Neither Sarasota County nor the state of Florida mandate saving a portion of an archaeological site in an Osprey Park — but the county plans to do so anyway.
County staff will modify plans for a major improvement project at Blackburn Point Park to preserve part of a shell midden, which contains ancient shell tools and pottery, according to an Aug. 5 email from Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Director Carolyn Brown to County Administrator Tom Harmer. It won’t throw off the timeframe or cost, said County Archaeologist Ryan Murphy.
The roughly $4.7 million project is aimed at adding a boat ramp, fishing pier and other amenities to the four-acre park, including environmental mitigation to offset that development. Contractors discovered a large portion of the midden after removing Brazilian pepper trees.
Middens, or mounds, are refuse piles that archaeologists and anthropologists use to learn about the diets and daily lives of historic cultures.
Originally, plans called for a channel to run through the structure to create a mangrove swamp. Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources brought Murphy, with Historical Resources, onto the project in the Spring.
“Nobody had to do anything to save this,” Murphy said. “But everybody wanted to, and that’s very refreshing to see.”
The Manasota Cultural Period, which ran from 500 B.C. to roughly 850 A.D., is represented in the midden in Blackburn Point Park, which is part of what archaeologists classify as the Florida Land Site.
Local archaeologist Marion Almy in 1976 deemed the Florida Land Site unfit for research due to dredging activity, seawall construction and housing development, according to a 1990 historic resources survey.
“This site had been written off because it had been destroyed,” Murphy said. Despite the most recent find, the property still doesn’t meet the criteria for local or national preservation.
The county will place informational signs at the site about the different coastal-dwelling cultures, and continue taking inventory of the pieces of pottery, whelk, conch and quahog shell tools found there. (Click here for a video about the inventory process.)
“Really, it’s about preserving (the midden) for future research and future generations,” Murphy said.