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Crystal River Archaeological Zone – Citrus County, Florida

The 61.55 acre Crystal River Archaeological Zone (8CL1) is located on the Crystal River within the Crystal River Preserve State Park. It is a National Historic Landmark and contains at least six mounds. This important Native American occupation site is located on the Central Gulf Coast of the Florida Peninsula, about 92 miles north of the mouth of Tampa Bay and 20 miles south of the mouth of the Suwannee River. It is possible to canoe on the Suwannee River to the Okefenokee Swamp in Georgia then on the St. Marys River to the Atlantic Ocean. This was a major trade route in pre-European times. The entrance to the park is about two miles northwest of the town of Chrystal River, off of US 19/98.

Pineland Archaeological District – Lee County, Florida

The 211 acre Pineland Archeological District was listed as a historic district on the National Register of Historic Places on November 27, 1973. It is located on Pine Island within the Pine Island Sound in Lee County, Florida. The archaeological zone is adjacent to Pine Island Sound. Pineland Archaeological District contains medium-to-large sized shell and sand mounds, pre-European canals, earthen platforms, artificial ponds and effigies created from sandy soil. Many small mounds and occupation sites were destroyed by real estate development during the past 150 years.

The Native American History of Florida’s Lake Okeechobee Basin

The Lake Okeechobee region contained some of the most sophisticated indigenous cultures that ever existed north of Mexico. Its towns built large earthworks and ponds in the shape of the ceremonial scepters carried by leaders in the Southeastern Ceremonial Mound Culture, but they were built several centuries before the Southeastern Ceremonial Mound Culture appeared elsewhere. Its engineers constructed several hundred miles of canals and raised causeways to interconnect the towns. They even built locks to enable cargo canoes to bypass rapids. Yet despite all this cultural precociousness, so far there is no evidence that the people of South Florida ever practiced large scale agriculture. However, intensive cultivation of raised garden beds in a semi-tropical climate, also a practice of the Mayas, may have produced a far higher percentage of their diet than anthropologists currently presume.

Mayaimi People

The Mayaimi People lived around Lake Okeechobee from at least 300 BC to until around 1700 AD.1 Their ancestors probably lived in the region as early as 1000 BC, because some village sites show continual cultural development from that era forward. The Mayaimi were the progenitors of the Glades Culture. During the period from around 200 AD to 1150 AD, the ancestors of the Mayaimi lived in a sophisticated society of many towns that were interconnected by canals and raised causeways.2 They built ceremonials mounds, complex earthworks, ball courts, ornamental ponds and earthen effigies. Almost all the symbols associated with the Mississippian Culture between 900 AD and 1600 AD, could be found in Mayaimi towns as early as 500 AD or earlier. The canoes of the Mayaimi were identical in shape to those of the Mayas and quite different from the dugout canoes of advanced indigenous peoples farther north. The Mayaimi civilization collapsed around 1150 AD at the same time that the acropolis of Ocmulgee, 600 miles to the north was abandoned. There apparently was a connection between these two cultural collapses, but it has not been identified at the present time. Traditional folklore is that Maya-imi means “Big Water,” which is also the translation of the Itsate Creek word for Lake Okeechobee.3 North of Lake Okeechobee lived the Maya-koa (Mayaca in Spanish,) whose name in hybrid indigenous-Arawak meant “Maya People.” Most of the peoples that we now call Maya did not call themselves Maya.4 It was a province in the northern end of the Yucatan Peninsula. In 1502, Bartolomé Colon, the brother of Cristobal Colon, and Cristobal’s son,...

Tekesta People

The Tekesta were an indigenous maritime people, whose primary villages were near the mouths of rivers along the Atlantic Coast of what are now Miami-Dade, Broward and southern Palm Beach Counties.1 At certain periods in the past, they also occupied the Florida Keys, but Calusa artifacts outnumber those of Tekesta in Florida Key archaeological sites, 4:1. This suggests that most of the time, the Keys were occupied by people related to the Calusa. The Tekesta were closely allied to their immediate neighbors to the north, the Jaega. Tekesta is also written in its Spanish form of Tequesta. The Castilian alphabet was based on the Roman alphabet and did not use a letter K.2 Today, contemporary Spanish writers only use a K to spell foreign words. Little is known about the language of the Tekesta People. Few words survive. The meaning of the word, Tekesta is unknown. Since Spaniards typically changes Southeastern indigenous “te(” sounds to “ta(”, their actual name probably was Tekeste – utilizing the Itza suffix. “te” for “people.” There is a continuous development of indigenous ceramic styles in southeastern Florida from around 700 BC to 1600 AD.3 Archaeologists have interpreted this to mean that the Tekesta arrived in the region around 700 BC. That may or may not be true. Pottery was generally made by females. Males from another culture could have conquered the region at some time in the past, killed the indigenous males and taken the indigenous females as wives and concubines. The Tekesta were not agriculturalists and did not reside in permanent year-round villages. They migrated seasonally to take advantage of available natural food...

The Miami Circle

The Miami Circle was discovered in 1998 during excavation for the construction of a luxury condominium at Brickell Point in Downtown Miami near the Miami River and Biscayne Bay.1 The developer, Michael Baumann, tore down an existing apartment complex in 1998. Prior to initiating construction of the new tower, he was required to retain archaeologists to carry out a brief field survey the site by the city’s historic preservation ordinance. However, Baumann did not do this until pressured by the Miami-Dade Historic Preservation Division Director, Bob Carr, pressured him to do so. The survey was actually carried out by municipal employees, volunteers and members of the Archaeological & Historical Conservancy. Afterward, the 2.2 acre site was designated Miami Midden No. 2 or 8DA1212.2 During what was intended to be a brief survey consisting of random post hole size pits, a volunteer came upon an ancient hole cut into the soft Oolithic limestone bedrock that was rectangular and about two feet deep.3 More holes were discovered after Carr directed further exploration. A pattern appeared. A surveyor, Ted Riggs, suspected that the team had found a circular pattern, 38 feet (12 m) in diameter. He did this by calculating the center associated with the uncovered holes. Using CADD, he then projected the probable locations of the other holes. Excavation soon revealed that there were 24 holes forming a perfect circle. The structure is currently estimated to have been built at some time between 0 AD and 300 AD.4 This estimate is based on radiocarbon dating of decomposed wood particles found inside several of the holes in the limestone. Opponents of this...

