Native American


Big Mound City Archaeological Zone

Site Plan of Big Mound City archaeological zone

Big Mound City is the only site from the Belle Glade culture on the National Register of Historic Places.1 It was added in 1973 as an example of a Calusa ceremonial complex, but is now understood to have originally been constructed by the same ethnic group that built the Ortona and Wakate towns – probably



Muspa Culture, Key Marco and other Platform Villages

Key Marco

A cluster of islands on the Gulf Coast of Florida, immediately south of Naples, FL and southwest of Lake Okeechobee once held numerous mounds and town sites. Know as the Ten Thousand Islands Region, it contains the villages and mounds of an unidentified Archaic Period people, the Muspa Culture and the Calusa People, who absorbed



Wakate – Guacata Town

Wakata temples

Around the year 900 AD, the provinces of the Calusa, Mayaimi and Tekesta in southern Florida merged into one political entity that was the scale of a nation.1 Almost immediately, the same styles of pottery were being produced in all three provinces, and the Mayaimi town of Wakate (Guacata in Castilian) began to grow rapidly.



The Chontal Maya or Putun Maya

A vector image of a Chontal Maya seacraft

The presence of crescent shaped temple mounds in the Florida Peninsula strongly suggests cultural contacts with Maya ethnic groups, who worshiped the goddess, Ixchel. Very few Florida archaeologists have been willing to suggest publicly that Florida, Mesoamerica and South America had direct cultural contacts. Those who did, were all ostracized by their peers. However, the linguistic and architectural evidence is overwhelming for contacts between illiterate Maya merchants and the indigenous peoples in Georgia – which is north of Florida.



Maya Cultural Traditions at the Ortona Archaeological Zone

Ortona Sceptor Pond

One of the several arguments that Southeastern archaeologists have used to dismiss a direct cultural connection between the Southeastern United States and Mesoamerica is that architecture of the respective regions was different. The architecture of the largest and most sophisticated Maya cities WAS more sophisticated and larger scaled than in towns in the Southeast, but the same architectural elements could be found in both regions. The Mesoamerican pyramids were really earthen mounds veneered with stone in some civilizations, left as clay stuccoed mounds in others.



Use Of Tobacco Among North American Indians

Pawnee Priests Making a Smoke Offering

Tobacco has been one of the most important gifts from the New World to the Old. In spite of the attempts of various authors to prove its Old World origin there can be no doubt that it was introduced into both Europe and Africa from America. Most species of Nicotiana are native to the New World, and there are only a few species which are undoubtedly extra- American. The custom of smoking is also characteristic of America. It was thoroughly established throughout eastern North and South America at the time of the discovery; and the early explorers, from Columbus on, speak of it as a strange and novel practice which they often find it hard to describe. It played an important part in many religious ceremonies, and the beliefs and observances connected with it are in themselves proof of its antiquity. Hundreds of pipes have been found in the pre-Columbian mounds and village sites of the eastern United States and, although these remains cannot be dated, some of them must be of considerable age. In the southwestern United States the Basket Makers, an ancient people whose remains are found below those of the prehistoric Cliff Dwellers, were smoking pipes at a time which could not have been much later than the beginning of our era.



Mississippian Symbolism at the Ortona Archaeological Site

Ortona Sceptor Mound

Archaeologists working at the Ortona site in the late 1990s and early 2000s were astounded to find “landscaping” in the shape of the scepters carried by the Maya elite in the Yucatan Peninsula. Both a mound and a ceremonial pond were over 100 yards/meters long. The discovery has great significance for the understanding of how cultural ideas traveled around the Caribbean Basin and North America, prior to the arrival of European explorers.



The Urban Development Pattern of Ortona Archaeology Site

Ortona Archeological Site Map

In the early 2000’s, the Ortona site was studied by archaeologists from several southern Florida universities under the direction of Archaeologist Bob Carr, Executive Director of the Archaeological and Historical Conservancy, Inc.1 The Ortona Archaeological Zone received a flurry of publicity from articles in several major newspapers around the United States. It was designated a



Ortona Archeological Site

Ortona Core

Ortona is an enormous 500 acre+ town site and ceremonial complex, located on the Caloosahatchee River, west of Lake Okeechobee in southern Florida. It is located on the southern edge of Glades County. The modern name for the site is Italian and was given by early real estate speculators. Archaeologists currently do not know what the citizens of this community called it.

Ortona’s primary period of occupation was 300 AD- 150 AD, but (probably) Calusa People continued to occupy the site up until the 1600s. The period of greatest growth was between 500 AD – 800 AD, after which Wakata (to the east) became the dominant town of the densely populated Lake Okeechobee Basin. Ortona contains mounds and earthworks in forms that predate by 300-500 years similar architecture elsewhere.



Ancient Lake Okeechobee Regional Transportation System

Ancient Okeechobee Canal

North Americans just don’t usually think of their indigenous peoples as having sophisticated, regional societies, public works or long distance trade. Perhaps the Hollywood portrayals of Plains Indians has created too much of a stereotype. Mexicans and Central Americans, of course, take pride in their pre-European heritages. They are not surprised when they hear that the Mayas built some canals or that the Purepeche interlaced Michoacan with roads.

Archaeologists currently believe that the indigenous peoples of Florida did not have beasts of burden. Several types of dogs were kept for hunting, companionship or meat, but no evidence of them pulling loads has been found to date. There were no horses or oxen in Florida from the end of the Ice Age until the arrival of Spanish colonists in the late 1500s. As yet, no evidence has been found that manatees or dolphins pulled canoes. That left two options for transportation of bulk goods, canoes or human porters.



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