As you may know, the “Mound” we stand on at Mound House is made up of thousands upon thousands of shells, brought here over a span of hundreds of years by the Calusa, who used these shells for food, tools and ultimately, building material for the mound. And if you have ever been to a Mound House educational program, group tour, or even the Mound House festival display table, then you know that touch tanks holding the living examples of these shells and other marine life give a “hands on” experience to educate our students and visitors. In order to provide that experience, fish, crabs, conchs, whelks, clams, pen shells, oysters, hermit crabs, ark shells, cockles, horseshoe crabs and other creatures are harvested under a collectors permit and kept on site in special holding pens where they live and grow. Some specimens, such as fish or crabs are collected beforehand and released shortly after display, but other specimens such as mature lighting whelks and conchs, or clams, may be kept indefinitely since they are able to thrive in a back bay holding pen.
As an added benefit, long term data is now being collected by Mound House staff that provides information as to the seasonal availability and abundance of various sea creatures in our back bay and on our beaches. We know that storms, or changes in water temperature or salinity, as well as the life cycles of various species have always influenced their abundance in our waters and this may be evident in the archaeological record. Furthermore, our holding pens can help provide basic information about the feasibility of aquaculture that may have been used by the Calusa to harvest some species in times of abundance, and saving them in their own “holding pens” for future use.
- story written by Parke Lewis