Blog Description

Mound House Happenings shares the latest in ongoing projects, site improvements, scheduled programs and events, plus interesting facts and photos on our unique archaeology, history and ecology.

Mound House

Mound House
October 15, 2013

Friday, March 16, 2012

Calusa Basics

Basic Information on the Calusa Indians

Many people come to Mound House with questions about the Calusa Indians. Brent Newman, our Education Coordinator, has prepared a quick summary of Calusa Basics. This is just a little taste of the type of people who lived on this site 2,000 years ago. For more information, stop by Mound House for a guided tour on Tuesday, Wednesday or Saturday from 10:00am to 2:00pm.

    Early Peoples

Ø  First evidence of people in what is now Florida is from 12,000 years ago, these people are often called Paleoindians
Ø  Glacial ice tied up so much of the earth’s water that our coast was up to 100 miles farther west than today, climate in Florida was much cooler and drier
Ø  Little knowledge of these early people because their sites are likely under hundreds of feet of water
Ø  By 6,000 years ago sea level had risen to modern levels although small-scale sea level rises and falls continued
Ø  By 4,000 years ago Estero Island and other small islands emerged and stabilized
Ø The Calusa society was a complex social organization including social stratification into nobility, commoners, and slaves; symbols of noble rank; royal sibling marriage; complex ceremonialism; tribute sent to Carlos by chiefs of towns under Calusa control; accumulation and redistribution of wealth; sophisticated political alliances; militarism; and extensive earthworks, including temple mounds, burial mounds, living mounds, plazas, and canals
Ø Unique that they had this complex society but did not practice agriculture
Ø May have practiced aquaculture, or the collection and intensification of marine resources such as shell fish and fish
Ø Likely had small gardens in which they grew chili peppers, papayas, and gourds
Ø Calusa resisted European attempts at colonization and conversion for over 200 years
Ø  Excavations at mound sites have revealed that these sculpted masses of shell, bone, and earth are NOT refuse piles that formed from the gradual accumulation of discarded food remains
Ø  Mounds were purposely built in stages and grew as a result of episodic mound building events, alternating layers of predominantly shell topped with earth represent building episodes, these layers, called strata, enable archaeologists to determine the timing of building events and how the shape and size of the mound changed through time
Ø  Many of the islands where the Calusa settled were actually built by them from oyster and whelk shells
Ø  When explorer and future governor of Florida Pedro Menéndez de Avilés visited the capital in 1566 (probably Mound Key) he described the chief's house as large enough to hold 2,000 people without crowding
Ø  Spanish missionaries attempted conversions on Mound Key from 1567 to 1569 and again in the fall of 1697, both failed to convert large amounts of people
Ø  At the Pineland Site, on Pine Island, shell mounds over 30 feet high still stand as do remnants of a Calusa built canal that reached 2½ miles across Pine Island, when Smithsonian archaeologist Frank Hamilton Cushing visited in 1895, he measured the canal at 30 feet wide and 6 feet deep
Ø  Despite resistance to Spanish religion and culture, the political landscape of Florida was changing, European diseases devastated the Calusa population and disrupted hereditary lines of inheritance contributing to internal conflict
Ø  Starting around 1700, Creek and Yamasee Indians pushed south into Florida enslaving and displacing indigenous tribes, many Calusa fled south to the Keys and eventually to Cuba, in 1711, some 2,000 Calusa living in the Keys desired to emigrate to Cuba and, in 1740, there was a small group of Calusa refugees living amongst Tequesta and other Timucuian speakers at the mouth of the Miami River, in 1760 the Creek attacked 60 Keys Indians (mainly Calusa) and prompted them to abandon their lands and flee to Cuba
Ø   Thus while small clusters of Calusa remained in Florida into the mid-eighteenth century, their political power disintegrated in the early 1700s

Calusa at Mound House

Ø  The Mound House site was once a village of about 200 individuals
Ø  Radiocarbon dates from across the mound layers indicate that people moved to Fort Myers Beach and began living at Mound House around 2,100 years ago (100 B.C.) while the majority of elevated mound areas were constructed 1,400 to 1,100 years ago (A.D. 600 to 900)
Ø  At its height the mound here covered 14 acres and reached 18 feet tall
Ø  The village at Mound House and other sites in Estero Bay were abandoned approximately 1,000 years ago (1000 A.D.), it appears that small, scattered villages were relocated into fewer larger sites that were more easily defended and controlled, this may have been due to expanding hierarchy among the Calusa and increased regional competition with their neighbors
Ø  Small sites like Mound House continued to be used as occasional camping or fishing sites