Sarah Miller | Florida Archaeology

August 23, 2023   |   Brokerage

Sarah Miller of the Florida Public Archaeology Network discusses the importance of archaeology and preservation in Florida.

In this episode of In Our Expert Opinion Real Estate Podcast, Linda and Chad are joined by Sarah Miller, the Regional Director for the Northeast and East Central Centers of the Florida Public Archaeology Network (FPAN). Hosted by Flagler College, FPAN is made up of regional centers in Florida that are dedicated to preserving the state's rich archaeological heritage. During this discussion, Sarah shares about her work at FPAN as well as provides insights into Florida's ancient cemeteries, the balance between archaeological preservation and development, and some of the common challenges within her line of work. 

Below is an excerpt from the interview. Listen above for the full podcast.

Who are your typical clients? Descendant communities or those with religious ties could be our clients or stakeholders. Stakeholder is kind of a problematic term because I don't think it puts emphasis on cultural stakeholders versus other interests besides the descendant community.

I work for the Florida Public Archaeology Network, so my clients are really the residents and visitors of Florida. We work with local governments, and we also assist the state.

I would say, we have a lot of clients, and there are many millions of people in Florida. We don't get everywhere all at once, but we try to make the most impact through the communities that we work with.

With all of the new development, how do you approach preservation? Usually, it's at the request of the local government, the state, a neighborhood group, or just someone who is interested or concerned about something. We are really proactive in that we're developing our skills and tools, but we're also really reactive as far as what people are interested in.

It's really tough. There are not only all the people moving to Florida, but there’s also sea level rise, increased storm intensity, and the wetlands migrating. As they’re moving in, people need to be aware of where they're going.

What are some obstacles when dealing with municipalities? I think there are some limitations in the ordinances as they're written. What really does it mean that a site is protected? You can have something listed on the National Register, but that doesn't protect it from being dissolved or destroyed. There are so many loopholes in some of the laws

In Florida, the [Abandoned and Historic Cemeteries] bill went through last year for African American burial grounds. One of the things they hoped to do was close some of those loopholes. Make no mistake, all human burial sites in Florida are protected under Chapter 872. It protects human burials on all land, no matter who owns it, but it doesn't really tell you how to navigate descendants getting access to cemeteries.

Some of the obstacles are identifying what the laws are, what they really mean, and then who has the authority if something's not happening. Usually, the phone rings when something's not going the way people want. The phone is quiet when everything is going well and preserved.

How do developers become aware of historic sites? I would say it’s proactive to involve as many people at the table as possible, which I think can be scary for developers. They don't want to lose any profit, and they don't want to be subject to laws restricting what they can do.

The Florida Master Site File is an inventory of all cultural resources in Florida, but it's not perfect. It's something we have to keep contributing to and massaging. For a large development, you definitely want to have them check the site file, and check what surveys may need to be done, but also do due diligence. Reach out to our office, and we'll be happy to share what we know or put you in touch with the community members that might know.

I think part of the reason people move to Florida is our deep history. I love Florida cemeteries - you walk into one, and you know you're in Florida. I think we all want to keep Florida that way.

Being a smart consumer, but giving a thought to what historic resources are nearby, is really important. Heritage tourism is a $7 billion industry in Florida, so it's a good investment. People want to live here, historically, as they do today.

What does the interaction with Florida’s indigenous people look like? Luckily, we have some help. There's already a consultation process set up between the Tribal Historic Preservation Officer (THPO) and the Seminole Tribe of Florida - they have an office that is specifically centered around protection, recordation, and what they're doing for their own cultural properties.

The state's division of historical resources and the state archaeologist will reach out to THPO’s office to start a conversation when any remains are found. It's not individual-to-nation. This needs to be nation-to-nation consultation. If a bulldozer were to discover some indigenous burials, I would highly recommend all activities stopped until those calls are made. If anyone sees any human remains on a construction site, in a cemetery, or in their neighborhood, they can always call the local law enforcement because they will know to reach out to the medical examiner and whether it goes to the archaeologist.

When we go help out, the number one question is: “Is this possibly an indigenous burial? Do we need to start this very sensitive consultation process?” If it's historic, it's really under the recommendations of the state archaeologist. We're lucky that the process is already there, but most people do not know of it. That's where education and doing outreach help people to know what's available to them.