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Ortona Archeological Site

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

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.

The Architecture of Fort Center Archaeological Site

The Fort Center Mounds archaeological site was the first ancient Native American community near Lake Okeechobee to be studied thoroughly by contemporary, professional archaeologists. It was the last major archaeological project for Archaeologist, William Sears. ((Memorial for William Hulse Sears (1909-1996) Society for American Archaeology.)) For at least two decades, many of Sears’ peers dismissed his interpretation of the site as being “off the wall” and considered him a kook. However, in recent decades work by other archeologists have confirmed his interpretation and pushed back the occupation of Fort Center even further.

One of the most unusual examples of Native American architecture ever created was a mortuary complex at Fort Center, constructed around 200 AD. From the complexity and uniqueness of the complex, it is clear that it was “designed” and built according to the plans. The temple compound included a chevron-shaped earthen berm with rounded ends, a terrace for elite residences, a pond, a “sacred garden” for growing corn, a wooden platform for funerals, a conical mound veneered with shells imported from the coast, and a mortuary temple for cremating human remains.

Fort Center Archaeological Site

Fort Center was a large ceremonial complex on Fisheating Creek in the northern edge of Glades County, FL that was constructed during the Belle Glade Culture.1 The visible earthworks occupy an area that is about 1 mile long and ½ mile wide. Fort Center is currently believed to be the oldest center of Belle Glade Culture.2 However, with so many town and ceremonial sites around Lake Okeechobee being unknown or unstudied, this statement cannot be made with certainty. The site received its name from a small fort erected during the Seminole Wars, which was named after Lt. J. P. Center, who was killed in a battle with the Seminoles.3 Early settlers thought that the Native American earthworks were the ruins of the fort. Archaeologist Robert Sears established his professional reputation in the late 1940s with the continuation of excavations at Kolomoki Mounds in deep, southwestern Georgia.4 The interpretation of the site that gave him national professional credibility turned out to be totally wrong. He placed the construction of Kolomoki in the period after Cahokia Mounds was abandoned (post-1300 AD) which confirmed the belief of Northern archaeologists that Cahokia was the first ceremonial mound center. Later in his life, Sears realized that Kolomoki preceded Cahokia by 800 years. This accurate interpretation of radiocarbon data brought him ostracism from many of the most powerful anthropology professors – living north of the Mason-Dixon Line. Much of the last years of Sears’ exceptional archaeological career were spent at the Fort Center site near Lake Okeechobee, during the late 20th century.5 His interpretation of the artifacts and architectural evidence discovered were in such stark...

Belle Glade Culture of Lake Okeechobee

Archaeological terminology gets confusing to laymen as we move closer to the present. Archaeologists have placed the label of Glades Culture for South Florida, except around Lake Okeechobee, where it is now labeled the Belle Glade Culture.1 Originally, the Belle Glade Culture was divided into three periods by archaeologist Gordon Wiley. They were Transitional (1000 BC- 500 BC,) Belle Glade I (500 BC-1000 AD) Belle and Belle Glade II (1000 AD-1700 AD.) More commonly accepted now by Florida archaeologists is the labeling suggested by archaeologist, William Sears. It contains four intervals: Belle Glade I (1000 BC -200 AD,) Belle Glade II (200 AD-700 AD,) Belle Glade III (700 AD-1300 AD) and Belle Glade IV (1300 AD -1700 AD.)2 Archaeologists working at the Ortona site modified Sears’ intervals to more close match the apogee and abandonment of towns around Lake Okeechobee.3 There are five periods. The end of Belle Glade III was moved to 900 AD and the end of Belle Glade IV was moved to 1150 AD. Belle Glade V lasted from 1150 AD to 1700 AD. Although not as well recognized by Florida archaeologists, this last system more closely matches paradigms in South Florida, especially as they are related to Ocmulgee Mounds in Georgia. Cultural time periods in Lake Okeechobee Basin, assumed by this series Belle Glade I Period – (1000 BC-500 BC) Belle Glade II Period – (500 BC – 200 AD) Belle Glade III Period – 200 AD – 900 AD) Belle Glade IV Period – (900 AD – 1150 AD) Belle Glade V Period – (1150 AD – 1700 AD) The most unusual aspect of...

