Under the supervision of Dr. Jeanne Arnold, John Dietler will investigate the emergence of political complexity in the Caloosahatchee region of southwest Florida. This area was home to the powerful non-farming Calusa chiefdom during the sixteenth century AD, and is noted for a unique marine shell-based technology that first appeared over 4000 years ago. Shell axes and adzes were used throughout south Florida to craft a wide variety of wooden items, including dugout canoes and masks used in religious ceremonies. Dietler's research will evaluate Caloosahatchee leaders' organization of the production and distribution of these important craft items and the effect of that organization on the emergence of political inequality in the region.
Archaeologists today are intensely interested in understanding the emergence of the inherited and broad-based political authority that marks complex societies around the world. The intensified production of craft goods was a significant source of political power in a number of chiefly societies and may have been an important route to lasting authority among the Calusa. This project will explore elite control of craft production through a combination of archaeological excavation, experimental replication, and research with museum collections. Dietler's shell tool replication experiments (2005) have improved the identification of shell tool-making byproducts and production stages. His excavations of Caloosahatchee shell tool workshops on Buck Key and Useppa Island (2005-06) have recovered production residues indicative of the intensity and efficiency of tool production. Finally, his database of south Floridian shell tools from museum collections reveals the spatial organization and regional context of the shell tool and woodworking craft economies. NSF support will help pinpoint these data in time and space, providing radiocarbon dates and chemical sourcing data for key artifacts and deposits. If a system of specialized craft production and distribution emerged at the same time as other signs of sociopolitical complexity, such as intensified construction projects and the appearance of class-based differences in burial goods, then it is likely to have played an important role in the emergence of institutionalized inequality in the region. Information gathered in southwest Florida will ultimately be compared with craft economy data that derive from other regions with similar levels of political complexity, allowing the identification of basic mechanisms underlying political evolution.
Along with addressing research questions of interest to anthropologists, this project will increase public participation in the scientific process in both Florida and California. In Florida, dozens of volunteers will participate in archaeological excavations, laboratory processing, and artifact analysis. A far broader audience will be exposed to this research through organized tours of the excavation site, public lectures, and articles in local newsletters and newspapers. Undergraduate university students will participate in fieldwork and lab work in both Florida and California, gaining valuable training in analytical methods in the process. Excavated materials will be displayed at two or more Florida museums and will be available to researchers at the Florida Museum of Natural History in perpetuity. Project results will be made available to the scientific community through publications in refereed journals and presentations at national archaeological conferences.