TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — After cultural heritage sites in Florida were damaged by Hurricane Ian, the National Science Foundation has awarded emergency funding to archaeologists at three universities to study the damage and perform risk assessments.

Hurricane Ian, according to a release from the Florida Museum, damaged roughly 20 square miles around Pine Island Sound and Estero Bay. Those areas were “ground zero” during the storm.

The funds awarded will be used by researchers from Florida Museum of Natural History, Pennsylvania State University, and the University of Georgia to create maps of the damage, generate high-resolution maps, and carry out site surveys for the damaged zone.

Ian’s landfall hit with 150 mph winds, “pummeling” the coast along Fort Myers, with storm surge as high as 18 feet. Water flowed over banks and “contributed to widespread flooding” in the area around Caloosahatchee River and causing an estimated $67 billion in insured damages, according to the museum’s release.

The area was a historic home to the Calusa, residents in South Florida more than 1,000 years ago, described by Florida Museum as a cultural hub in the past.

“By the 16th century, the Calusa were arguably one of the most politically complex non-agrarian societies in North America, and they were remarkable for their resilience in the face of European colonialism,” Michelle LeFebvre, Florida Museum curator of South Florida archaeology and ethnography and the principal investigator on the collaborative grant, said.

According to the researchers who will be undertaking the assessments thanks to the grant awards, the Calusa people built or altered many of the region’s features, including large mounds, canals, and fish corrals.

The group conducting research on the storm’s damage said it’s likely Hurricane Ian may have destroyed parts of these structures.

“These sites are some of the most well-preserved examples of Indigenous architecture in the southeastern United States and promote a lot of community outreach in terms of archaeological research and public education,” Isabelle Holland-Lulewicz, an assistant professor of anthropology at Penn State and grant collaborator, said.

Sites on Pine Island, including the Pineland Archaeological District, will be included in areas for study, as well as 67 acres of preserved Calusa shell mounds, middens, and parts of a canal system in the Florida Museum’s Randell Research Center. The Calusa Heritage Trail is also included, and was reported to have received “significant damage” from the hurricane.

“A primary focus of our survey work at the Randell Research Center and other Calusa sites will be to help support the hurricane recovery efforts of the communities that rely on and love these remarkable places,” LeFebvre said.

LeFebvre, Holland-Lulewiz, and Nicolas Gauthier of the University of Florida will work on studying the damage and performing risk assessments to the cultural sites hit by Hurricane Ian.