Pinellas Archaeology Treasure Gets New Life

TAMPA, Fla. (June 23, 2008) – Thanks to community action and University of South Florida archaeologists and anthropology students, a state treasure built by some of Pinellas County's earliest residents - the Tocobaga Indians - is getting a new lease on its one-thousand-plus-year-old life.

On Friday June 27, from 8 to 11 a.m., community leaders and USF archaeologists and anthropology students are taking a final step in protecting the site by planting native Florida plants on the mound to help halt erosion and restore both dignity and nature. The ancient mound is located at the confluence of Pinellas Point Drive South, Bethel Drive and Mound Place.

The Pinellas Mound, a Native American temple mound built anywhere from 1,800 to 1,000 years ago, is nestled in a quiet community off Pinellas Point Drive. Last year, the Greater Pinellas Point Civic Association started a drive to save what is left of the mound. Civic association president, Claude Jenet, says the road to preservation has been long and plagued by bureaucracy, but the battle to save the mound by fencing it off, stopping erosion and now planting native plants, has been worth it and is close to being finished. The native plants will provide the finishing touch.

"We’ve had great cooperation from state archaeologists," says Jenet. "They’ve made sure no artifacts were lost in the process."

USF archaeology students and public archeologist Richard Estabrook of the Florida Public Archaeology Network, a state funded entity with which USF has contracts for two regional centers, says that the efforts of the community have been remarkable.

"They’ve put up the money and person power to protect a very significant archaeological site," says Estabrook. "They gained the cooperation of the City of St. Petersburg and members of the American Indian Movement."

Long-time resident and local business man Ray Wunderlich, who is providing the native plants, says that helping to protect the Pinellas Mound is, for him, making up for his part in its decline.

"I grew up in the neighborhood," recalls Wunderlich. "I did my share of abusing the mound when I was a kid. Although the mound stands about 16 feet tall now, I can recall when it was much taller. Years of abuse and erosion have taken a toll."

Until the site and surrounding park was recently fenced-off, it continued to be a neighborhood mountain bike destination.

Wunderlich notes that real movement on the issue began when Jamie Bennett, a St. Petersburg city councilman, got involved. The City of St. Petersburg then took the plan under consideration. Then the public archaeologists got involved.

Estabrook, who heads up the USF regional center in the Crystal River State Park where archaeologists and students recently explored Native American Mounds using ground penetrating radar, says that the Florida Public Archaeology Network has a mission to bring archaeological knowledge and awareness of cultural heritage to the public.

 "The Pinellas Mound project, where city, civic and archaeological interests have come together, could not be a better example of what we work toward," said Estabrook.

The University of South Florida is among the nation's top 63 public research universities and one of 39 community engaged public universities as designated by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. It is one of Florida's top three research universities. USF was awarded more than $300 million in research contracts and grants last year. The university offers 219 degree programs at the undergraduate, graduate, specialist and doctoral levels, including the doctor of medicine. The university has a $1.8 billion annual budget, an annual economic impact of $3.2 billion, and serves more than 45,000 students on campuses in Tampa, St. Petersburg, Sarasota-Manatee and Lakeland. USF is a member of the Big East Athletic Conference.

– USF –