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Letter from Florida: Pioneer or Mound Mauler? Volume 53 Number 4, July/August 2000
by Jerald T. Milanich

Clarence Bloomfield Moore, a privileged, Harvard-educated Philadelphian, who had "excavated" sites throughout the southeastern United States in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries has remained a controversial figure in archaeology. Archaeologists love Moore for the information he recorded but hate him for excavating so many sites without employing rigorous field methods that would have greatly enhanced his reports. Working at a time when much of the region was was still wilderness, and transportation to anywhere other than the few larger coastal cities was difficult at best, Moore used paddle-wheel steamboats to gain access to sites. A steamboat would also serve as sleeping quarters, a dormitory for locally hired African-American field crews, a field laboratory and office, space for artifact storage, and a photography studio, and housing for the ship's crew.

Moore saw himself as a representative of science whose excavations were saving the contents of mounds from those who would despoil the sites and sell their artifacts. He repeatedly refers in his publications to "treasure-seekers," "relic sellers," and "irresponsible" residents who looted sites for profit. He also spoke out against the raft of artifact counterfeiters inflating a flourishing, early twentieth-century antiquities market. But Moore was by no means perfect. He worked too fast and tried to do too much. His three excavations at the famous Crystal River site on Florida's Gulf coast (1903, 1906, and 1918) lasted a total of 34 days. Subtracting Sundays, when excavations were not carried out, and a day or two each field season to open and backfill the site leaves only about 25 days when digging actually took place. In that short time Moore and his field laborers recovered close to 40 intact or nearly intact ceramic vessels and hundreds of artifacts (including a variety of delicate copper and shell objects). They also excavated the skeletal remains of at least 429 individuals. Clearing so many artifacts and burials with a crew of a dozen or even twice that many people in so short a time would be impossible using modern standards of excavation. By his own admission, he saw to the "total demolition" of hundreds and hundreds of mounds. He was an archaeologist, but overeager to sacrifice technique for results.

A member of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, Moore paid out of pocket for the Academy's exhibition of his collections, as he did for the monographs published in the Academy's Journal of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia. These quarto-sized volumes, all richly illustrated with drawings, watercolor paintings, and Moore's own photographs are invaluable records of three decades of fieldwork, especially of the artifacts excavated. Issued almost immediately after each field season, the reports continue to be useful to hundreds of archaeologists. It is nearly impossible to do archaeology in the Southeast without consulting them.

Jerald T. Milanich, author of numerous books on Florida archaeology, is curator of archaeology at the Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville and a contributing editor to ARCHAEOLOGY.

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© 2000 by the Archaeological Institute of America
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