African American Burial Grounds Network Act

Historical archaeologists are the ones who most frequently come into contact with burials from the African American past.  From the First African Burial Ground in NYC to community cemeteries around the country, historical archaeologists have time and time again been brought in to deal with human remains when developers discover an unmarked burial ground on their project site.  That is why the SHA developed and presented guidance on abandoned burial grounds on our website, and why we have promoted and sponsored legislation to provide documentation of African American burial grounds and training and support to their communities.  We are very pleased to announce that the African American Burial Grounds Network Act has been introduced in the House of Representatives by Rep. Alma Adams (NC) and Rep. Donald McEachin (VA).  We encourage you to reach out to your Congressional representatives and voice your support of this legislation.

The Dredge Florida: Impacts of Larger Storms on Submerged Resources

Written by: Allyson Ropp

Cultural heritage is found on land and under the sea. Like those on land, the ones under the waves are feeling the impacts of changing climate. As the climate continues to change, the waters are not only rising. But they are also warming. This warming is creating stronger hurricanes, as seen by an increase in Category 4 and Category 5 hurricanes. As warmer water spreads, hurricanes have more time to grow in strength. These storms can have adverse effects on shipwrecks.

Figure. Change over time of the dredge Florida site

The dredge FloridaWhile there are many examples throughout coastal environments of storm impact on wrecks, one is present in St. Augustine and has been monitored for such changes. This is the dredge Florida. The dredge was built in 1904 by Merrill & Stevens in Jacksonville, Florida. Owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, it worked throughout eastern Florida to dig the intracoastal waterways, improve navigation on the St. Johns River, and remove trees from Florida waterways. In 1918, Florida sank beneath the waves after facing a fierce storm, where it still resides today.

The site of the Florida has been monitored using side scan sonar since 2008. Through the data gathered of the site over a ten year period, significant changes are visible. Much of the initial change noted was the movement of sand around the site. Between 2008 and 2011, more of the site was exposed. This changed between 2011 and 2016, during which more of the site was buried. The biggest change came between 2016 and 2018, following Hurricane Matthew and Hurricane Irma. The superstructure of the vessel has been destroyed and the site much flatter along the ground. The steel structures have become more entangled across the wreck making it more difficult to determine their function. Overall, Florida has gone from a visible and detailed wreck structure to a ship-shaped jumble of steel and iron. This change occurred because of the shear forces of the hurricanes that washed over the wreck.

While there is very little we can currently do to protect these sites from hurricane damage, these submerged sites can still aid to understand heritage at risk. Monitoring for change after storms and other natural events allows archaeologists to build up an understanding of the impact such events have on cultural resources. That information can aid in the decision making process for protection of these and other sites affected by environmental changes.

blog post by Allyson Ropp HARC committee (Heritage at Risk)

UFP-SHA Publication and Author Perspective

In March 2018, the SHA began a new blog for the Society webpage to highlight our collaboration with various presses, including volumes published in collaboration with the University Press of Florida. The co-publication program expands our membership’s publication opportunities. UPF is offering SHA members this publication for $35.00 (normally $70.95), an offer valid through February of 2019. Be sure to use discount code UPFSHA when ordering!

If you are interested in contributing a jointly UPF-SHA published volume, please contact SHA’s Co-Publications Editor, Annalies Corbin (


Edited by Matthew E. Keith
288 pages

University Press of Florida

This volume comprehensively catalogues the many physical and cultural processes affecting the development of shipwreck sites, Matthew Keith brings together experts in diverse fields such as geology, soil and wood chemistry, micro- and marine biology, and sediment dynamics. The case studies examine the natural and anthropogenic processes–corrosion and degradation, fishing and trawling–that contribute to the present condition of shipwreck sites.

The contributors address the many factors that influence the formation and preservation of shipwreck sites: the materials from which the ship was built, the underwater environment, and subsequent events such as human activity, storms, and chemical reactions, and discuss the impact these varied and often overlapping events have on the archaeological record.

Offering an in-depth analysis of emerging technologies and methods–acoustic positioning, computer modeling, and site reconstruction–this is essential reading for the research and preservation of submerged heritage sites.


During the spring of 2018, Rebecca Allen (SHA Associate Editor) asked Matthew Keith several questions regarding motivation for preparing this volume and future goals. The interview questions and responses are provided below.

