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Pineland Mounds, the original Tampa

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At the FAS conference, I took the optional Sunday trip to the Randell Research Center on Pine Island, Pineland. This mound complex was the second largest Calusa mound city in southwest Florida. (First place is apparently Mound Key.)

Below: the front of the brochure for Pineland/Randell Research Center.



This site has over 2,000 years of occupation, until the mid-1700s.

Some of the mounds remain, as well as canals built by the Calusa.

And interesting thing about the site is that not only can you see the Calusa living in cooperation with nature and taking the bounty of the estuary, but also that the mound complex changed the shape of the island. Over time, the extensive Calusa earthworks caused the north side of the island to bow out, like what a jetty will do to the beach on one side.

Below: Calusa living off the abundance of the estuary.



The most interesting aspect of the layers of time that the archaeologists have excavated is that they show dramatic climate change. In an area where elevation differs by only a few inches, a slight change in climate can lead to a dramatic effect on the land and food source available.

The first settlers on Pineland settled on a beach much further back than the beach today. They fished and collected shell fish for food.

About 300 AD, a devastating hurricane hit the island. Archaeologists can tell this by a gray layer of undisturbed sand that indicates the storm surge. Shells are arranged in a line or specific direction, as washed there by the surge. Bones of dolphins, pelicans, and monk seals were also found. (The seals are now extinct.)

Below: the aftermath of a devastating storm on Pine Island. Possibly a hurricane at least as strong as Hurricane Charley in 2004; maybe stronger.



Around 1,500 years ago, the climate cooled. Storms were less frequent, but the water level fell, reducing the number of nearby available fish. Much of the food at the cooler period consisted of migrating ducks.

About 600 AD the climate warmed up, and there is a layer of crown conch shells. This indicated that the area warmed up, the sea levels rose, and larger shellfish became a major food source.

Climate change again happened somewhere between 1280-1300 AD. One of these cooler periods was started by a large eruption of series of volcanoes around what is now Indonesia, and spread ash all over the tropics and sub-tropic zone. This started a mini-ice age and there was a year with no summer and was very dark. This started the dark ages in Europe and is well documented. This cooler period would last almost 600 years. So the archaeology at Pineland shows very conclusive evidence of climate change, and it is often sudden and violent.

Now as I mentioned in my previous blog, all the mound islands in the Ten Thousand Islands were abandoned about 1280 to 1300 AD. This may have been because a drastic change in climate which caused sea levels to lower, or the food source disappeared, causing the mound complexes in the islands to be abandoned.

But the people on Pineland endured. When the Spanish arrived, they found a thriving town with a large population. The name of the town was Tampa, and a mistake by the map makers misidentified the wrong bay. Instead of Tampa on the southwest coast, they identified Tampa in a large bay 100 miles to the north, which is the modern Tampa and Tampa Bay. The Spanish were never able to convert or conquer the Calusa in Florida, and their maps identify southwest Florida as the “Bay of Infidels.”

Below: Calusa rulers in their absolute glory.



What the Spanish found was a large society with a ruling hierarchy and complex spiritual beliefs. They would probably be on par with the Mayans or Aztecs. But since we Florida does not have much building stone available, they would build with earth and wood. Some of the mounds had either large dwelling lodges, or a series of lodges. A large mound in the middle seems to have been the home of the ruling class and priest class. Another mound, known as the Brown Mound, has revealed a lot of unusual objects, so the function seems primarily ceremonial. Red ochre and paints were found here. Also was a piece of lead that originated in southeast Missouri. Several artifacts indicate that this town was part of a large trade network.

Below: Possible activities in the Brown Mound. The Calusa were known to paint their bodies.



Unfortunately we will never know the Calusa in all their glory. Spanish records are not very reliable, because the priests were not very concerned with an anthropological study of Calusa society. Archaeological artifacts reveal themselves reluctantly. If there are any remnants of the Calusa among the Seminole and Miccosukee, they were assimilated into the large Creek culture of the newer tribes.

Below: daily life on Pine Island.



Why are the Calusa gone? It seems that one big reason is not so much disease as once thought, but slave raids from English allied Creeks and Yamassee Indians in the early 1700s. By 1763, the last large population of several hundred Calusa left with the Spanish, and were baptized and given Catholic names near Havana.

Below: Creek Indians conduct slave raids among the Calusa.



Below: the reverse of the brochure for Pine Island.

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