APRIL 14, 2020 SPEAKER: Michelle Calhoun

SHELL TOOL ANALYSIS FROM SNAKE ISLAND

New College of Florida undergraduate student and WMS/LSSAS member Michelle Calhoun will be the speaker at our April 14 meeting. Her topic, “A Preliminary Analysis of Columella Tools and Gastropod Hammers from Snake Island, Sarasota County, Florida (8So2336).

Snake Island is a small island situated near the Venice Inlet in Sarasota County, Florida and is owned by the West Coast Inland Navigation District (WCIND). It was used as a spoil site for dredged material in 1907 during initial dredging to facilitate navigation between Sarasota and Venice, and in 1965 during the construction of the bypass canal and Intracoastal Waterway improvements and realignment. In 1994, a shell midden was identified and recorded with material actively eroding from the southwest shore of the island.

Steve Koski conducted a salvage collection project intermittently from 1994 to 2012. Diagnostic ceramic artifacts indicated a Safety Harbor period occupation, around CE 1,200 – 1,400 (AD), but initial occupation was likely several hundred years earlier in the late Manasota/Weeden Island periods. While the majority of shell tools eroding from the midden were type C and D gastropod hammers centered along the southwest shore, columella hammers were most plentiful and more widely distributed along the entire north and west shores where the erosion was most severe, suggesting a different origin. Archaeologist George Luer indicated that columella hammers were more indicative of the Archaic period, and type C and D hammers more indicative of the Safety Harbor period sites, something testing and radiocarbon dating substantiated.

It was found that the midden lay beneath the spoil and layer of mangrove mud. This occurrence has the potential to lend insight into the effects of sea level rise on archaeological sites and conditions that facilitate site preservation.


Michelle became interested in the shell tool collection during an internship and Independent Study Project (ISP) for her New College professor Dr. Uzi Baram. The intern position and Independent Study Projects were done at Sarasota County Historical Resources (SCHR) through 2019 and continued into 2020, working with Sarasota County archaeologist Steve Koski, where the Snake Island specimens are curated. Her first project was to update the NAPGRA inventory in the SCHR collections for submittal to the Florida Division of Historical Resources and the National Park Service. During the fall 2019 semester, she decided that the collection would be appropriate for her Method and Theory in Archaeology class at NCF.

She spent months working on the collection and collaborating on hypotheses with Koski regarding use, hafting methods, breakage patterns, and overall variability; recording, updating the field specimen log, taking measurements, photographing, and illustrating a sample of the more than 200 shell artifacts.