Hillsborough County Archaeological Resources

Moseley HomesteadHillsborough County’s archaeological resources include prehistoric campsites, burial mounds, shell middens, quarries and manufacturing sites for tools, along with historic archaeological sites, such as Fort Foster. Scattered artifacts, usually tools or fragments of pottery, are the most common indicators of an archaeological site. Most of the identified archaeological resources in Hillsborough County date from the Archaic Period (7500-500 BC). The second most common type of identified archaeological resources in this County dates from the historic periods.

Fort Foster State Historic Site, part of Hillsborough River State Park, is considered a historic archaeological site. While the original fort buildings are no longer standing, there remains a wealth of historic artifacts in the ground. Fort Foster, established in 1836 and abandoned in 1849, safeguarded the Fort King Military Road Bridge over the Hillsborough River during the Second Seminole War. Today the park contains a replica of the fort and an interpretive center.

Florida’s archaeological resources, the material remains of past human life or activities, date back approximately 10,000 years. An archaeologist can study the way found artifacts are placed in relationship to one another and to the natural environment to determine information about the way past people lived. By studying the context of the site, an archaeologist can determine what people wore, what kind of food they ate (and how they got the food), who they interacted with, and other details about how they lived. Because much of this information can only be determined by the context in which the archaeological resources are found, it is important to provide a high level of protection for these irreplaceable resources.

In Florida, it is illegal to dig for artifacts without the landowner’s permission, and digging for artifacts on state lands without a permit is a third degree felony. It is also illegal to knowingly disturb, buy, or sell human remains. Florida Statutes govern the treatment of unmarked human burials. Due to the sensitive nature of these sites, the locations of archaeological resources are exempt from the Sunshine Law.

Projects that receive state or federal funding, such as road widening projects, must survey for archaeological and historic resources before work begins to ensure that these resources will not be negatively affected by the projects. This also applies to projects that take place on state and federal lands, such as parks.

Florida’s rapid and intensive land development poses additional challenges for these often “invisible” sites. Unfortunately, archaeological resources are often not discovered until they have been negatively affected by development activity. A cultural resource assessment survey of a development site prior to construction activity can determine whether significant archaeological resources are present.

One of the goals for 2008 of the Hillsborough County’s Historic Resources Review Board (HRRB) is to identify archaeological resources in the unincorporated County that are eligible for Landmark designation. Landmark-eligible archaeological sites will be listed in the County’s Historic Resources Inventory.

Once listed in the Historic Resources Inventory, these archaeological sites will receive some protection. The HC Land Development Code requires that when development permits, development orders or other development approvals affect or abut the properties on the Inventory, the HRRB can review and comment on the applications. The HRRB’s comments are not binding, but are an opportunity to work with the property owner to provide the best possible outcome for significant sites. Upon Landmark designation, a Certificate of Appropriateness from the HRRB is required before archaeological resources can be altered. When making a decision on an archaeological resource, the HRRB considers methods to avoid, reduce or mitigate adverse effects on the archaeological features, while taking into account the current needs of the owner.

Property owners of Landmarked sites in unincorporated Hillsborough County are eligible for a variety of benefits, including a preservation plan for the long-term maintenance of their Landmarked property, and economic incentives, including matching grant funds for HRRB-approved projects and a property tax exemption for the value of HRRB-approved improvements. Landmark sites are also eligible for a transfer of development rights, which may reduce the taxable value of the property.

Conservation easements allow property owners anywhere in Florida to protect their archaeological resources, regardless of whether they are listed in the National Register of locally Landmarked. A conservation easement restricts the use of their land through the property deed, protecting the archaeological site from development activity. This restriction can lower property taxes and estate taxes. Additionally, property owners can receive a federal income tax deduction if they donate an easement for conservation purposes in perpetuity to a qualified organization such as an historical society or a land trust. Conservation easements can be written to address the unique needs of the individual property owner.

Owners of property that contains archaeological resources can also seek Archaeological Landmark designation from the State of Florida. This designation provides extra protection to sites that are eligible for listing in the National Register. A permit from the State is required before anyone is allowed to dig at a State Archaeological Landmark.

Article by Elaine Lund