Uzi Baram is a Professor of Anthropology and Director of New College Public Archaeology Lab. He spoke with Beyond Vizcaya about heritage communities that are increasingly being affected by climate change and sea level rise.

Speaker 1 (00:06):

My name’s Uzi Baram, Professor of Anthropology at New College of Florida. In many ways, when we think about heritage, it’s always in this singular, it’s not in the plural, and heritage is how we feel about the past, but the we is different communities. So different communities have different concerns and Florida has 22 million people with lots and lots of different communities, right? Some are ethnic, some are racial, some are geographic, some economic, and all of them reach into the past in different ways. As we try to think about my colleagues, what are the heritage locations that will speak to our concerns, that will animate people. Egmont Key in Tampa Bay comes up, the Seminole Tribe of Florida has made a major commitment to understanding the history and archeology of that little island, and it’s a little island that will disappear. It is not if, it’s a when.


And so, as an example, for the states, “Here’s a little place that’s tremendously meaningful, that has a nature preserve on it that people go to by boats to enjoy, sometimes learn some history and it’s going to disappear. Here is what we are doing to document it before. This is what we hear from the seminal tribal members before the creator takes it away.” And so I think as we try to imagine the heritage locations, that seems to speak to people, this little island in Tampa Bay, Egmont Key. That is archeologists, we’re really at the front lines. It’s a big state, 1300 miles of coastline and they’re just not that many archeologists. There are so many archeological sites that are barely documented, some barely known, and they’re being inundated, and one of the metaphors that’s used is, “Our library’s on fire.” That store of knowledge is just being destroyed.


I’m not sure I like that metaphor because it’s getting wet, not burning, but I get the reasons for that metaphor. And so, one of the greatest concerns is what can we preserve? What can we do knowing we’re going to lose information that we’ll never be able to imagine? Part of working that through has been a commitment by the professionals to work with the Seminole Tribe of Florida and really engage in serious ways with the indigenous, not as a source of knowledge, but as partners providing, as I hope I’ve done, some of the skills and techniques I’ve learned that can partner to answer their questions. Because what we find, what I find, is that people most concerned are those who have 20,000 years of history on this land and they care deeply about the land, the land of their ancestors and the land that goes to their descendants.


And so I learned a tremendous amount from my engagement with tribal members, but also the Seminole Tribal Court has created a [inaudible 00:03:24] of the tribe that focuses on heritage. HERO is its term, the Heritage Environmental Resource Office, and they take a holistic view of heritage as between both cultural heritage, the things people have done and the material left by those people and the natural environment. They see them, not as separate, but as integral. And as I’ve done my work, I’ve laid that out as well, that I don’t talk about archeological sites as much, I talk about heritage locations, and those heritage locations are places where people today still find meaning. It may not be the same meaning as what it was in the past, but it’s still meaningful. And I don’t talk about objects as artifacts anymore, I talk about belongings. Because the things that we have from the ground are not things for glass cases, but belong to a person or people at one time, and we need to respect the descendants, those people, to have a fuller understanding.


And so, I think myself and my other colleagues in Florida have done a great job in thinking about those heritage issues. And then further, Florida’s actually at the apex of doing public archeology. We have a Florida public Archeology Network, which has professionals whose careers have dedicated to taking the information from archeological research and sharing it with the public, with government officials, with anyone, frankly, who will listen to them and they come up with creative ways, constantly creative ways to convey information to different age groups, different communities. And all of these, I think, come about because we are worried. It would be nice to do research that could sit for 20 years and then be presented. Our goal now is, as we do the work, we want the public to be involved, we want more and more stakeholders, and Florida’s really at the cutting edge of that new, really, post-colonial approach to archeology and I think it’s becoming very successful.