Who'll Mind the Middens?

A bunch of Palm Beach County employees may be slated to become antiquated relics: Palm Beach County commissioners voted to eliminate the jobs of 141 county workers Monday, hoping what they save on salaries will help offset $133 million in lost property-tax revenue. One of those jobs belonged to "County Archeologist" Chris Davenport, who's been on the county payroll since 2005.

The job sounds glamorous, but Davenport doesn't get to put on his pith helmet too often. "Ninety-five percent of the job is paperwork," he confessed by phone yesterday from his desk at the Parks and Rec Department, "insuring compliance, that kind of thing. And actually, there's another hearing July 13th. The county is still working to preserve the position, so nothing is final yet."

Davenport has occasionally found himself in the middle of local hot-button development issues, refereeing questions like whether Lake Worth Beach might be the site of prehistoric Indian remains. When he isn't shuffling paper, he's out supervising excavation of Indian mounds, ancient battlefields like Riverbend off Indiantown Road, 2000-year-old shell middens in Jupiter's Dubois Park, and sites such as the Okeechobee lakebed, parts of which were exposed in 2007 during the drought. An anonymous caller phoned Davenport and said he'd found human remains in the lake. Somehow, Davenport says, the mysterious caller knew the body parts were Native American. "But before I could ask him any questions, he hung up."

"We found 33 new sites out there when the water retreated, ranging from Native American

sites to pioneer artifacts from 1919," Davenport explains. Shell pendants, hair ornaments, remains of buildings and boats, pottery, and net weights all turned up, along with lots of bone fragments, which technically belong to the Seminoles and the Miccosukees. What Davenport and his team found at Lake Okeechobee, he says, rivaled the diversity and size of Aztec sites he'd worked on in Mexico. "It was definitely a major find, a career high," he says. The team has been working like crazy to collect every shard it can before the lake rises again to swallow it all up.

Or before Davenport's job is history.