Drone Finds Bead-Making Settlements
Fri, December 9, 2022

Drone Finds Bead-Making Settlements

The GatorEye Unmanned Flying Laboratory was used on Raleigh Island / Photo Credit: Sergey Ginak (via Shutterstock)


Craig Pittman of Florida-based newspaper Tampa Bay Times reported that a drone roaming in Raleigh Island, north of Cedar Key, transmitted astounding information to archaeologists from the University of Florida. It turned out to be a map of 37 ring-shaped piles of oysters, standing at 12 feet high. An ancient tribe lived within those rings. The said tribe turned lightning whelk shells into beads, which were transported to other settlements. 

University of Florida archaeology professor Kenneth E. Sassaman noted that the ancient site “has a huge percentage of shell beads in the final stages of manufacture.” The astonishing discovery was presented in the scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academies of Science. The journal stated, “The Raleigh Island village of AD 900 to 1200 is unprecedented in its architecture, its scale of bead production, and its place in regional geopolitics.”

Two of Sassaman’s graduate students came across the site in 2010. The students were at Florida coast to look for historic sites that were damaged by the 2010 BP oil spill. They stopped at Raleigh Island while trying to make their way through the Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge. The Raleigh Island is surrounded by salt marshes and it is has been kept pristine due to its inaccessibility, though it’s possible to visit the island via an airboat. 

University of Florida grad student and lead author on the drone study Terry Barbour said that he and his colleagues needed to “chop their way through dense vegetation.” They also had to wade through thick mud and even packed their own water supplies. At the university’s forestry school, scientists created a drone called “GatorEye Unmanned Flying Laboratory.” The drone is equipped with sensor beams, as well as laser beams that could take “650,000 measurement points a second,” Barbour explained. The said drone was used on Raleigh Island. 

The images taken by the drone allowed the archaeologists to gain a better understanding of the settlement’s size and its arrangement. However, Sassaman stated that they still don’t know why the rings were arranged in a “cloverleaf pattern” or whether the square areas were used for something else. Sadly, time is limited since the settlement could be “lost to the rising sea” in a few decades, Sassaman explained.