Members of the public help archaeologists learn about life during the Manasota midden.
Resident Wanda Butler winds up her arm then launches it forward, releasing a spear across the lawn of the Edson Keith Mansion.
The spear arcs in midair before falling and piercing the earth. She attempts the throw again but this time with an atlatl, a weapon used by natives who once inhabited the area around Phillippi Creek. This spear goes farther.
Butler wanted to test out the weapon because of ties to her Native American heritage; she takes interest in learning about the tools used by natives.
“My philosophy is to learn to use what you have got, and you won’t need what you have not,” Butler said.
That same curiosity is what attracted residents to the archaeology event Saturday, June 25 at Phillippi Estate Park.
The Edson Keith Mansion opened its doors to the public to see the progress of sorting and classifying the findings of an excavation of the property.
New College of Florida, Sarasota County and the Florida Public Archaeology Network partnered in January to excavate the property and learn about the Manasota midden, a shell heap that dates back between 1,300 to 2,500 years ago.
Saturday’s event was an opportunity for members of the public to view what was unearthed from the excavation.
Findings from the previous dig, tools and weapons that resembled those used by people of the Manasota period were on display.
Volunteers and archaeologists are still in the early stages of exploring their findings from January. They’re sorting through bags of shells and remnants that were dug up at the time.
As researchers sorted through the artifacts, the public was able to ask questions and view replicas of tools that could have been used during the Manasota period.
One of the experts helping sift through shells was George Luer, who holds a Ph.D. in archaeology. In the late 1970s, it was Luer who identified the Manasota culture.
He sorted through bags of shells and carbonized pieces of firewood Saturday that give clues about the diets of the people who inhabited the area in the Manasota period.
“This tells us that people were making a living off the land; they were finding natural food,” Luer said. “It’s such initial work, but it will soon fit into the larger picture of cultural development.”
The project will conclude with the centennial celebration of the mansion in November. Findings will be compiled into permanent display panels and an exhibit in the farmhouse on the property.
Uzi Baram, resident professor of anthropology at New College, was pleased with the community’s curiosity about the people who inhabited the area more than 2,000 years ago.
“There’s tremendous interest in this community for archaeology, the past, science and heritage of the community,” Baram said. “You can’t step an inch on this coast without stepping on something that natives have already stepped on.”
The site is up the creek from Baram’s home in Sarasota — which he feels gives his work a personal connection to him.
“I’m actually doing research on a place where I live nearby,” Baram said.