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Key Marco Cat & Deer Figurehead on display at Marco Island Historical Museum

Aug 11, 2023

Found on the northern end of Marco Island in 1896 during an expedition led by a renowned archeologist named Frank Hamilton Cushing, the Key Marco Cat is considered a true gem — a once in a lifetime, or more, find — discovered during the early days of the science of archeology. Just six inches tall and carved out of some sort of hardwood, the Cat, and the many other objects that were discovered alongside it, represent the most comprehensive and spectacular collection of pre-Columbian Native American material culture ever discovered in Florida. The term pre-Columbian refers to pre-European contact — so before the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1492.

Over the 127 years that have passed since its discovery, the Key Marco Cat has been seen by millions of people — mostly at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington D.C. And it "has been admired, fought over, inspected, mounted, studied, transported, and treated by a century’s worth of museum professionals." That is a quote from our guest’s book, The Nine Lives of Florida’s Famous Key Marco Cat.

Austin J. Bell is curator of collections for the Marco Island Historical Society, and consulting scholar at the Penn Museum. He joins us to talk about the Cat and its influence on the world around it — including him — as well as a Deer Figurehead that was discovered during that same expedition back in 1896 that is now on display alongside the Cat figurine at the Marco Island Historical Museum (MIHM).

The Key Marco Cat, on loan to the MIHM from the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History, is on exhibit at MIHM now through April 2026.

The Key Marco Deer, on loan from the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology (Penn Museum), is on exhibit now until June 2024.

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