RA: What are some of your motivations for writing this book?

MK: The volume came out of a session that a colleague and I organized for the SHA conference in Toronto. Site Formation processes have been an integral part of my work in geophysics, mainly in the need to model and estimate preservation potential of shipwrecks and prehistoric sites in a given environment. Although there were existing volumes and publications that had overview sections on site formation processes, I wasn’t aware of any that covered the various aspects in depth. For these reasons, I felt there would be value in bringing together various researcher who were investigating various aspects of site formation into a single volume.

RA: Who would you like to read this book? Who is your audience?

MK: The hope is that anyone who is interested in shipwreck archaeology might find the book informative. That said, due to the somewhat technical nature of many chapters, the primary audience is comprised of practicing archaeologists, archaeology students, conservators, and heritage managers. Most chapters were structured to serve as a general reference to each topic, while allowing the authors to showcase their research via a specific case study (or studies). This allows the volume to serve as both a general reference for researchers, practicing archaeologists, and students, while also providing in depth discussions on particular topics for specialists.

RA: Now that you have published this book, what kinds of things are you dreaming up next? What is in the works?

MK: Right now I am working on wrapping up editing of the ACUA Proceedings from the 2018 SHA conference in New Orleans. Beyond that I’m open to opportunities that can dovetail with Echo Offshore’s focus and expertise in offshore geophysics.

Submitted by Mary L. Maniery
PAR Environmental Services, Inc., President
SHA Co-Publications Associate

New Thematic collection – Intimate Archaeologies of WWII

The forthcoming issue of Historical Archaeology includes a special thematic collection on “Intimate Archaeologies of WWII.” Dr. Jodi A. Barnes is the guest editor of this collection. She prepared the following comments to give you an overview of the collection.

This new thematic collection resulted from a symposium on the intimate archaeologies of World War II at the 2015 SHA meetings in Seattle, WA. The papers focused on prisoner of war and internment camps as spaces in which private and personal encounters among people from different cultures and backgrounds occurred and the ways intimate interactions were surveilled, controlled, and manipulated and the internees’ responses to it. Not all of the papers from that symposium are included and the collection took on a new twist by considering the intimate information that is revealed by working with communities in the practice of archaeology. In two case studies, survivors, people who once lived at the sites under study, and descendants speak for themselves making intimate connections that problematize and energize the archaeology of these sites and highlight the importance of researching the dark history of World War II. The essays focus on three sites in the United States – Amache Internment Camp in Colorado, Kooskia Internment Camp in Idaho, and Camp Monticello in Arkansas. The commentaries by Stacey L. Camp and Harold Mytum bring the volume together.

For more than 60 years, many of the sites were largely, sometimes willfully, forgotten, but they are increasingly becoming “heritage sites,” because preserving these places and telling their stories could, as National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis notes, “prevent our nation from forgetting or repeating a shameful episode in its past.”  This reminder is necessary with ongoing confinement of immigrants in detention centers and discussions of wall building. These essays are a call to remember the places that remind us of the shame of imprisoning people because of their identity. Conversely, the authors, and the stories they tell about internment sites, remind us of the human potential to speak out, work together, and create change.

The collection includes the following essays:

  • Intimate Archaeologies of World War II: An Introduction – Jodi A. Barnes
  • Artifacts, Contested Histories, and Other Archaeological Hotspots – Bonnie Clark
  • Former Japanese American Internees Assist Archaeological Research Team – Dennis K. Fujita
  • From Caffe’ Latte to Mass: An Intimate Archaeology of a World War II Italian Prisoner of War Camp – Jodi A. Barnes
  • Remembering Camp Monticello: Researching a documentary film about my father’s time at Camp Monticello – Sylvia Bizio
  • “Caring for Their Prisoner Compatriots”: Health and Dental Hygiene at the Kooskia Internment Camp – Kaitlyn Hosken and Kristen M Tiede
  • Commentary: Excavating the Intimate Archaeologies of World War II – Stacey L. Camp
  • Commentary: Intimate Memories and Coping with World War II Internment – Harold Mytum

Photos: Dennis K. Fujita revisits Amache, the Japanese American Internment site where he was interned as a child, and discusses his experience of working with archeologists in this volume. 


