Every Refuge Tells a Story


Civilian Conservation Corps at work on White River NWR, Arkansas
Interior of historic Fish Cars

National Wildlife Refuges and National Fish Hatcheries are already great places to, learn about conservation, or to observe species in their native habitats, or to just re-engage with the natural environment.

But did you know that every Refuge tells a story?

History is part of every FWS Refuge and Hatchery, historical sites within their borders, their own contributions to important conservation or biological history, or even their history within the communities that they call home.  All of it is important, all of it is part of the visitor experience.


Excavation at Byrd Hammock, St. Marks NWR, Florida
The combined efforts of federal, state, local, and non-profit groups to protect the valuable cultural resources at Byrd Hammock led to fruition when the site was acquired by the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge. Byrd Hammock is significant because it contains two separate villages that are representative of different cultures, located within 100 yards of each other. The earliest village is an example of Swift Creek Culture (200-650AD) while the other village is representative of Weeden Island culture (650-900AD), indicating a cultural shift occurring around 650AD. 

Excavation at Byrd Hammock began in the fall and was led by Mike Russo, National Park Service Archeologist and Division Head, and involved numerous other NPS archeologists, volunteers, and students from Florida State University and Louisiana State University. In addition to the ceramics, oyster shells, animal bones, and lithic projectile points uncovered at the site, the archeologists also found distinct soil discolorations. These soil features are evidence of house post holes, cooking and midden pits, and burial mounds which allowed the archeologists to reconstruct the layout of the village. The evidence indicates that the houses were arranged in a semi-circle around a plaza. Russo believes that the lighter soil present in the open end of the semi-circle indicates that it lacked semi-permanent structures, and therefore it was most likely occupied by visitors attending ceremonies in the village. 

Despite the similarities in the layouts of the villages, the Weeden Island and Swift Creek Cultures had different burial practices and ceramic styles. The Swift Creek culture stamped their ceramic vessels with a patterned wooden paddle and buried their dead with non-local burial items (such as copper, mica, and galena) and scattered ceramic pots with the bottoms broken off throughout their burial mounds. The Weeden Island culture incised their ceramics, often times with animal designs, or formed their vessels into the shape of an animal. They also buried their dead with ceramic vessels specifically made for burial purposes. Russo suggests that these cultural differences represent an adoption of new social and religious practices by the same group of people, rather than the result of new people coming to the area.

Regardless of the interpretation, it is clear that Byrd Hammock holds incredible research potential and is a valuable cultural resource to all of the individuals, groups, and agencies that worked to protect it.

To learn more about the unique history of FWS places check out NCTC’s History Page, and past issues of Historical Happenings , the FWS monthly newsletter for Cultural Resources