared for the Lewis farmstead.

At least several of the Mound A ceramic vessels are curated in the NMAI's New York branch. An interesting project would be to relocate the Lewis mounds, read Moore's original field notes, and examine the NMAI collections. Perhaps there is information that would help us to better understand the prehistory of the Aucilla River.

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Side view: Mound A human effigy (From Moore 1918)