A chance discovery in 2010 led researchers to find a village in Florida that dated back to 900-1200AD. The pre-Columbian village was seen when the research team from the University of Florida
(UF) were using imaging technology to look at the environmental impact after the oil spill from the Deepwater Horizon.
The amazing discovery came out through the use of LiDAR. The technology, Light Detection, and Ranging allowed the researchers to see through the very dense vegetation. The instruments were fitted to drones and used to make a 3D map of the area and it was then that they saw the signs of the ancient settlement.
LiDAR exposes any topographical features and man-made structures that were not normally visible and this enabled the team to conduct surveys much faster than they could when using traditional methods.
The scientists were working on Raleigh Island when they spotted several large ring structures. The area, on the Gulf Coast of Florida, is currently uninhabited but it seems that in the pre-Columbian era there was indeed a human settlement here.
Evidence shows that the people who lived there were making a good living from the production of beads which they produced by harvesting seashells.
This latest find is one of only a few similar developments where beads were produced on a large scale. It may be that the settlement began when society started to demand high quantities of marine shells, and the site produced some strong evidence that bead manufacture was the major economic activity.
It is known that beads were often used in rituals and they became social popular overseas at this time.
LiDAR revealed that there were around 37 residences in the area and that these were enclosed using oyster shells formed into 13ft high ridges. The entire purpose of the settlement was to produce beads and they found evidence that these were being produced within residential spaces.
The village is an unprecedented archaeological find in the region, particularly the scale and organization of the settlement and the reason it was established.
The team concluded that the harvesting of shells to make beads was a central part of the local economy in eastern North America for the Native Americans living in the area at the time. However, there is still little information about where the shells were collected or how the beads were made.
Although evidence of bead production has been found in other areas, the Raleigh Island site is unique because of the scale of production and also because it was largely outside any chiefly oversight.
It was commonplace for beads to be developed from imported but the settlement on Raleigh Island is the first to have been found at the source of the shell. There is no indication where the completed beads were sent but it is assumed that, like many others, they were exported to meet social demand in other areas.