Excavating Paynes Town
UF student unearths Seminole settlement
Published: Sunday, January 11, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 11, 2004 at 2:51 a.m.
Remnants of a Seminole Indian village long considered destroyed by a sand-mining operation have been rediscovered by a University of Florida graduate student researching the cooking and eating practices of early inhabitants.
Known as Paynes Town, the former head village of the Alachua band of Seminoles and the residence of "King" Payne sits on the southern edge of Paynes Prairie. Seminoles occupied the town from the 1790s to 1813, when American soldiers burned the town to the ground.
UF grad student Jane Anne Blakney-Bailey, who is leading the excavation project, has unearthed a burnt layer of soil in several locations possibly providing a reliable timeline for the artifacts found there.
"Maybe this is the burning event," said Blakney-Bailey of the significance of her find. "If it is, it's kind of like finding a penny with a date on it."
Pottery shards, colored-glass beads, lead musket shot, square nails, a belt buckle and pieces of silver jewelry are among the artifacts removed from dirt pits on the site - one of the last permanent Seminole villages in northern Florida.
It was also the site of some of the earliest confrontations between the Seminoles and Americans that led to the Seminole Wars. A surprise attack led by Col. Daniel Newnan in the fall of 1812 east of what is now Gainesville lasted several days and left 80-year-old "King" Payne dead.
The exact location of Paynes Town was identified in 1962 by a UF student, but in the years after that a mining operation left an enormous quarry in the middle of the site. State officials, and even UF researchers, concluded the site had been destroyed.
But a determined Blakney-Bailey with a team of volunteer anthropology students set out to find the old settlement. More than 300 test holes were dug just south of the quarries. Many of them revealed artifacts.
"What I'm so excited about is this site is here," Blakney-Bailey said during a recent visit to the excavation site, where students used paint brushes to scrape layers of dirt into a sieve.
Blakney-Bailey has found items from both the Seminole and early American settlers, demonstrating a blending of cultures.
"The Seminoles are an excellent study of what happens when multiple cultures collide and how it affects the traditions of all societies involved," Blakney-Bailey said. "This has a lot of relevance today because cultures are constantly forced to interact with one another, sometimes peacefully and sometimes in conflict."
Blakney-Bailey's research is significant since very few Seminole towns have ever been excavated in the state, said Jerald Milanich, an archeologist at UF's Florida Museum of Natural History and the one supervising Blakney-Bailey's research.
"We're interested in what the archeology can tell us because we've had to rely on historical documents to tell us about the Seminoles and their relations with the Anglos of the time," Milanich said.
Many of the artifacts - glass beads and bottle fragments - are evidence of trading with the Spanish, English and American settlers. Gas chromatography will be used to determine the contents of the bottles, jars and vats.
Blakney-Bailey, described as "sharp" by one of her colleagues, is also searching for clues about village life.
The Alachua Seminoles are believed to have been a wealthy people who herded cattle that roamed the prairie, according to Florida Historical Quarterly.
Their homes likely were some marriage of log cabins and chickee huts, and were dispersed over a wide area with communal farmlands nearby.
"King" Payne is believed to have lived in a larger plantation-style log home.
Working with the assistance of state and federal grants, Blakney-Bailey said she plans to conclude her research at the site in April, although subsequent research is expected to take her to museums in several other southern states.
Janine Young Sikes can be reached at 337-0327 or sikesj@ gvillesun.com.
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