“A morsel of genuine history is a thing so rare as to be always valuable.” – Thomas Jefferson
Archaeological evidence shows that the area that we now know as Florida has been occupied by man since around 12,000 B.C. Known as Paleo-indians, these inhabitants lived off of available plants and animals, including mega-fauna such as the mastodon or the 12-foot-tall giant ground sloth that once roamed Florida. Over time, Florida slowly evolved into what we see today, with climate and sea levels becoming more stabilized.
By looking at the archaeological record, we are able to observe and interpret evidence of lifestyle changes made by inhabitants of Florida as a result of the changing climate and landscape that occurred so long ago. Locations of homes, types of firewood used and available foods that people ate all reflect environmental changes within a specific area. This type of information can be useful to scientists and engineers working to restore an environment that has been impacted as dramatically as southern Florida.
Jacksonville District has five archaeologists supporting civil works projects and one archaeologist in Regulatory Division. Each is tasked with ensuring that every district project meets federal, state and local laws governing the protection of cultural resources. That is a huge job, particularly considering the number of ongoing civil works projects and the number of federal permits requested through the regulatory process.
Cultural resources can be either tangible or intangible. Examples of tangible cultural resources include buildings, objects, features, locations and structures with scientific, historic and cultural value. Cultural resources are considered finite and non-renewable, in that once impacted, they cannot be returned to their original state.
According to archaeologist David McCullough, in considering how Jacksonville District’s projects may affect cultural resources, Planning Division’s Environmental Branch applies a number of historic preservation and environmental laws and regulations, in the interest of protecting cultural resources.
“One of the goals that archaeologists have is to ensure that our history is saved for future generations,” said McCullough.
Engineering regulations require that the Corps conduct field investigations early in the planning process, to verify the presence or absence of cultural resources. If the Corps finds cultural resources, it works with stakeholders to determine the best way to avoid, minimize or mitigate the effects that a project will have on those resources.
Ensuring each Corps project is in compliance with all federal, state and local laws that protect cultural resources contributes greatly to the understanding of the cultural history of North America and the Caribbean. Archaeologist Grady Caulk is a project delivery team (PDT) member for the Indian River Lagoon project, and McCullough is a PDT member for the Portugues Dam project, both prime examples of successful projects that have caused us to reevaluate how the world views Native Americans that lived in those areas.
The job of the archaeologist isn’t just about preserving history, but consideration of other people and organizations’ concerns for how historic sites are treated during Corps projects or the permitting process. Archaeologist David Pugh, Regulatory Division, says federal law requires the Corps to consult with other parties prior to and during projects. This consultation goes much further than most people realize.
By law, public participation is necessary in the Corps’ decision-making process. Executive Orders dictate consultation with federally recognized Tribes, such as the Seminole Tribe of Florida and The Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida. This means that when the Corps becomes involved with a project, it must begin the consultation process with the Tribes, the State Historic Preservation Office, and other concerned or affected stakeholders to determine if the project will have direct or indirect impacts to cultural resources. Failure to do so may cause projects to be delayed or potentially result in litigation.
Recently, Col. Alan Dodd, district commander and Eric Bush, chief of the Planning and Policy Division, helped to conduct compliance fieldwork in the Everglades. They confirmed that they gained a better understanding of the role archaeologists play in the Corps mission, and how difficult the fieldwork can be. Unique circumstances allowed the Corps to invite the Seminole Tribe of Florida’s Historic Preservation Officer, Paul Backhouse to join in the fieldwork. This was a great opportunity to foster new relationships by taking advantage of a neutral meeting area and a little hard work.
An important lesson learned is that biologists, archaeologists, engineers and historic preservation officers all have the same goal – a successful mission. Every role is important and contributes to that success.