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FPAN launches archaeological monitoring program

Mar 15, 2017

History could literally be washed away with only a few feet of sea level rise. According to the Florida Public Archaeology Network (FPAN), up to 4,000 archaeological sites could be impacted by the change, by incurring damage or inundation. But a new initiative — a public engagement project called Heritage Monitoring Scouts (HMS Florida) — aims to gather those places’ stories before they are forever lost.

FPAN Northeast’s Director Sarah Miller and Public Archaeology Coordinator Emily Jane Murray launched HMS Florida last fall, after hearing at various climate change forums the gloomy forecast for archaeology.

“We would hear people talk about ways to address the impact of climate change, and during presentations, there would be one slide on archaeology,” Murray said. “We’d hear, ‘Well, you can’t move sites, so I guess they’re just going to go away.’”

But Miller and Murray disagreed, sort of. Yes, some of those sites — including coastal shell middens, historic settlements and even shipwrecks — may ultimately succumb to sea level rise, but that didn’t mean work couldn’t be done now to gather valuable information. Verifying site information and reporting risk, and then sharing that with land managers could better help prioritize archaeological needs, and could also relay a very important message to the public: Visit this site now, or never.

The only catch was that the number of sites that needed to be monitored, from old wells and middens to cemeteries, topped 4,000. That’s when FPAN enlisted the help of interested citizens to gather data and input it into an online database.

“We’ve had great turnout over the past few months,” Murray said. “People are really engaged and want to be sure to record the information properly.”

To-date, around 150 sites have been visited and assessed by public citizens, some multiple times. The collected information will help document change over time in light of rapid climate change.

“Moving forward, we want to take the approach to tell people where these archaeological sites are, to enjoy them and engage with them,” Miller added. “We’re hoping to make people more aware of what’s out there.”

Miller will be discussing this project as part of Flagler College’s next Community Lecture Series talk on Tuesday, March 21, at 10 a.m. in the college’s Solarium. For more information, visit here.

Flagler has hosted FPAN, a statewide program administered by the University of West Florida, on its campus since 2006. For more information on the HMS Florida program, visit here.

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