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Wakate – Guacata Town

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. This archaeological zone is also known as Belle Glade Mounds. It is located in Palm Beach County, Florida. The location of Wakate was at the base of a peninsula that extended into the southeast corner of Lake Okeechobee. Canoes departing from Wakate could access all sections of the lake, plus traverse the extensive canal system in southern Florida. The Belle Glade Mound, which was excavated in the 1930s and gave its name to the Belle Glade Culture is on the southeastern end of the Wakate archaeological zone, west of the town of Belle Glade. At this same time that Wakate rose to prominence, a trading village was founded 450 miles to the north on a terrace overlooking the Ocmulgee River in what is now Macon, GA.2 That place is now called Ocmulgee National Monument. Over the following 250 years the trading village would grow to a megapolis of at least seven neighborhoods and 25 more satellite towns and villages. Creek Indian tradition is that the trading on the Ocmulgee was called Waka-te or Waka. The “te” is the Itza Maya suffix for “people or tribe.” During the 1700s and early 1800s, Waka was the name of a Creek town on the Chattahoochee River in Georgia.3 Many of the Chattahoochee River towns had formerly been...

The Chontal Maya or Putun Maya

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

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.

Mississippian Symbolism at the Ortona Archaeological Site

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

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 county park then promptly forgotten by most members of the archaeological profession.2 The park is open to the public, but is poorly maintained and contains very little information that would enable the public to understand the site. The park’s sandy trails are most typically used by recreational hikers and bicyclists. Ortona’s primary period of occupation was between 300 AD and 1150 AD, but (probably) Calusa People continued to occupy the site up until the 1600s.3 The period of greatest growth was between 550 AD and 800 AD. This is exactly the period when Classic Period Maya city states to the south exploded with population.4 This time of prosperity has been linked to ideal climatic conditions for agriculture in that region of the world. The Calusahatchee River is a large river that flows about a hundred miles from Lake Okeechobee to the Gulf of Mexico near Fort Myers. Early wooden dugout canoes were used in Florida to travel the Everglades, plus the many lakes of the region and along rivers. A canoe would travel on a river to Lake Okeechobee. From the lake one could select another stream or canal to continue a journey.5 Lake Okeechobee was a natural transportation hub. Trade from the east coast could cross the lake, go west on the Calusahatchee...

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...

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