Interpretive Sins

by Tristan Harrenstein

Interpretation is scary to many people, and I understand why. We put ourselves out there and when it goes wrong it can really go wrong. We talk about subjects that fascinate us and we want to share that enthusiasm, but then, out of the blue, the salmon of outrage slaps us in the face.

Courtesy of Red7s.

And the natural response to such an assault is to lash out, to get defensive, and to blame our audience for “not getting it.” Reacting like this in the moment is a difficult thing to suppress but reacting like this given time to reflect? There is a very real problem here.

I bring this up because I witnessed a paper at our last SHA conference that deeply dismayed me. I want to be perfectly clear, I am not writing this to pick on the speaker and this issue is certainly not theirs alone in any case. However, the presentation reflected a deep-rooted attitude in archaeology that only harms our overall efforts to connect with a public audience and show them that our work is worthwhile.

The problem is that our audience is getting a human response, but they are not likely to see it that way. They will see an out of touch elitist, and as hard as this is to swallow, they are not entirely wrong. The ultimate issue here is that we are the ones that did not get it. An audience’s understanding is not their responsibility; it is ours.

But this is good news! This small shift in perspective from, “my audience didn’t get it” to “my program was inadequate” makes a huge difference. With the former, we absolve ourselves of responsibility and set ourselves up for failure time and again. With the latter, we take control of the only thing we can control and then we sway the things that we cannot.

Original painting by Ken Marschall.

To figure out the problem when you get this reaction, look to the audience for clues. What did they say? How did they say it? Often, a question or comment only seems foolish on the surface. If we take the time to really consider what the individual was telling us, we can find a clue to where we went wrong.

If, for example, someone goes into great detail about their personal investment in the site or subject and concludes by saying, “Why can’t you just talk about nice things?” this, despite superficial appearances, not a stupid question. They are not expressing themselves very well, sure (few of us do in moments of high emotion), but this person is actually pointing out two problems.

First, they did not know what to expect when they attended the program. Look at the title, look at the introduction, or look at how it was marketed. Somewhere in there is a problem. Find this flaw. The program might simply require a word or image change, or (as I have often found myself) maybe all our audience needs is a more explicit explanation of the subject. That individual might still have chosen to attend if they knew what to expect, but they would have walked away elated or intrigued having learned something that enriches their understanding of the site or subject they love so much.

Melvan Tibbetts himself. (Original photo courtesy of University Archives and West Florida History Center)

I am prone to this tendency myself. For example, I give a talk where I demonstrate the personality encoded in primary documents using a collection of letters written by a soldier stationed in Pensacola, Florida for a part of the Civil War. Unfortunately, I kept getting suggestions that I include more history of Pensacola during the war. I took far too long (with much griping about people not “getting it”) to realize that the fault was with my presentation. All I needed to do was directly tell the audience in my introduction that, “This is not really about the Civil War, this is about how I came to know Melvan Tibbets who wrote these letters 150 years ago.” I have never gotten a request for more history since.

The second clue the irate attendee was providing us is a failing that archaeologists (and perhaps anthropologists and historians) often fall prey to. We forget that our work is important. Not just to the higher ideals and the deeper understandings we strive for, but to the cultural descendants of our research subjects.

Kayode Ewumi

To them, this is not an abstract, but interesting, topic. It is a part of their community identity. When we go into these communities and disprove a local legend or lambast a favorite site, they are (in a very real way) under assault from outside invaders and a defensive reaction is perfectly understandable.

We have a prime example of this mistake here in my part of Florida. In this case, a biological anthropologist (so it’s not just us) decided to do what amounted to a criminal investigation into accusations of abuse at a recently closed and long-running state operated boy’s reform school. The town this school was located in went berserk. But of course they did. Every single person in that town either worked in that school themselves or had a relative, friend, or ancestor that worked there. This was personal.


Applying these principles allows me to give a talk on the Confederate monument debate in the rural South without being tarred and feathered. (Original image courtesy of Stanley Foreman)

Does this mean we avoid these difficult or contentious subjects? Naturally not. A subject’s sensitivity often means it is more important to discuss. However, we need to be more tuned into the communities we are working in. If applicable, take the time to hold meetings, hear their concerns, discuss compromises where necessary, and explain our reasoning where compromise is not possible. If meetings are not practicable then we must choose our words carefully and show that we acknowledge and understand their feelings. Most importantly though, give them a chance to see and know us as people, not just some faceless, out of touch academics here to attack them.

