Archaeology Tour Guide

A Tour Guide of the Randell Research Center at Pineland, Florida


Photo Courtesy of Carol Orr Hartman© Used by Permission


For nearly twenty years Denege has been a volunteer at the Randell Research Center at Pineland, Florida, an active archaeological site, a program of the Florida Museum of Natural History, University of Florida.

She has worked side by side with archaeologists on the excavations and in the laboratory and has conducted guided tours at the Calusa Heritage Trail. She also has provided sea tours of the Islands of Pine Island Sound with various local cruise lines based on her 2017 book entitled, A Tour of the Islands of Pine Island Sound, Florida: Their Geology, Archaeology, and History, edited by William Marquardt, with spectacular aerial photography by Ron Mayhew of  One hundred percent of the proceeds of the book support the Endowment Fund of the Randell Research Center.

Nearly twenty years ago when Denege was a newcomer on her fourth day of an archaeological dig, she was kneeling in an excavation pit, scraping the surface with a trowel when a reporter held up a microphone and asked, “Why are you doing this?” With virtually no experience in archaeology and only a little training, Denege did not know what to say. Think fast!  Here’s what came out:  

Since I was a little girl in the sand pile I have been an explorer. I grew up in upstate New York where it was common to find arrowheads. Today I am a retired family therapist living in Florida, and I am interested in learning how ancient cultures thrived in this environment. Nothing compares to the experience of finding the floor of an original living surface, or of holding a piece of pottery that has not seen the light of day for a thousand years. It is as if I am a guest in their home. When you die, who do you want to clean out your personal effects? Who should go through your dwellings, your storage, or find your beads and your pottery?  Who should collect your tools?  In my part of the excavation, this assignment has gone to me. I take it seriously and reverently.”

The thirty-foot high shell mounds of the Calusa Indians that dot the islands and the Gulf Coast of south Florida were first surveyed by the Smithsonian Institution in 1895. Since then, numerous archaeological studies have been done, and the work continues. The archaeological record shows that the Calusa occupied the Pineland site for about 1,660 years. They seem to have intelligently engineered massive shell mound complexes on many islands, dug miles of canals, and accumulated enormous burial mounds of sand. Their trade network was vast, reaching Canada, the Cahokia Mounds of Illinois, and the Piedmont of Georgia.  To learn more about the Calusa people, or the archaeology at Pineland, or to purchase a book, please visit the website of the Randell Research Center at