Even for an audience of one, Sarah Nohe’s passion for historic artifacts is palpable. After being interviewed at the Florida Public Archaeology Network (FPAN), where she works as outreach coordinator of its southeast branch at Florida Atlantic University’s Fort Lauderdale campus, Nohe shows off some of her institution’s choice finds.
She extracts a surprising number of objects from a medium-sized red toolbox: an adze (an ancient edge tool); a stingray barb refashioned as a projectile tool; a primitive spoon made out of conch shell; and a large sea turtle bone, always a hit with audiences at Gumbo Limbo Nature Center.
“Basically, what I tend to tell people is that [our ancestors] used every part of the animal,” says Nohe, 33, holding up a refurbished deer bone. “They used the leather for their houses, the meat to eat, the bone to make tools out of it. This is a de-flesher, which is my favorite name for a tool. It took all the guck off the leather so they could use it.”
Educating the public on the meanings of ancient artifacts is a large part of Nohe’s job. The nonprofit organization (flpublicarchaeology.org/serc) was created during a 2004 legislative session as part of the Florida Historical Resources Act, and it exists to help protect and preserve Florida’s cultural resources and historic sites.
Nohe visits schools, parks and camps in Palm Beach, Broward, Miami-Dade and Monroe counties. In addition, she trains educators and offers public lectures—like her memorable presentation at TEDx Delray Beach at the Crest Theatre last May.
“The things we find don’t need to be beautiful,” she told the packed audience in Delray. “They need to have one supreme quality, and that’s that they lived longer than us. Someone’s trash or a modified shell that’s been left there for thousands of years tells us a story of people, and it means something. And these things that have been found in Florida tell us a story of 12,000 years.”
Reflecting on her speech, Nohe says, “It was a different audience than I’d been able to talk to. I’ll go to archaeology conferences, I’ll go to fourth-grade classrooms, to colleges. But this was an eclectic crowd who was just interested in knowledge and understanding. A lot of people came up to me afterward and said, ‘I never considered any of the things you said, and I learned so much.’”