The Archaic Period of Lake Okeechobee

Archaeologists define the Archaic Period in southern Florida as lasting from around 7500 BC to around 500 BC.1 During the first half of this period, there were (in geological time) rapid environmental changes in the Florida Peninsula. In the latter half of this period, there were rapid cultural changes in Southeastern North America, but it is not known at the present time how completely those changes were manifested in southern Florida. A cultural connection between the Lake Okeechobee Basin and northeast Georgia remains little known, both inside and outside the archaeology profession. The Younger Dryas Stadial was a (1,300 ± period of cold climatic conditions and drought which occurred between approximately 10,800 and 9,500 years BC.2 Climatologists believe that the Gulf Stream shut down during this period. This could have potentially caused stark environmental changes in the Florida Peninsula, since heat energy would have not been transported across the Atlantic Ocean to Europe. Between 11,000 and 7,000 BC there was widespread extinction of large mammals in North America. Notable extinctions in Florida during this period included the American Mastodon, Florida Speckled Bear and Giant Sloth.3 No evidence has been found of mastodons living in South Florida. There were no natural barriers between southern and northern Florida, which would have blocked migration, but the southern part of the peninsula may have lacked suitable vegetation for the mastodon diet. Early Archaic Period (8000 BC to 6000 BC) During this period, ocean levels rose dramatically, due to the melting of the North American glacial sheet.4 This resulted in both the land area declining rapidly and water tables rising in the remaining landscape....

Early Human’s Presence around Lake Okeechobee

Anthropologists believe that mankind has lived somewhere in southern Florida for at least 12,000 years. Its sub-tropical climate, abundance of water and fertile peat soils produces a diverse range of animal and vegetative food sources for humans year round. However, to date no Paleo-American artifacts have been discovered in or along the shores of the lake. Such evidences of the past are probably buried deep under the peat in scattered locations. They have been found in abundance about 88 miles (110 km) to the northwest in two natural springs near Sarasota, FL.

Lake Okeechobee Geology

Okeechobee is the Anglicization of the Itsate Creek (Miccosukee) words Oka chopi, which mean “Water Big.” Its aboriginal inhabitants called the lake either Maya-imi, which apparently means “Maya Water or Mayakaa, which means Maya People in several northern South American tongues. The Spanish called it Laguna de Mayaco or on some maps Laguna de Espiritu Santo. However, that name more typically applied to the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee River. In 1821, when Florida was ceded to the United States, the earliest English language maps generally retained the Mayaco name, but some called it Macaco.

Wiyot Tribe

A small tribe, whose name Powell adopted for the Wishoskan linguistic family, on the coast of North California about Humboldt Bay. The word seems to be a misapplication of their own name for their Athapascan neighbors, Wishashk. Wiyot, which has sometimes been used as an equivalent, is therefore probably a better term than Wishosk, though not entirely exact.

Plans for the Colonization and Defense of Apalache, 1675

Florida June 15, 1675 To His Majesty D. Pablo de Yta Salazar1 hereby renders account of the investigation made in regard to the most suitable places in these Provinces for settlement by Spanish families. All are agreed that the town of Apalache2 and the surrounding territory is best because of the great fertility of the soil. If the settlers be farmers the crops will be abundant on account of the richness of the land, as may be seen by the wheat which the friars3 sow for their sustenance. Pablo de Yta Salazar gives in detail the immense advantages of sending these families not only to Apalache but to the other provinces. They will serve as a check to the enemy English and French who have settled on the bay of Mexico and are trying to advance into this territory because of the rumor of its great fertility. A declaration of this has been made by an adjutant of that garrison who came from Apalache and brought testimony. Moreover it is suggested that these families and the necessary supplies could be brought with very little cost from the provinces of Canaria4 by chartering a ship which would go directly to those provinces, stopping only at Habana. This stop would serve to familiarize these settlers with the culture of cotton and indigo, for if there be no one who understands the matter, little progress would be made. My Lady: Having inquired into and investigated the most suitable places in these provinces to make a settlement of Spanish families, by reason of the interest displayed by Your Majesty in former years and...

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