"95% of Florida's past occurred before Europeans came to the area." - "Native American Heritage Trail", a publication by the Florida Division of Historical Resources.
Drawing of the Indian mound near Fort Taylor (20th century). Courtesy of Florida Memory.
November is Native American Heritage Month, a time to remember and honor the rich history and culture of Indigenous people in the United States.
Native Americans inhabited Florida for millennia before the arrival of Europeans. Tribes such as the Pensacola, Timucua, Calusa, Ocale and others arrived in the area at least 12,000 years ago and developed sophisticated civilizations and intricate exchange and trade networks all over the state – in fact, the "Native American Heritage Trail" said the majority of Florida roads before the 20th century were constructed by Indigenous populations. According to the publication, "95% of Florida's past occurred before Europeans came to the area."
To honor Native American history and heritage, we decided to feature a few archaeological highlights that illustrate glimpses of Florida's ancient past. If you have the time, you should absolutely visit these amazing sites!
Painting of Lake Jackson Mounds (20th century). Courtesy of Florida Memory.
Though decimated by contagious disease, war and displacement by European settlers and the United States government, the original inhabitants of Florida left archaeological treasures all over the state, including pottery, tools made from shell, bone, wood and stone, dugout canoes and other artifacts as testaments to their culture and heritage. Perhaps most impressive of all, ancient Floridians constructed dirt and shell mounds across the state to serve as burial grounds, temples, platforms for public buildings; others were markers of territory, foundations for officials' houses, memorials or pinnacles where people could communicate with spirits.
Indigenous populations continuously inhabited the area around Little Salt Spring in Sarasota County 12,000 to 5,000 years ago and left a treasure trove of organic material in the springs depths. Due to unique environmental conditions, sunken organic material from plants, animals and even people has survived, including a turtle pierced by an ancient hunter's wooden stake.
Windover Pond, near Titusville in Brevard County, captures a unique point in time when Native Floridians began burying their dead in wetlands. Similar to the peat burials of Northern Europe, the wetlands have preserved wood, bone and even human remains, including brain material, from burials conducted 8,000 years ago.
Adams, Samuel P. Idol found in mound on the Wacissa River
1936). Courtesy of Florida Memory.
Rising to 46 feet in height, the Letchworth-Love Mounds in Tallahassee contain the tallest Native American ceremonial mound in the state, built 1,200-800 years ago by the Weeden Island Culture. The Hontoon Island State Park and Turtle Mound in Volusia County, dating up to 2,000 years ago, feature shell midden mounds and animal effigies made of wood, while the Lake Jackson Mounds Archaeological Park contains six temple mounds constructed by the Southeastern Ceremonial Complex culture.
These sites represent only a tiny fraction of the rich archaeological record left behind by Florida's first inhabitants. There's so much to see and to learn!
Discover Florida's ancient Native American past as well as the more recent history of the Seminole and Miccosukee tribes and other Native Americans that migrated to the state with the Florida Department of State's Division of Historical Resources publications Native American Heritage Trail and Seminole War Heritage Trail.