Flood of Work for Sea-Level Project; Archaeology Network Tracks State Conditions

By Patterson, Steve | The Florida Times Union, December 11, 2016 | Go to article overview

Flood of Work for Sea-Level Project; Archaeology Network Tracks State Conditions


Patterson, Steve, The Florida Times Union


Byline: Steve Patterson

SOUTH PONTE VEDRA BEACH | The well that Minorcan workers dug near the old governor's plantation has faced the Intracoastal Waterway for centuries.

By the time Hurricane Matthew stopped whipping up the waves, water scooped away more than a foot of ground from sides of the stone well barely an arm's length from the shoreline, peeling away protection for a piece of Northeast Florida's past.

Situations like that kept Sarah Miller busy this fall.

Before the storm, the Flagler College archaeologist already was working on a project tracking how sea-level change is affecting archaeological sites.

Since the storm roughed up Florida's coastline in October, volunteers and staff at the Florida Public Archaeology Network have measured, photographed and documented sites around Northeast Florida, creating a record of places that could eventually be washed away.

"We have to start tracking the changes at the sites," Miller said. "We don't actually know when the last time was that [some] ... sites have been visited."

That's the idea behind Miller and others in the state-created archaeology network that uses volunteers from its Heritage Monitoring Scouts program to document conditions at locations around the state.

The results are recorded in a database that will track changes over time and can be used to manage problems like erosion and inundation that come with higher water levels.

Land managers responsible for state-owned property such as parks will use the same database and will be able to see information the volunteers gather.

RISK FROM RISING SEAS

There could be more to track in the future: A sea-level rise of 1 meter, about 39 inches, would affect about 2,900 archaeological sites around Florida, and another meter would raise the count to almost 4,000, said Emily Jane Murray, another archaeology network staffer.

"It's important that they'll be getting more eyes out there to see what's happening," said Crystal Geiger, an archaeologist for St. Johns County who worked with the volunteers to check storm damage at historic cemeteries in the county.

Out of 46 privately owned historic cemeteries, Geiger said she checked about 15, and all but a few of the rest - places where owners declined visits or couldn't be reached - were examined by the scouts.

Being able to check a lot of places quickly can matter after a hurricane because of federal deadlines to apply for recovery aid, although Geiger said her office steered property owners to applications they needed, but didn't know how many followed through. …

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