The Calusa People

During the 1500s and early 1600s, when Spanish explorers were first making contact with the indigenous inhabitants of the Florida, they made contact with a powerful nation on the southwest coast between Charlotte Harbor and Cape Sable.1 The first contact was made in 1513 by Juan Ponce de Leon, when he landed at the mouth of the Caloosahatchee River in southwest Florida. His landing boats were attacked by Calusa war canoes, lined with round shields. Ponce de Leon’s description of the canoes was identical to murals of Chontal Maya war canoes in the Yucatan Peninsula. The region where most of its towns lay was in present day Charlotte and Lee Counties.2 Calusa village sites can be found along the western half of the Caloosahatchee River. Various Spanish accounts called them either Calus, Calius, Caalius or Carlos. Hernando de Escalante Fontaneda, a Spaniard held captive by the Calusa in the 16th century, recorded that Calusa meant fierce people in their language. This may or may not be true. Kalos is the Muskogean root word for “star.”3 At the time of contact with Europeans, the Calusas had a rigid, hierarchal society.4 All power was held by the king, village chiefs, war chiefs and priests. Typically, all of the leaders were close relatives of the king. Leadership was based on descent from ancient founders of their society. Those not descended from the founding oligarchy were all commoners. This suggests that at some time in the distant past, outsiders from a more advanced culture had arrived in the region and set themselves up as the elite. The power of the elite seems to...

Big Gopher and Boynton Mound Complexes

The immensely rich archaeological heritage of South Florida is little known outside the southern tip of the Florida Peninsula. Perhaps least known are the large town sites east of Lake Okeechobee. Several have been studied by professional archaeologists and the large town sites are all now protected by some form of public ownership. The 143 acre Big Mound City and 12 acre Big Gopher Archaeological Zones are located in central Palm Beach County, Florida.1 They are ten miles east of Canal Point, in the J.W. Corbett Wildlife Management Area. Nearby Big Gopher is one of the best-preserved earthwork sites in the Lake Okeechobee Basin and consists of linear ridges, crescents, mounds, and middens. Much of Palm Beach County was thinly occupied by the Jaega People, when the region was first visited by the Spanish in the late 1500s and early 1600s.2 In English, this ethnic name would be written Haega. They were linguistically related to the fierce Ais People living to the north. The Jaega were hunters, fishermen and gatherers.3 They produced relatively little pottery and lived in simple huts, woven from saplings and palmetto leaves. They foraged for Live Oak acorns, coco plums, sea grapes, palm berries, edible roots, and possibly cultivated a small sweet pumpkin called the Calusa or Calabaza Squash. The Jaega drank a tea, brewed from the cassina plant (Yaupon holly) which contains about four times the caffeine of most coffee beans. This is a custom that they shared with many tribes in the Lower Southeast and with the Upper Amazon Basin. Some contemporary archaeologists have credited the ancestors of the Jaega with building the...

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 ancestors of the Mayaimi. Even though its earthworks are about 1000 to 1500 years older than those of Fort Center, the architecture was extremely similar. Its final phase of occupation was probably by an ethnic group either related to the Tekesta or Mayaimi, but under the political domination of the Calusa. This large archaeological zone is located on a geographical boundary, where the Everglades portion of the Lake Okeechobee Basin meets the Pinewood Flats.2 It has been theorized that the location was either a convenient place for ceremonial activities or trading, perhaps both activities. The environs of this ceremonial site were flooded at least six months out of the year. The earthworks would have raised any temples or houses above the floodwaters. This is also an architectural trait of several cultures in the Upper Amazon Basin of Brazil and Peru. The similarity may be evidence of a cultural connection or mere coincidence. What really makes Big Mound City stand out among large town sites in the Southeastern United States are the paired earth berms that connect conical mounds of various sizes to a central crescent shaped causeway that even today is nine feet high and nine feet wide across the top. The earth berms form radians that seem to have astronomical functions, but to...

Muspa Culture, Key Marco and other Platform Villages

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 the Muspa. The Muspa or Thousand Islands Culture in recent years has been considered a division of the Lake Okeechobee-Glades Culture.1 The oldest cluster of shell mounds, on what was formerly called Horr’s Island, date as far back as 4700 BC.2 Another mound there contains some of the oldest known mound burials (1400 BC) in North America. Horr’s Island was renamed Key Marco by real estate developers, but is not the same Key Marco where a platform village was found. It is located south of Marco Island in Collier County, FL. Most of the archaeological in the northern portion of the Thousand Islands have been long lost to real estate development. The few sites that have been excavated professionally yielded exquisite wood and shell art. To date, there is has been no explanation why the location became the earliest known location in North America for ceremonial mounds, permanent villages and burial mounds. Key Marco platform village Key Marco was a small island adjacent to Marco Island.3 In the 20th century, the two islands were physically linked together. Later Horr’s Island was purchased by real estate developers and renamed Key Marco. This causes great confusion, so this article will continue to call Key Marco and Horr’s Island by their original names. Both Marco Island and...
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