The Seminole Tribe and Archaeology

Indigenous groups have been key components in our discussions about archaeology this semester. The majority of the artifacts we have discussed are from Indigenous cultures in North America. This makes sense because these artifacts are the most relevant to us given where we live. The artifacts help tell us stories about Native American groups by teaching us about their lifestyles and what is important to them. The majority of the Native American groups we have focused on in class have been centered in the North East and the Midwest. We’ve also discussed groups in the South West region of the United States. We have not really talked about groups in the South East region. This may be due to Vassar’s location and the relevance of North Eastern archaeology to us, nevertheless, Indigenous groups from the South East and the artifacts they created are just as important to this country’s history as those of the North East. One prominent Native American group from the South East was the Seminole Tribe who lived in what is today Florida.

A large portion of the history of the Seminole Tribe is explained by the written history of the European settlers because, “Very few Seminole towns have ever been excavated in Florida” (Keen 2004). This the makes the artifacts that are found so much more important. These artifacts are more likely to be free of bias, and if interpreted correctly they can give a more accurate history of the Seminole Tribe than the written history composed by the biased European settlers. For example, in Keen’s article she describes the excavation of Paynes Town, a Seminole Town near Gainesville Florida. During this excavation they found that there was a clear mixing of Seminole and European cultures, “in a unique combination of the two material cultures, was a piece of manufactured brass sheet metal that had been molded into an arrowhead to meet Seminole needs” (Keen 2004). This shows that the Seminoles had a good enough relationship to trade with Europeans. It can be inferred that the Seminoles may have traded for specific materials that could have benefitted them in the crafting of their hunting tools. There is much that can be learned by studying artifacts such as these that cannot be learned by written history.

Members of the Paynes Town excavation team working on a test hole.

We can learn things about the Seminole Tribe by looking at their other artifacts too. One such artifact is the Turtle Rattler. The Turtle Rattler was “used in some Seminole ceremonies. This kind of rattle has been used by many different groups of Native Americans and holds great meaning as a symbol of independence” (Florida Seminole Traditions: 3) Artifacts like these show a degree of shared tradition between Native American groups. It also shows what things the Seminole Tribe value, that being independence. This is more than what a biased written history produced by the Europeans could tell you.

Seminole Turtle Rattler used in ceremonies.

Further Readings:

The Fight to Bring Seminole Ancestors Home


“Florida Seminole Traditions.” Orange County Regional History Center, n.d.

Keen, Cathy. “Excavation Finds Clues of Cultural Blending in Seminole Indian Life.” Florida Museum, May 14, 2019.

“Seminole Indian Turtle Rattle [Height/Length (in)= 11.5, Width (i…” Online Auctions. Accessed December 4, 2022.

Radiocarbon Revolution and Dating the Iroquois Nation

As technology develops the ability to accurately date archaeological artifacts develops at a similar rate. Early on in archaeology the only reliant method of dating was relative dating. One was able to relatively date by following the basic principle that the deeper something was in the ground the older it was. One could look at the different layers of the earth and create a chronological order of artifacts based on the layers of the earth that these artifacts resided in. Following the aforementioned principle, the deeper the artifact was the older it was, and one could create a sort of time line of artifacts using this idea.

-Figure 1: Image of artifacts in different layers of the earth. Organized chronologically.

All of this changed with the introduction of radio carbon dating. Radiocarbon dating lead the wave of absolute dating methods. It now gave archaeologists a way to accurately determine the specific age of an artifact. Radiocarbon dating was first introduced in 1949 by a team of scientists lead by the American Willard Libby. They found out that an isotope of carbon (14C specifically) decays at a constant rate. Applying this idea to dating methods, they concluded that measuring the remaining 14C in an artifact, it was possible to then date this said artifact (Archaeology World 2009:1). There were many flaws with Libby’s first method of radiocarbon but nevertheless it paved the way for future improvements and developments of radiocarbon dating. Now we have a more accurate idea of the half-life of 14C and we can give an accurate estimation of how old an artifact is.

The development of radiocarbon dating opened new doors for the dating of artifacts. Specifically, here in North America there were many improvements to the preconceived timeline of events in North America’s past. Take the Iroquois Nation for example. The Iroquois are a Native American group that inhabited the areas of Ontario Canada and upstate New York. They have a deep-rooted history in America and they left many artifacts behind for archaeologists of today to study. Many of these artifacts were found, examined, and dated pre-carbon dating. Even when these artifacts were found post-carbon dating, they were often dated using methods that produced an inaccurate timeline. The Dating Iroquoia project was developed to combat this issue, “A pilot study by Birch and Manning suggested that in one part of Northern Iroquoia, the existing ceramic chronology misplaced sites in time by as many as 50-100 years” (Dating Iroquoia 2017). They’re using absolute dating methods of radiocarbon dating to provide a more accurate chronological timeline of events in the Iroquois Nation. This will produce a more accurate history while bringing awareness to the Iroquois Nation.

-Figure 2: Image of an Iroquois artifact dated using radio carbon dating.

Further Readings:


Archaeology, C. W. (2018, September 18). Radiocarbon revolution. World Archaeology. Retrieved October 2, 2022, from

Dating Iroquoia. (2017, October 11). Retrieved October 3, 2022, from

Stratigraphy and the laws of superposition – community archaeology program: Binghamton University. Community Archaeology Program – Binghamton University. (n.d.). Retrieved October 3, 2022, from