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Fort Center’s Iconographic Bestiary: A Reanalysis of the Site’s Carved Wood Assemblage
Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
This project focuses on the place of the Fort Center archaeological site within the cultural landscape of south Florida, as well as the broader archaeological southeast, using the site’s zoomorphic wood carving artifact assemblage as the lens of interpretation. Three separate analyses are conducted on this assemblage and a pan-southeastern folk taxonomy of animals is developed through a linguistic analysis of the Mvskoke, Hasiani, Tsalagi, Catawba, and Timucua languages. The wood assemblage was excavated from Fort Center’s mortuary pond by William Sears in the 1960s, which led to his interpretation of that space as the site of a collapsed wooden mortuary platform. The first analysis, co-authored with Daniel Seinfeld, refutes this interpretation in light of new finds within the archival record and finds from a 2013 salvage excavation conducted at the mortuary pond. A new model of individual wood deposition into the pond is proposed in its stead. Second is the development of a functional typology of wood artifacts developed out of a macroscopic analysis of artifact morphology. Two types of archaeological artifacts are asserted as present in the assemblage through both this analysis and interpretation in concert with ethnohistoric data: remnants of false-antler headdresses and architectural grotesques. Several other functional types found within the assemblage are hypothesized through morphological similarity. The final analysis is a nascent iconographic analysis of figural referents and motifs found depicted within the assemblage. The Fort Center Style is described and two repeated motifs are identified within the site’s iconographic corpus: the Carnivoran and Raptor motifs. Several other motifs are hypothesized as well. The figural referents depicted in the assemblage are considered in light of the aforementioned pan-southeastern folk taxonomy. Taken in total, these interpretations indicate that the peoples of Fort Center were in deep ideological exchange with the broader southeast and participated in traditions that can be identified to occur for over 1,000 years across the region, a finding that refutes the popular characterization of south Florida as culturally distinct from the remainder of the southeast. The integration of a materially distinct culture area into the southeast forces a reimagining of not just our understanding of the human history of the region, but also how we connect material culture to the lived experiences of people in the past.
Chair and Committee
Tristram R. Kidder
Michael Frachetti, Fiona Marshall, John Kelly, Gayle Fritz,
Spivey-Faulkner, Sarah Margaret, "Fort Center’s Iconographic Bestiary: A Reanalysis of the Site’s Carved Wood Assemblage" (2018). Arts & Sciences Electronic Theses and Dissertations. 1587.