Her eyes light up and her voice gets husky.
"It's all about the charcoal. An ancient fire ring has burned nuts, seeds and wood – the charcoal tells a story about food."
Michele Williams, PhD, is a paleoethnobotanist – she studies plant material from archaeological sites. She shares ancient discoveries during an archaeology lecture at Brevard Community College in Melbourne, and we are excited. Who knew what treasures charcoal could hold? I’m starting to feel like Indiana Jones’ Floridian counterpart.
It’s easy to catch the treasure fever, and Florida is a great place to channel your own Indy. Let's leave the classroom and go for it. Grab your fedora and start exploring.
After more than 450 years buried under sand in Pensacola Bay, ships sunk during the storm-tossed Don Tristan de Luna Spanish expedition in 1559 are being uncovered. They were surprisingly close to shore, located in 12 feet of water off Emanuel Point near Historic Pensacola Village.
University of West Florida archaeologists have brought up ballast stones, pots and pans, pottery and even rat skulls.
Without getting wet, you can see a treasure trove of de Luna artifacts on display inside T.T. Wentworth, Jr. Florida State Museum in Historic Downtown Pensacola.
Where traditional beliefs and worships take place, mystery and intrigue linger. Indiana Jones and his sidekicks often found themselves treading on sacred ground. You can view the Indian Temple Mound & Museum on the observation deck in Fort Walton Beach.
Climb to the top. Close your eyes and imagine being a Native American before cell phones, before cars, before anything modern existed. Is this where sacrifices were made? Were you a designated night watcher, scanning the skies for comets? For some answers and more mystery, check out the artifacts at the museum.
A subterranean chamber is definitely on your Indy adventure list. Florida Caverns State Park in Marianna is the only Florida state park that offers cave tours to the public. Contact the park for tour times. Some days the caverns are closed to protect this fragile, awesome and ancient resource.
Candlelight changes everything – an old fort becomes mysterious, shadows become apparitions. You’ll feel just like a Civil War soldier when you take a candlelight tour of Fort Clinch at Fort Clinch State Park in Fernandina Beach. Or perhaps you’ll fancy yourself a peg-legged pirate. Long before the soldiers, there were pirates (agrrrrh!) living on Amelia Island, burying their chests of gold, some say, by candlelight.
Indiana Jones often defies the laws of physics, but who said adventuring had to be hard work? Walk along the wide beaches at Little Talbot Island State Park near Jacksonville. Get sand between your toes. Find sharks' teeth. Pick up seashells. These treasures are easy to find.
Where there’s history, there’s a treasure trove of stories. Take an Ancient City Tour in St. Augustine, the oldest permanently occupied European city in the U.S. Stroll the old streets, climb aboard the trolley tour and stay up late for a ghost tour. See the famous and infamous all gathered together at Potter's Wax Museum.
In the latest Indy movie, "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull," Indy's new sidekick ends up in a tree, takes a quick lesson from some monkeys, then swings through the jungle like a pro. Perhaps, during your own adventure, you'll spy swinging through the trees some of the monkeys that escaped decades ago from an island at Silver Springs.
Hang onto your fedora and take a trail ride at Young's Paso Fino Ranch in Marion County, where you’ll see first-hand the lively spirit and carriage of these Spanish horses.
Remember the red line the airplane traced on a map in all the Indy movies? Chart your own red line with a hot air balloon ride in Orlando or Kissimmee or take off in a World War II fighter trainer at Warbird Adventures in Kissimmee.
Botanists will tell you the best treasures are discovered in deep glades, so head out on an Everglades Walk. Reserve a spot for the Swamp Walk at Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park in Copeland for a ranger-guided walk.
You never know what you'll see through binoculars or with the naked eye at J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island. Take the 4-mile drive or bike through the refuge, but be sure to stop often. Volunteers set up tripods and spotting scopes so everyone can have a view of the birds, mammals and reptiles.
Plus, Florida has 11 shipwreck preserves. Get information online about any of the state's underwater archaeological preserves and where you can dive to see them.
In Coconut Creek, experience Butterfly World, where winged treasures of rare beauty flutter by. Stroll through tropical gardens, home to 10,000 brilliantly colored butterflies; hand-feed lorikeets; and enjoy botanical gardens, museums, the live Bug Zoo and gift shops. Waterfalls, exotic birds, hummingbirds, orchids and roses complete this natural habitat. Bring your family and a camera.
The Florida Public Archaeology Network wants you to know about Florida's buried and submerged past and has lots of ways to get involved. On their website, click on any of the Florida regions on the map to find out what's happening in that area. Michele Williams, the charcoal hunter from the beginning of my tale, is the director in Fort Lauderdale of the Southeast Region of the Florida Public Archaeology Network.
One example of public programs: "In the Dirt," a free archaeology lecture series given once a month at different Brevard Community College campuses. No matter if you’re a Florida resident or visitor; all wanna-be Indies are welcome.
Whatever the season, let the Indy in you explore the riches of Florida.