In this context at least, the public is not our enemy, we are both their enemy and our own. The onus is on us to ensure the audience understands our message. And when we are unsuccessful? Look to their responses to clues for how to fix the problem. When things go wrong, do not take the easy road and blame the audience, we must consider our own actions. They are the only things we can control.

If you want some good advice on how to better connect with an audience, I highly recommend the excellent “If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face?” by Alan Alda. I also recommend “Interpretation: Making a Difference on Purpose” by Sam H. Ham as an invaluable guide for helping us be intentional in our public outreach.



Ewumi, Kayode (actor)
2016  Image from Happy Belated. From television series Hood Documentaries. BBC Three.

Foreman, Stanley
2012  “In Between the Big Stories: Crazy Things Happen When You’re Cruising Around.” Stanley Foreman Photos. <>. Accessed 18 October 2017.

Kospoth, Nicolas von
2005  Hercules Bosio Louvre. Statue by Francois Joseph Bosio. Wikimedia Commons. Accessed 12 June 2018.

Marschall, Ken
1988  A retouched photograph of painting T1987b-98 showing the forward part of the bow section with Alvin illuminating the crow’s nest in 1986. The Art of Ken Marschall. <>. Accessed 12 June 2018.

2015   Fish Slap! <>. Accessed 12 June 2018.

University Archives and West Florida History Center
186?  Photo of Melvan Tibbetts. Accession M1986-16. University Archives and West Florida History Center, Pensacola, Florida.

Dynamic Coasts and Immovable Cultural Resources

Impact of climate change on coastal cultural resources in Brunswick County, NC

Coastal cultural resources provide crucial links to the past and are important centerpieces for interwoven maritime heritage community narratives, and are valuable cultural resources. Similar to many other places in the world, in southeastern NC, natural and environmental factors have caused damages to, and continue to threaten, cultural heritage in different ways. The major factors threatening North Carolina’s coast are sea level rise, the recurring annual danger of storm surges during hurricane season, and floods from heavy rain events. In this area, Brunswick County is considered as one of the most exposed and vulnerable shorelines, with some of the most significant cultural heritage sites.

Categorizing the level of importance of cultural heritage sites and prioritizing actions for their preservation can not only facilitate preserving some sites, but also contribute to our understanding about the past, before these assets vanish from coastal areas. For this purpose, I conducted a research synthesis, which includes a systematic review of literature and previous experiences, and various data analyses result in new knowledge about the probable future state of coastal cultural heritage in Brunswick County. The result is a set of risk maps for coastal cultural heritage in Brunswick County that can assist managers and policy makers to prioritize their actions regarding conservation, preservation and management of coastal cultural heritage.

Since one of the major concerns is the impact of sea level rise on cultural resources in long term, here the sea level rise risk map for Cape Fear Area is presented [Fig. 1] (For more information refer to: Dynamic coasts and immovable cultural resources: an assessment of the impact of natural—environmental factors on coastal cultural resources, Journal of Marine and Island Cultures, Vol. 6: 2:3).  Although in some cases the water might not reach the sites or cause inundation, the proximity of these sites to water will increase the risk of by penetration of salt-water into these entities, which increase the risk of material and structural erosion.

Fig. 1: Sea-Level Rise Risk Map for Cape Fear Area. The map shows the location of cultural resources in relation to the three scenarios of sea level rise.


To understand the long-term impact of natural factors on cultural heritage sites, I studied two actual examples of cultural heritage sites in Brunswick County.

Bald Head island Boathouse

This site is an old wooden boathouse, listed as a National Historic Place, associated with fishing and boatbuilding, which have made a significant contribution to the broad patterns of history. “Bald Head Creek Boathouse is a surviving member of a series of structures erected beginning in the late eighteenth century that signified efforts to provide safe ship passage in this treacherous stretch of the North Carolina coast.” This site is one of the most popular paintings and photographic scenes on the island and it is a registered site. However, the building is standing on wooden pilings in tidal marsh, which suggests that the stability of the building is questionable. The comparison between the pictures taken at the time of its registration form preparation (1997) with recent pictures (2015) shows the extent of its deterioration in about three decades [Fig. 2a & 2b]. In addition, considering the location of this building in lowland areas of Baldhead Island and the projection of sea-level rise and storm surge data, this building is in imminent risk of damage. The Creek Boathouse would be affected by one-foot sea-level rise scenario, which is the minimum predicted sea-level rise scenario.


