Local News

Archaeological site survey completed at Air Force Range

AVON PARK – They’re really digging it at the Avon Park Air Force Range.

Phase One and Two of a new archaeological site survey on the 106,000-acre Air Force Range was completed in mid-April and preservation of two ancient Native American canoes found on the range in 2001 are still being monitored for wear.

Kathy Couturier, cultural resources manager/archaeologist for the Avon Park Air Force Range, said Friday the survey of a dragline site near Arbuckle Creek in the southeast section of the range was finished and a report of the findings are being sent to the Florida Division of Historical Resources in 2015. The report will determine the eligibility of the site for historical significance, providing guidance for the implementation of planning procedures for the location, identification and protection of the state’s archaeological and historic resources.

For the recent surveys, Couturier said a Plano, Texas-based archaeological dig firm with a Tampa office was contracted to do the principal investigation with independent contractors hired to do the actual digging. She said the recent dig has turned up around 100 kirk-stemmed spear and arrowhead points between 6,000 and 9,000 years old, archaic pottery - which she said was a rare Florida find - and flakes of chipped stone from which axes and arrows were made.

“The last field scans were rough because it was so wet; we had to change our plans a couple of times,” she said. “When we changed boundaries, quite a few artifacts were found.”

In addition, preservation efforts continue on two ancient 20-foot, indigenous Indian canoes found on the property in 2001. The ancient cypress-wood canoes, buried for hundreds of years in the bed of Arbuckle Creek, were removed in December 2000 and have since been preserved and examined by Couturier. One of the canoes, over 500 years old, is currently on display in the Robert Patten Grand Bay Wetland Education Center, at Moody Air Force Base, about 9 miles north of Valdosta, Ga., and the other is on loan for the next 100 years at the Polk County Nature Conservancy, Circle B Bar Reserve, Lakeland, and maintained by the Polk County Nature Conservancy.

The fist canoe, housed in Lakeland, was discovered in June 2001 by a forestry manager at the Air Force range, in the creek bed on federal property during a time of drought, said Couturier. It has been preserved from deterioration with a mix of turpentine and linseed oil.

Couturier said she visits both canoes once a year to make sure they’re being properly maintained and the preservation is upholding. She said the Air Force range doesn’t have the proper space to store either canoe used by tribes such as the Calusa, Ais, Jeaga and Timucua. Members would use the canals to navigate to other villages to bargain for goods and hopefully avoid warfare.

“They were for fishing and cargo and that was the way they (Native Americans) got around. The terrain was much different, there were canals everywhere.”

Couturier, who has spent nearly six years at the Air Force base and 18 as an archaeologist, said Native-Americans deliberately submerged canoes to conceal them while they went onshore. Building these canoes was a difficult and done with stone or shell tools and fire.

“The canals were their trade networks. They had to have them,” she said.

In addition to the canoes found at the range, about 16 ancient canoes have been discovered in Polk County since 2000.

Couturier said it was against the law for unauthorized people to collect artifacts on federal property and wildlife officers patrol the range looking for looting activity.


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