Tuesday, January 10, 2023: Michelle Calhoun

Michelle Calhoun

Lightning whelk is a fairly common sight on our southwest Florida, Gulf coast beaches. In fact, eastern Gulf of Mexico lightning whelk population studies show that 82% can be found between Charlotte Harbor and Ten Thousand Islands. Interestingly, the shells of this particular mollusk were sought out in vast quantities starting around 8,000-10,000 years ago, formed into various forms of what are known as gorgets, and were interred with Native Peoples as far north as Canada.

Calhoun’s presentation will discuss the significance of this carnivorous, bottom-dwelling gastropod to Archaic and subsequent Native Peoples (ca. 8,000-1,000 B.C./ 10,000-3,000 B.P. to present), the routes most likely taken by those moving the shells, and an understanding of who these people likely were and what their purpose was in transporting these shells over such immense distances. These routes snaked all across the eastern U.S., even reaching into Texas. The shell tool assemblages of Texas and Florida during the Archaic show an undeniable connection. So too do the freshwater shell mounds of the Green, Cumberland, Tennessee, Tombigbee, and Ohio River valleys (Shell Mound Archaic) to those Archaic marine shell heaps and rings of the central to eastern Gulf of Mexico.

This work is still in progress after nearly four years of almost continuous research into, first, columella and gastropod tools, then into the movement of the sandal-sole type, and also of other whelk shell gorgets across eastern North America. These insights come from a fairly comprehensive literature review spanning forty states and five Canadian provinces, dozens of academic publications, paper and poster presentations, over 200 journals-both avocational and professional, cultural resource management (CRM) reports, informants from local archaeological societies, conversations with subject matter experts, and Indigenous histories.

Michelle Calhoun received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Anthropology from New College of Florida in 2021 with her undergraduate thesis titled “An Analysis of Prehistoric Shell Tools (Columella Tools and Gastropod Hammers) from Snake Island, Sarasota County (8So2336).”

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October 11: Crystal Diff


Dive into the legend of the infamous pirate Gasparilla and the lasting impact it's made on southwest Florida’s coast. While exploring the local origins of the legend, we'll uncover the historical background of how a "big fish" story captured a railroad tycoon and made its mark on our coast forever.

Crystal Diff is the Executive Director for the Boca Grande Historical Society. She has spent over a decade working with cultural institutions across southwest Florida in history, art, archives, anthropology, and archaeology. Previously to BGHS, she provided public education programs and exhibits for Charlotte County History Services and was co-founder of our local International Archaeology Day event in the southwest region.


September 13: Rachael Kangas


This presentation will cover a project in Collier County, FL that devised a system for prioritizing cultural sites based on when they are likely to flood due to sea level rise, how vulnerable they are to flooding, and the consequences if the sites are lost. Hopefully this project will start more discussions about how sites should be prioritized and what matters when it comes to deciding where to invest limited resources.

Rachael Kangas, M.A., RPA is the Director, West Central & Central Regions Florida Public Archaeology Network.  Rachael is the Region Director for the West Central and Central Regions of the Florida Public Archaeology Network, and she conducts public archaeology and outreach in the regions. She earned her M.A. from the University of Central Florida (UCF) in 2015 and is certified as a member of the Register of Professional Archaeologists (RPA).