Fig. 2a: Aerial image showing deterioration of the roof structure of the boathouse   (Photo by: Lynn Harris)


Fig. 2b: The Creek Boathouse in 1997 © NC State Historic Preservation Office photo collection.


Brunswick Town

Brunswick Town was one of the most prominent ports and political centers in the 18th century. The site comprises historic houses and ruins, and remains of the port and wharves. Cape Fear River experiences hydrological floods, which is a peak in river discharge following rain or snowmelt, and causes erosion along the river shoreline. Jim McKee, historic interpreter for the Brunswick Town State Historic Site, stated that since 2010, due to the Cape Fear’s flooding and strong water flow, the banks of the river are constantly eroded, which results in the exposure of more wharves [Fig. 3]. Superimposition of this site on the risk maps shows that this site can easily be affected by one-foot sea-level rise scenario. The existing data shows that seasonally, there will be more severe river current and flood in the riverbank, which will result in more erosion and loss of material and structure.


Fig. 3: Images show different sections of Brunswick Town along the Cape Fear River, where the impact of water flow clearly altered the sites and caused exposure of some artifacts and destruction in some sections. ©The State Archaeology Office, Photo courtesy: John Mintz.


Assessment of the state of existing cultural heritage sites, buildings and their structures will help to analyze the impact of different factors more accurately. The two mentioned case studies are example of a few fairly well documented sites and structures, with existing information about their present condition. Nevertheless, not all the cultural-archaeological entities cover the information about their structures and materials, which is necessary for decision-making. Therefore, using risk maps is the first step to highlight probable major factors that possibly affect cultural resources, not the extent and exact form of impact. For a proper mitigation and protection of cultural properties, a better understanding of the nature of cultural properties, their state of preservation, their susceptibility to salt and fresh water penetration, their materials and structural stability is required.

Evaluate your public archaeology

Evaluation is recognized by colleagues.

This has become clear over the past ten years as conference sessions on the topic have become common. The PEIC-sponsored session at this year’s SHA meeting, “Motivations and Community in Public Archaeology Evaluation” (organized by Kate Ellenberger & Kevin Gidusko) is the latest in a long line of conference sessions and activities devoted to public archaeology evaluation starting in 2008. In this session alone there were authors from academia, CRM, non-profits, and the federal government setting and evaluating their progress toward outreach goals. Though the published literature on the topic may be thin, there is much support for pursuing evidence-based public archaeology (see the infographic below).


Evaluation is scaleable.

Evaluation can be done for little cost, in a short time, for a narrow use, or they can be scaled up for larger, more extensive applications. At any size, implementing evaluation or self-assessment seems to have a positive impact on public archaeology projects.


Evaluation can be easy.

Evaluation can be done by people at all skill levels with a little research, consistency, and persistence. Although we advocate the use of evidence-based evaluation practices where appropriate (such as those developed by education professionals and program analysts), we also acknowledge that archaeology work is so variable that existing practices may not fit everyone’s needs. There are numerous tools developed within and outside archaeology to understand what people are learning at your program, who is showing up, and what impact your work might be having on your target audiences (see infographic for a few leads).

Even in this year’s SHA session, colleagues from all sectors – CRM, academia, non-profits, federal employees, and independent researchers – have been able to conduct evaluations. Each of them had identified strengths, weaknesses, and future directions in some way by strategically evaluating how their programs went. They employed surveys, statistical analysis, and participant observation to assess whether public archaeology programs had met their goals. Only two of them had specialty training in statistics or evaluation. There should be no doubt that any archaeologist can evaluate, and not having a specialist to do so is not an excuse.


Evaluation is best practice.

Evidence-based public archaeology is good for archaeologists and the publics they are interacting with. Even though public engagement projects have a wide variety of goals, clearly articulating and following up on those goals is good research practice. Being able to demonstrate that we have made some progress in public perceptions of archaeology is important if we expect to be able to continue outreach work. It helps to see patterns of successes and failures across within our work so we may better adjust our future engagements.


