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.
Some of Sassaman’s students will go on to teach the next generation of archaeologists, but others plan to apply knowledge gleaned from the past to today’s challenges, from managing fisheries to dealing with climate change.
“There’s great opportunity,” he says, “for archaeologists to contribute to public policy issues.”
Can the distant past hold the key to our future?
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.
“We have an opportunity here and we don’t want to miss it,” Cici says.
Hyatt — a former speaker of the Florida House of Representatives — attended UF, as did the couple’s three sons. Given their strong connection to the university, the Browns wanted to make a gift with lasting impact. As they watched state of Florida’s continued growth, they realized that for many archaeological sites, it was now or never.
“It’s important for us to identify the sites and preserve the sites. That way we know they’re going to be there for infinity,” Hyatt says.
It’s an effort the Browns say they’re thrilled to make possible.
“We’re investing in our youth, in our future,” Cici says. “It’s a necessity. The state funds aren’t what they were. The federal funds aren’t what they were. It’s going to have to come from private donors. Investing in people, investing in the university, expanding our horizons and looking out for great discoveries — it just made sense to us.”