Steven L. Abrams
Mary Lou Berger
"An equal opportunity
Belle Glade Museum Historic Findings
Historic or archaeological resources are no different than endangered species, in that once they are gone, they cannot be replaced. As a result of their non-renewable nature, the Historic Preservation Element in the County's Comprehensive Plan has very broad goals, grouped into four categories: identify, evaluate, promote and preserve the County's cultural/historic resources. To these ends, the Planning Division of the Planning, Zoning, and Building Department, works in conjunction with other local, state and federal agencies to ensure our collective history is preserved for future generations. By code, this outreach extends to educational and other civic organizations. The full breadth of this comprehensive element was recently implemented on one project in the western portion of the county.
The Laurence E. Will Museum of the Glades, in Belle Glade, is in the process of remodeling and reorganizing its collection. The County Historic Preservation Officer assisted the museum in coordinating with the State's Division of Historic Resources to account for human remains from the Belle Glade Mound site, that were part of the museum's holdings. In accordance with state and federal laws, the remains have since been reburied at an undisclosed location, so they may remain undisturbed in perpetuity.
The Belle Glade Mound site was first excavated in the 1930s by the Works Progress Administration (WPA). Though virtually unknown by the general public, this is a very important archaeological site as it is known as a "type site". A type site is the location where unique artifact characteristics are first recognized and described. From this point on, all artifacts recovered on future excavations that have those same unique attributes, will bear that name. The name is usually the same as the closest town to the site, in this case, Belle Glade. There are very few type sites across the nation. The Belle Glade site and the associated ancient Native American culture, is just one more reason the prehistory of Palm Beach County is so important, not only locally but on a national level.
The County Historic Preservation Office coordinates with Florida Atlantic University (FAU) for a beneficial relationship with several interns from FAU’s Anthropology Department. These unpaid paraprofessionals are both graduate and undergraduate students. They assist staff with historic preservation undertakings. The program is unique in the state, as seldom do these resources coexist in the same county. Under the direct supervision of the Historic Preservation Office, Ms. Catherine Smith (FAU intern) is examining the human remains, as part of her Master's thesis.
During FAU's annual Graduate Research Competition Ms. Smith's research took first place in the Art and Sciences category. Her findings are the first published results from the Belle Glade Mound site, since the original excavations in the 1930's. The Belle Glade Mound site dates between AD700-AD1500. However, what archaeologists call the Belle Glade culture dates to at least 1000 B.C. Among other things, Ms. Smith's research revealed that the ancient inhabitants of the Belle Glade Mound site did not make distinctions in burying their dead, in regards to age or sex, but may have grouped people by class or status. Her research shed light on the cultural practices of a group of prehistoric Native Americans who died out prior to Spanish or English colonists being able to record what the group called themselves.
The Planning Division’s Historic Preservation Officer continues to advise the museum on how best to manage their collections. Other County interns and State agencies continue to help the museum physically account for and move the items within their holdings. Ms. Smith is currently in Washington D.C. analyzing the remaining skeletons that were removed during the 1930s excavations.
Ms. Smith and the County Historic Preservation Officer/Archaeologist will be presenting public outreach events regarding these important finds in the upcoming months and years.
To learn more about the County Historic Preservation Officer/Archaeologist visit:
To learn more about the internship program you can visit:
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