This post written by: Kate Ellenberger

Public Archaeology at the Presidio of San Francisco

By Edward De Haro and Claire Yancey


Archaeological excavation of the Spanish Colonial fort of El Presidio de San Francisco started in early May 2014.  They revealed archaeological deposits with artifacts and features dating to the Spanish, Mexican, and American occupations of the area. It is the biggest public site of its kind west of the Mississippi. Our open site approach allows visitors to talk directly to archaeologists and ask questions as they witness excavation first hand. Docents are available to give overviews on the history of the Presidio. They answer general questions about archaeology and the goals of the excavation.

At the Presidio Archaeology Lab, much of our work relies on the help and dedication of our volunteer community. The volunteer program was conceived well before the El Presidio de San Francisco excavations began. We currently have a pool of 225 volunteers who have undertaken training in the proper handling and processing of artifacts and lab techniques. This group helps us in the lab throughout the field season. They participate in a variety of tasks both indoors and out. Our mailing list now exceeds 500 interested individuals, and we get more sign ups every day.

As our volunteer program has grown, we’ve continued to seek opportunities to create a program that is not only beneficial to our lab and the work that we do, but also supports and encourages the interests and hard work of our volunteers. Each year, we hold two bookend events. The first, Back into the Earth Day, signifies our return to the earth and the launch of the season by exposing our units from the previous years. International Archaeology Day is our end-of-season open house. We invite the public to see all aspects of our work and what we discovered during the field season. 

Back into the Earth Day is a day to reconnect with our docents and volunteer community after a winter hiatus and is a fun hands-on way to introduce archaeology to the curious public. The Presidio Archaeology Lab is dedicated to public archaeology and tries to offer multiple opportunities for park visitors to be exposed to archaeology and its significance. Back into the Earth Day is the one day each year that we invite the general public to step into our units for a day and “dig” alongside us.

On Earth Day 2018, Saturday, April 21st, volunteers ranging from the young to the not-so-young helped us to remove the sand fill used to protect the archaeological site during the offseason. A total of 162 volunteers made short work of the majority of the sand. Volunteers alternated between shoveling sand and emptying buckets – quite a task! Throughout the day we had curious onlookers step onto the site to ask questions and take pictures. Quite a few even decided to join the fun!  The day finished with a BBQ and socializing at the outdoor lab area situated only a short walk from the site.

At the end of the season, in October, we hold our second bookend celebration that is coordinated with other International Archaeology Day events throughout the world. We open our lab and collections facility, in addition to the site, encouraging the public to get a behind the scenes look at what we do. This event is youth-oriented, with educational games, puzzles, scavenger hunts, adobe brick making, and many more activities. International Archaeology Day is also a reunion of sorts, with many former volunteers, interns, and team members returning to reconnect with each other before the site is closed for the winter. The 2017 event saw us welcome over 300 visitors of all ages, and we expect even more this year! After our celebrations, the site is again covered in landscaping fabric and backfilled with locally-sourced sand until it is unveiled again in April for Back into the Earth Day. These events are incredibly popular and are great ways to acknowledge our volunteers, but we are constantly on the lookout for ways to improve our program and to honor our volunteers throughout the year.

Throughout the season, volunteers help wet screen in the outdoor lab and sort and process artifacts in the indoor lab. Over the years, with a combination of surveys, individual suggestions, and in-person conversations, we have been able to craft a program that is not only beneficial to the lab, but also cultivates a feeling of ownership and agency for our volunteers. Based on this ongoing feedback, we are able to create special programs and engaging events that often reach a wide range of age groups and communities. These programs and our research excavation would not be possible without our community of volunteers and docents. 

One such suggestion from volunteers resulted in after hours workshops geared towards learning the finer details of archaeology and research. These workshops will cover ceramic types, zooarchaeology, glass identification and manufacturing techniques, and more topics still in the works. Eventually, we hope to partner with outside institutions to expand our offerings by inviting guest speakers and specialists. 

As we move forward, we are seeking more ways to improve or expand the program without sacrificing the quality of our offerings and overtaxing our staff. We will look towards our volunteers and listen to their ideas on what could be improved, or removed, and make the necessary adjustments. They allow us to meet our goals in interpretation, investigation, and education.    

