Bead-making complex off the Florida coast

PROCEEDINGS OF THE NATIONAL ACADEMY OF SCIENCES—A study* reports the discovery of an ancient bead-making settlement on a Florida coastal island. Ancient cities in North America, including inland Midwestern cities like Cahokia, traded in marine gastropod shells and beads. Although the gastropod shells formed an important part of the economy of the second millennium CE, little is known about the coastal production of shell beads and the transport of shells inland. Terry E. Barbour, Ken Sassaman, and colleagues analyzed high-resolution LiDAR data collected by a drone on Raleigh Island, off the northern Gulf Coast of Florida, revealing a settlement composed of 37 rings of oyster shells. The walls of the residential dwelling rings reached up to 4 meters in height, and archaeological excavation of the rings found evidence of high-production beadmaking, particularly from the shell of the lightning whelk, a mollusk. Although the bead trade thrived among the chiefdoms of the Mississippian era, the Raleigh Island complex predates the chiefdoms, suggesting that it arose independently and may have been one of the early suppliers of beads for trade among chiefdoms. According to the authors, the high spatial resolution of LiDAR enabled the discovery of the Raleigh Island complex as well as detailed analysis of the site, which was important to pre-Columbian economies.

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A test unit excavation within one of Raleigh Island’s 37 shell rings. Terry E. Barbour and Kenneth E. Sassaman

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A 3D rendering of Raleigh Islands shell rings. Terry E. Barbour and the GatorEye Unmanned Flying Laboratory

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Article Source: PNAS news release

*”Rare pre-Columbian settlement on the Florida Gulf Coast revealed through high-resolution drone LiDAR,” by Terry E. Barbour et al.

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