Anthropology Students Win Top Honors

By Barbara Melendez


TAMPA, Fla. (April 29, 2010) – The two top awards for student research in anthropology in Florida have gone to University of South Florida’s Rebecca O’Sullivan and James Bart McLeod, both students of USF anthropology professor Lori Collins.


“As one of the College of Arts and Sciences newest centers for research, it is exciting to see our students receiving these types of honors and for their work to be contributing to the larger body of archaeological and heritage research,” Collins said.


O’Sullivan is a graduate student with a special interest in Florida’s archeological wealth from the slavery era. She is the recipient of this year's Florida Anthropological Society Timeshifters Graduate Student Research Grant for her examination of clues about Florida’s plantation life left in their crumbling remnants and ruins. The award is proving very helpful.


 “This funding will help with the fieldwork aspect of my research at Bulow Plantation,” she said. “I was able to purchase some equipment I needed for our surveys and it will help with the expenses of traveling to the site.”


The native Floridian from Coral Springs is working on her master’s degree in applied anthropology. Her focus is on public archaeology and cultural resource management. The USF Alliance for Integrated Spatial Technology (AIST) has provided O’Sullivan with a formal internship opportunity documenting Florida’s historic sugar mills and has assisted with her research.


“The AIST hopes to support and create opportunities for many undergraduate and graduate researchers interested in applying spatial technologies to real world issues,” said Collins.


Depending on historical research and non-destructive archaeological techniques such as terrestrial and aerial LiDAR, pedestrian survey, and remote sensing, O’Sullivan looks for clues to the cultural landscapes suggested by the physical landscapes she is researching among Florida’s long-gone plantations. She recently wrote about one in an article about her “Archeological Investigations at Bulow Plantation,” This area holds clues to life prior to the Second Seminole War in what was then a thriving sugar industry south of St. Augustine, near Flagler Beach.


Her training is in the use of both traditional archaeological methods and new digital technologies. Most of us have heard about radar, but LiDAR is the newest way to sense objects from a remote distance. A hint to the difference is in the name. Radar (Radio Detection and Ranging) uses radio electromagnetic waves, while LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) uses much shorter electromagnetic laser light pulses. LiDAR is one of O’Sullivan’s favorite tools as she seeks out the remnants of one of Florida’s plantations.


“We have been able to locate the remains of several slave cabins that hadn't been found previously, and I hope that I'll be able to find more structures,” O’Sullivan said. “The ultimate goal of this research is to get a better understanding of what life was like at this plantation for the people who were enslaved there. Bulow Plantation has a very unique layout which has only been seen elsewhere at one other site, Kingsley Plantation.


“At most plantations the slave quarters were arranged in compact little ‘villages’ between the plantation owner's house and the fields, but at Bulow the slave quarters are arranged in an arc around the main road with the owner's house at the center of the semi-circle. There are many different theories as to why this is, but I think it probably has at least something to do with the planter's need to control the slaves. By having their homes arranged around him like that, Bulow would be able keep a close watch over their actions, and the slaves would know that they were always being watched.


“The land that would eventually be Bulow plantation was purchased around 1812, but the plantation itself was probably not built until around 1821. For such a large operation it really had a relatively short run because in 1836 the entire plantation was burned to the ground by the Seminoles during the Second Seminole War and after that it was never rebuilt. That gives us almost a time capsule of a very specific time in Florida's history.”


Her first interest in archaeology came about one summer in 2005 during an archaeological study abroad program in Sardinia.


“Maybe it's a bit hokey, but the thing I have always found most exciting about archaeology is the feeling of going back in time,” she said. “As you dig down through the layers of soil it's almost as if you can put yourself in the shoes of the people who lived in that spot hundreds or even thousands of years ago.”


Her experience at USF has set O’Sullivan on her life’s path. She hopes to work for a state or federal agency whose task is to protect historical places for the public.


“Archaeology gives you a visceral connection to history, and it's hard not to get really wrapped in something like that!”


McLeod won the prestigious John W. Griffin Student Award in Florida Archaeology. He is performing analyses on ceramic vessels from four mound sites in Hillsborough County he has been studying to gain an understanding of social dynamics and human interactions during Pre-Columbian times. He is scanning the vessels in three dimensions and using various a techniques to determine where the material came from that was used to make the pots. He is also creating an online virtual research platform to allow web visitation and analysis of these vessels in what he describes as a “virtual museum.”


Digging in mounds seems to come natural to McLeod and he got an early start in life.


“I have always been interested in archaeology on some level,” he said. “I grew up in Pennsylvania where there were many farm fields and I spent most of my summer breaks hunting in fields looking for artifacts. I really never considered archaeology as career until I took a cultural anthropology course at Pasco Hernando Community College.”


McLeod was inspired by a professor’s passion for the field. When he transferred to USF, he began taking courses with Collins, and was introduced to the technologies he’s using in his work today.


“Working with Dr. Collins and Dr. Travis Doering, I have had the opportunity to gain a lot of experience working with a number of different technologies, and this has really cemented my interest in archeology and given me a clear direction,” he said.


“For my thesis research I am using three-dimensional laser scanning technology and portable x-ray fluorescence technology. Non-destructive technologies like laser scanning and XRF which can be non-destructive are exciting for archaeology because they open the door to a number of research possibilities. For me, laser scanning is particularly interesting because this technology can be used to produce highly accurate digital models of artifacts, which can be measured, examined, and visualized in a number of different ways from a home or office computer. The ability to examine the digital artifact in a number of different ways is not only great for researchers, but also for the public.”


McLeod will use his grant to support his investigation of the clay artifacts.


“The collections I’m working with are interesting because the artifacts were excavated in the 1930s through the Works Progress Administration, which was one of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal programs,” he said.


“The virtual museum I am developing will exhibit highly accurate 3D digital models of artifacts recovered through the WPA projects in Hillsborough County, via the internet. This museum is meant to serve as a resource for researchers, but at the same time as a resource for public education and enjoyment. Visitors to the virtual museum will be able to interact with the pieces in a number of different ways. In addition, there will be other resources available for those that want more information about the archaeology of the Tampa Bay area and the WPA excavations.”


“I am very excited about both of these recognitions and that USF students are doing tremendous and cutting edge research that is furthering Florida archaeology,” Collins said.



The University of South Florida is one of the nation's top 63 public research universities and one of only 25 public research universities nationwide with very high research activity that is designated as community engaged by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.  USF was awarded $380.4 million in research contracts and grants in FY 2008/2009. The university offers 232 degree programs at the undergraduate, graduate, specialist and doctoral levels, including the doctor of medicine. The USF System has a $1.8 billion annual budget, an annual economic impact of $3.2 billion, and serves more than 47,000 students on institutions/campuses in Tampa, St. Petersburg, Sarasota-Manatee and Lakeland. USF is a member of the Big East Athletic Conference.