New lessons from the past

Ken Sassaman - Hyatt and Cici Brown Professor of Florida Archaeology

For someone whose field deals primarily with the past, archaeologist Ken Sassaman spends a lot of time thinking about the future.

The Floridians he studies lived thousands of years ago, but the issues they faced — rising sea levels, severe storms, changes in marine ecology — sound awfully familiar.

“Archaeology has a perspective on human experience that outstrips written history,” Sassaman says. “We have a record of how people perceived and dealt with change by motivating their communities to take action in ways that could inform our own public policy issues.”

Rising seas have imperiled what remains of many Native American settlements, cemeteries and other sites on Florida’s Gulf coast, where Sassaman and his students race against the clock to prevent irreplaceable knowledge from being lost forever. It’s an effort that is only possible through an endowment created by Hyatt and Cici Brown that funds not only the graduate students’ field work but diagnostics like radio-carbon dating that help determine the artifacts’ significance.

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Can the distant past hold the key to our future?

Gators making it happen

Hyatt and Cici Brown

Hyatt and Cici Brown saw the history they revered slipping away, so they stepped in to save it. Countless artifacts — and the knowledge contained in them — were disappearing into the rising waters of the Gulf of Mexico until the Browns rescued them. But they didn’t carry out this rescue with an archaeologist’s shovels and screens. They did it with a professorship at the University of Florida.

The Browns’ endowment allows Ken Sassaman and his archaeology students to protect Native American artifacts along Florida’s west coast from sea-level rise, looting and vandalism. It’s just one of the projects made possible by the professorship.

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