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Historic Collaboration at the Mission San Luis

Published March 19, 2016

MISSIONarticleINTAn ongoing collaboration between the Department of Art History and the state Bureau of Archaeological Research moves to a new venue this summer, providing our Museum & Cultural Heritage Studies students with the opportunity to conduct archaeological field and lab work at the rich historic site of Mission San Luis in Tallahassee.  The inaugural program at the Mission in the summer of 2016 is the beginning of a long-term research project that will give students broad experience in many technical and conceptual aspects of archaeology in Florida.

Council House IntWhile there are more than one hundred 17th-century Spanish mission sites in Florida, Mission San Luis is the only one that has been reconstructed and opened to the public. It was established in 1656 as the western capital of the Florida missions and the central site of the Apalachee village of Anhaica. The village grew over 70 years as a religious, military, and educational center for more than 1,500 Apalachee natives and Spanish colonists – the home of warriors, settlers, priests, and soldiers and a central meeting place for travelers.  The site was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1960, acquired by the state in 1983, and is managed by the Florida Department of State, Division of Historical Resources. Award-winning archaeological research at San Luis has uncovered remarkable detail about the social and institutional life of the mission, and has led to the reconstruction of its military fort, homes, blacksmith shop, massive Franciscan church and friary complex, and a stunning 140-foot-diameter Apalachee council house, the largest historic-era Native American structure in the Southeast.

The Mission’s unique combination of European and Native American culture makes it ideal for the Art History/State of Florida collaborative program, which teaches students to investigate the archaeological site as a set of landscapes connected by place but changing over time.  Research this summer will focus on the plantation phase of the mission, building on existing material and targeting gaps in the narrative of change from prehistory to the present.  Students will learn archaeological field and laboratory techniques as well as conceptual frameworks for historical heritage management. Field methods will include archaeological survey, stratigraphic excavation, and mapping. In the laboratory, students will learn the basics of material analysis, artifact cataloging, and archiving techniques. Working at the Mission will give students practical experience in the cultural education and management practices that are essential for qualified museum and heritage professionals.

In addition to furthering the research and program goals of Museum & Cultural Heritage Studies at Florida State, the project supports the educational and research goals of the Department of State at Mission San Luis. Museum staff and volunteers from the Florida Panhandle Archaeological Network will showcase the program’s excavations for school groups and site visitors. MCHS at the Mission is an exciting opportunity to combine multifaceted resources, encourage and enhance our students’ archaeological research skills, and produce rich educational rewards.

Students interested in participating in the summer 2016 program should contact Dr. Kyle Killian.

Photos above courtesy of the State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory website.