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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2019 Nov 19;116(47):23493-23498. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1911285116. Epub 2019 Nov 4.

Rare pre-Columbian settlement on the Florida Gulf Coast revealed through high-resolution drone LiDAR.

Author information

Department of Anthropology, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL 32611-5565;
Spatial Ecology & Conservation Lab, Department of Tourism, Recreation and Sport Management, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL 32601.
Spatial Ecology & Conservation Lab, School of Forest Resources and Conservation, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL 32601.
Geomatics Program, School of Forest Resources and Conservation, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL 32601.
Savannah Coastal Refuges Complex, US Fish and Wildlife Service, Hardeeville, SC 29927.


Drone-mounted, high-resolution light detection and ranging reveals the architectural details of an ancient settlement on the Gulf Coast of Florida without parallel in the Southeastern United States. The Raleigh Island shell-ring complex (8LV293) of ca. 900 to 1200 CE consists of at least 37 residential spaces enclosed by ridges of oyster shell up to 4 m tall. Test excavations in 10 of these residential spaces yielded abundant evidence for the production of beads from the shells of marine gastropods. Beads and other objects made from gulf coastal shell were integral to the political economies of second-millennium CE chiefdoms across eastern North America. At places as distant from the coast as the lower Midwest, marine gastropods were imported in raw form and converted into beads and other objects by craftspeople at the behest of chiefs. Bead making at Raleigh Island is exceptional not only for its level of production at the supply end of regional demand but also for being outside the purview of chiefly control. Here we introduce the newly discovered above-ground architecture of Raleigh Island and outline its analytical value for investigating the organization of shell bead production in the context of ancient political economies. The details of shell-ring architecture achieved with drone-mounted LiDAR make it possible to compare the bead making of persons distributed across residential spaces with unprecedented resolution.


LiDAR; Mississippian; craft production; shell rings

[Available on 2020-05-04]

Conflict of interest statement

The authors declare no competing interest.

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