The Excavation of Bay Pines - Bay Pines VA Healthcare System
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Bay Pines VA Healthcare System

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The Excavation of Bay Pines

During the 1932-1933 construction of Bay Pines it was generally known that Native Americans had previously inhabited the area. The earliest recorded excavation of the area was in 1880 by S. T. Walker, who left a collection with the Smithsonian (the record of which is currently available on the Smithsonian website). However, no archaeological excavation was conducted during construction and several middens - shell heaps - and mounds were destroyed - in fact, some of the shell from the original roads came from the middens.

In 1971, construction was scheduled to begin for the first Nursing Home Care Unit. Knowing there were Indian mounds in the vicinity of the planned site, the Veterans Administration contacted Ralph Reed of the Pinellas County Historical Commission, who worked with the Suncoast Archaeological Society to hold a controlled dig of the area between July and September of that year. After submitting the results, the Bay Pines site (Pi64) was added to the National Register of Historic Places. During the excavation, it was determined that there were four main units:

  1. An area along the western property line, paralleling the Boca Ciega Bay shoreline, by what is now the 1978 Nursing Home Care Unit (NHCU) addition. This midden was composed of shell and food refuse, but no further artifacts were found.
  2. The Bay Drive Mound, which intersects with the eastern end of the shell ridge. As one of the major sites, more information is given below.
  3. The Nursing Home Mound, extending from the original NHCU building. As the other major site, more information is given below.
  4. A small shell deposit 40 meters east of the Bay Drive Mound. No additional information was given from excavations.

The Nursing Home Mound

The Nursing Home Mound was the focus of John Gallagher and Lyman Warren's report in Florida Anthropologist (September 1975) on the 1971 excavation. This is the only section of the Bay Pines site in which human remains were found, but they were found in three different manners in the Nursing Home section. In one area, fragments of human bone were found intermingled with animal and fish bones, seeming to have held no burial significance. In another area, the scattered human bones - likely indicated a disrupted burial site - of three individuals (2 adults and a child) were found. And in the last area, termed the Cemetery, true burials ranging in depth from five feet to 12-18 inches were found. The remains of a total of ten individuals with 207 objects made of whelk shells were found in the Cemetery. Combined with fragmented bones throughout the site, a total number of 24 inhumations was estimated for the site.

Ceramics found in the Nursing Home mound were identified with the Weeden Island and Deptford styles, ranging from 500 B.C. to 1300 A.D., approximately.

The Bay Drive Mound

The Bay Drive Mound was considered the only undisturbed site at Bay Pines during the initial excavations in 1971, but it was later decided that it was likely part of a larger midden deposit that had been destroyed in 1932 during initial construction. Regardless, as the least contaminated remaining site, carbon sampling was conducted on the site which indicated an occupation of approximately 2100 B.C., during the late Archaic period. The Archaic period introduced the first ceramics and tribes during this time were often hunter-gatherers who migrated to take advantage of resources.

In the Bay Drive Mound, most tools found were fashioned from Busycon (lightning whelk) shells of both the ground (Busycon scrapers) and battered (medium-sized Busycon hammers) varieties. Additional tools included a hammer made from a horse conch shell, beads of bird bone and shark vertebra, and fragments of deer long bone and polished unidentifiable mammal bone. The deer and mammal bone were too fragmented to determine the function.

In addition to tools, animal remains were found, mostly of shellfish and fish. Chad O. Braley of Florida State University, under the supervision of James W. Stoutamire, PhD., used the types of fish remains (mostly catfish and porcupine) to surmise that Indians inhabited the area seasonally during the Summer months. Furthermore, it was thought that it was a group of roughly 25 Timucuans at any given time over the course of 75-100 seasons that inhabited the Bay Drive Mound.

Timucuan Indians

It has generally been thought by archaeologists investigating the Bay Pines site that Timucuan Indians were the inhabitants. When Spanish explorers arrived in Florida, the Timucua family of Indians was found as far south as Tampa Bay. But during the Bay Pines occupation during the later Archaic, the Timucua were likely found much further south. By the sixteenth century they were mostly agricultural, but even then they heavily supplemented the products of farming with hunting, using the bow as their primary weapon, and fishing. As the Bay Pines site has never been considered a permanent settlement, it is possible that a Timucuan tribe used it on a temporary basis for small hunting and fishing groups. At the end of the 17th century, the Timucua, already nearly eradicated (between 1492 and 1595 alone, the Timucuan population had reduced by approximately 75%), were further attacked by invading tribes from the north. By 1782 the Timucua tribe ceased to exist and the few remaining survivors were absorbed by the invading tribes.