Recent Hurricane Hermine leveled trees of enormous and damaging sizes at the Byrd Hammock archeological site, 8Wa30 on the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge 20 miles south of Tallahassee on the Florida Gulf coast. The site consists of two burial mounds and the remains of two villages and ceremonial plazas dating circa AD 400 and 900. The upturned trees hit the north Weeden Island village hardest causing the greatest damage, with a 120 foot swamp chestnut oak (Quercus michauxii) near the center of the village being felled across the 180 foot wide plaza and five other oaks on the rings themselves also being blown over.
The damage to the archeological site came in two forms. The most destructive came from the roots being pulled out of the ground. Typically a tree’s roots extend out at least as far as the canopy breadth of the individual tree. For the downed swamp chestnut oak in the center of the north village plaza, a root ball 20 feet across was pulled out of the ground right next to an archeological excavation dug last year by the SEAC/FSU field school. That excavation had revealed a four post structure in the middle of the plaza. Four other large tree falls in the north and south ring middens deposits were less harmful in that they broke near the base of their trunks and no root ball was upheaved.
Secondary damage from all the large tree falls occurred when the side branches of these
large trees were pushed into the plaza and midden soils with significant force. And finally tertiary, ongoing damage is occurring as gopher tortoises, armadillos and other assorted creatures have started to burrow under the fallen trunks and branches in search of shelter.
Perhaps the biggest potential damage to the site is yet to come when attempts will be made to cut the trees up and remove them from the site. The shallow deposits of the village middens and plazas are sensitive to the treads and tracks of heavy machinery. Most trees will thus have to be cut and removed by chainsaw, hands, and less invasive hauling machinery like wheelbarrows. The Refuge and SEAC will be working together to protect the site from possible further damage from tree removal.