The Yat Kitischee Project

What is Yat Kitischee?

In response to the policies of the Pinellas County Comprehensive Plan, the Board of County Commissioners authorized a survey of archaeological resources in 1990. Janus Research, a St. Petersburg archaeological firm, was hired by the County to conduct the survey.

Yat Kitischee was brought to the attention of the archaeologists by a concerned citizen who knew that an archaeological site near the St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport was being vandalized.

At the County’s request, Janus Research briefly investigated the site and confirmed the existence of a significant prehistoric midden. Based on their findings, the archaeologists recommended a more detailed study. The County agreed and in 1992 an intensive testing project began.

By using a transit to map the site’s surface, and after digging many test holes and analyzing the contents, the archaeologists were able to determine the size of the site, that it contained the remains of several prehistoric households, and that it was occupied over 2000 years ago.

The archaeologists also discovered two human burials. Because state law requires that human cemeteries be left undisturbed if possible, the County began a process of negotiation with the landowner to determine what could be done to preserve the site and ensure that the burials would not be disturbed. These negotiations lasted nearly two years. During that time members of the American Indian Movement of Florida camped out at the site to keep people from digging there.

In the meantime, County planners submitted a grant application for a public archaeology project to the Florida Division of Historical Resources. The application was approved in 1993, but distribution of the funds was contingent on the County owning the site.

Acquisition of the property was accomplished through the combined funding efforts of the Florida Department of Transportation and the St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport. The land was needed as a buffer between the airport and a nearby residential area. Purchase of the property was accomplished by the County’s Real Estate Division. Without the assistance of these agencies, the project would not have happened.

Group of people at archaeology site

With the ownership issue resolved, the Yat Kitischee Public Archaeology project was ready to begin. The project was designed to educate the public about archaeology and prehistory by involving them in an actual field experience. Volunteers worked side by side with professional archaeologists during the excavation, learning first hand how archaeology is done and what can be learned from a study of the past. Tours of the site were conducted regularly so that more people could see the excavation in progress. Distinguished scholars from around the country presented free public lectures on various aspects of prehistoric life in Florida. The combination of education and hands-on experience proved to be an effective way of developing a public awareness of the need to preserve archaeological sites. The Yat Kitischee project became an example of how archaeologists, Native Americans, volunteers, and government officials can all work together successfully to preserve the past.