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  1. Hernando

Study aims to document Brooksville site as the ancestral home of the Seminole people

BROOKSVILLE — Brooksville's hidden past may help it secure a successful future.

Brooksville City Council members discussed that this month before voting unanimously to support an archeological study that aims to pinpoint the long-gone village of Chucochatti, which historians believe was the ancestral home of the Seminole people.

The Council approved access to the city-owned, 56-acre Griffin Prairie property east of Emerson Road and south of State Road 50. That parcel, which serves as a drainage basin for south Brooksville, is part of a 1,000-acre area that the Gulf Archaeology Research Institute believes contains the historical village of Chucochatti. A historical marker was placed on Cortez Boulevard just east of Emerson Road in 2014, memorializing the settlement, but it has never been fully documented.

Chucochatti, or "red village," has multiple spellings in historical literature, with Chucochatti the spelling used in the grant application. It was one of the first settlements of the Creek people in Florida and is considered the birthplace of the Seminole Tribe.

With support from tribal leaders, the institute and the Historic Hernando Preservation Society have secured a $74,000 federal grant to delineate Chucochatti. Eventually, they hope to list the village on the National Register of Historic Places.

The April 15 City Council meeting included discussion of what the project could mean for the future of Brooksville.

"This is just the very beginning of what is going to happen here,'' said Brooksville resident Doug Davis, who predicted "discoveries off the charts.'' He said the city could become the next St. Augustine, a Florida city whose historic past has long attracted tourists and historians.

"This could be a cash cow or a golden-egg-laying goose," he said.

Gary Ellis, director emeritus of the Gulf Archaeology Research Institute, told the council that since the early 1990s, the nonprofit has been researching the Seminole Wars, which took place from 1817-1854.

"We've got a substantial record doing this,'' he said.

The federal grant, which comes from the U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, requires a local match of funds and services, Ellis said. The Seminole Tribe of Florida supports the Institute's work, he said, because "we do an objective study ... the facts are the facts. There is no favoritism.''

The work will document the nature and extent of the town and how it related to the Second Seminole War, Ellis explained. He expects to complete the report by August 2020.

One of the first steps will be using historical and natural history research to analyze where in the large target area to excavate. The goal is limit the number of holes dug, Ellis said, in part because funds are limited.

The plan is not simply to find artifacts, but to piece together a picture of the community that existed on the site.

"We don't care about artifacts. They don't really mean anything until you put them into context,'' Ellis said. "Otherwise, you've just got a pile of old stuff.''

Council member Joe Bernardini said that several sites in east Hernando have been dug up by artifact hunters over the years. Some "looked like a mine field'' when people were done searching for arrowheads and other items in the soil, he said.

The researchers plan to return whatever they find back to where it was found.

When council members voiced concern about how the work might impact Griffin Prairie, Ellis pointed out that there is no sign today of the archaeological work done at Chinsegut Hill, the site of a historical plantation north of Brooksville.

"You can't even tell we did a big project up there,'' he said.

Previous coverage: Archaeologists unearth history of Chinsegut Hill

In addition to providing insight into Brooksville's history, Ellis said, the Chucochatti project will give a broader understanding of Florida's indigenous population.

"This project is part of a much larger project, basically looking at the genesis of the Seminoles in Florida,'' he said.

Contact Barbara Behrendt at bbehrendt@tampabay.com or (352) 848-1434.

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