So, as we embark on our fifth season, we remind ourselves that we are not only a team of archaeologists, but a community that reaches well beyond the limits of the park. 

Disappearing Heritage

Disappearing Heritage


Haley Streuding

Coastal Environments, Inc.


            As a member of the Society of Historical Archaeology’s newly-formed Heritage at Risk Committee, I am interested in creating a dialogue – or at least being a part of the dialogue – on how climate change affects archaeological sites around the country, and what we as archaeologists can do to protect these sites.


Climate change has impacted cultural resources either directly or indirectly for some time, but this issue has gained traction only recently. It has become painfully clear that many sites, particularly those in coastal areas, are in danger of disappearing forever. In fact, I have seen the end result of years and years of climate change wreaking havoc on our heritage. Several years ago, I worked as an archaeological monitor for the National Park Service during the BP Oil Spill cleanup. The cleanup effort took place on the Mississippi Barrier Islands (Cat Island, East and West Ship Island, Horn Island, and Petit Bois Island). In the early part of the twentieth century, there was another small island, called Dog Island. Dog Island (later renamed the Isle of Caprice) was not a true barrier island, but rather a developing shoal created from the merging of several small ephemeral sand keys known locally as the “Dog Keys.” The island became the site of a bustling resort and casino between 1926 and 1930. However, the resort’s success was cut short in 1931, when the sediment required to nourish the island began to diminish. Without this nourishment, the island slowly began to erode in response to the normal effects of winds, waves, and tides. By 1931, the island was reduced to a sand bar devoid of dunes and vegetation, and a year later it was completely submerged. Although it is difficult to attribute the disappearance of the island to climate change, as it succumbed to natural processes, I firmly believe it had a hand in it. The rapidity of the site’s demise got me thinking: How many other sites have been lost, swallowed up by the Gulf?

Unloading oysters at the Alabama Canning Company factory wharf in February 1911 (Anonymous 2018 [1911]).


Since I am a coastal Mississippi native, my primary focus is on archaeological sites located along the Gulf Coast. Initially, I wanted to discuss in general the affect climate change has had on these sites; however, as it happens, I recently worked on a survey project that involved this very issue. The survey, which entailed both a terrestrial and marine component, was for a proposed shoreline protection and marsh restoration project by the Nature Conservancy in the small, coastal town of Bayou La Batre, Alabama. As with any project, I began conducting background research to locate any cultural resources that existed in the area. This research led to the identification of a historic site that had not been recorded previously. This site consists of building remnants scattered along approximately 150 meters of shoreline. Some of the remnants were located in the water, undoubtedly the result of decades-long erosion and severe storms. The site turned out to be the old Alabama Canning Company, which was an oyster cannery in operation during the early-twentieth century.

Concrete blocks observed on the surface at the cannery site. Note the inclusion of shell in the concrete. Photo by Philip Jungeblut.


The historic site clearly had suffered from the effects of climate change. Storms have torn the structures apart, and much of it is partially submerged by the waters of Portersville Bay. It is likely the site will disappear completely in the near future. As I was writing the report of the survey results, I pondered how to preserve this part of history. Typically, I would recommend avoidance, so it would not be disturbed any more than it already has been. However, avoidance does not really solve the problem of disappearing heritage on coastal sites. Of course, a data recovery phase of excavation would be ideal, but limited funding renders this option unfeasible. As it turns out, the proposed shoreline protection and marsh restoration project may ultimately preserve the site. Dredge spoil deposition will result in shoreline stabilization and probable sediment accretion over and across the site. Sediment accretion may work to halt further structural degradation and may in fact aid in in situ preservation.

Part of a brick wall observed at the cannery site. Photo by Philip Jungeblut.


While the above action may help to preserve the cannery site, it may not work for others. Archaeological sites are unique, and the issue of preservation should be handled on a site-by-site basis. So, how do we protect cultural resources when every site is different? I believe communication is the key. Archaeologists, professional and amateurs alike, should talk to one another. Share our experiences, problems, and solutions. Additionally, we should engage the public. By getting communities involved, we are exposing more people to the topic of how climate change affects archaeological sites. Maybe with enough boots on the ground, we can find a way to save these sites and ensure the survival of our heritage.

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