Professor of Anthropology
University of South Florida

Historical Ecology of Ancient Tampa Bay (HEAT)

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HEAT is a research collaboration with Dr. Victor Thompson (University of Georgia), funded by the National Science Foundation. The project investigates the manner in which common property regimes shift over time in relation to changes in environmental and socio-political contexts. Along with a team of graduate students and a post-doctoral scholar, we are studying changes in sea tenure—the collectively-managed use rights to fisheries—among the native societies of the Tampa Bay estuary during the late Holocene, from around AD 250 to 1650. Spanish accounts from the end of this time range describe a fractured socio-political landscape comprised of warring, territorially-based chiefdoms, while archaeological evidence from the earlier range of the time frame suggests a more dispersed population with less social stratification and little inter-group conflict. 


Our research tests the hypothesis that this transformation was the result of changes in sea tenure occurring in conjunction with shifts in the natural and social environments, through a program of archaeological and paleoecological testing. For the reconstruction of ancient systems of sea tenure, the research employs isotopic studies of oyster shells in concert with the analysis of the relative abundance of shellfish species with varying salinity tolerances, to model habitat of collection. To reconstruct the local and regional manifestations of global shifts in climate, the researchers will collect pollen and sediments from wetlands adjacent to archaeological sites. Changes in socio-political organization will be identified through a program of archaeological testing and shallow geophysics at mound and village complexes. Temporal control is provided by a rigorous program of radiocarbon dating. 


This research will contribute to a better understanding of how common property resource management systems may be remade over time and, in doing so, offer insights potentially useful for predicting changes in contemporary public policies regulating common-property resources as diverse as air, water, gene pools, and the internet.