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, November 30, 2012

Plants in Profile #21 - Gallardia

#21 - GALLARDIA (Gallardia pulchella)

This week’s subject plant is one of the sturdiest and most reliable native wildflowers found in coastal strand habitats. Also known as “ Blanket Flower” because of its resemblance to traditional brightly colored woven Indian blankets, gallardia can be found throughout the United States. It is tolerant of acidic, or alkaline sand such the soil found here at Mound House, and has a high salt tolerance making it a hardy resident of the dune plantings at nearby Newton Park. Also very drought tolerant, the gallardia can withstand tough conditions that make other flowers wilt.  The blossoms of the gallardia are attractive to butterflies and our resident white sulphur and mangrove buckeyes can often be found gathering nectar in the flowering clusters of gallardia growing on the Mound.     

Creature Feature #21 - Calico Scallop

#21 - CALICO SCALLOP (Argopecten gibbus)

Either walking the beach at Newton Park or touring the shell wall forming the underground archaeological exhibit at Mound House, you will invariably find the colorful shells of this enigmatic little scallop. Rarely found in the shallows, calico scallops prefer deeper waters and inhabit anywhere from 30 to 1,300 feet of water all along the coast of Florida and into the Carolinas. Scallops are swimmers and mass migrations occur up and down the coast to take advantage of seasonal changes in both the Gulf and Atlantic. Genetic identification of calico scallop populations show that larval scallops from Florida take advantage of coastal currents such as the gulfstream to find their way as far north as North Carolina. Occasionally after storms, live calico scallops can be found washed ashore in great numbers. Given that calicos are a deep water species, this is perhaps how they were harvested by the Calusa and eventually became part of the Mound. Today ,calico scallops are harvested commercially by trawlers ,but this is a true “boom or bust” species with catches ranging from a few thousand to millions of pounds depending on the environmental conditions which cause population cycles to change. Scientists believe that many of the massive calico scallop beds on the seafloor are never found because of how calicos readily migrate to better conditions. Scallops are filter feeders living primarily on a diet of microbial suspensions including bacteria as well as detritus and other organic matter. Calico scallops rarely live beyond two years of age and grow to about 2 inches in size making them somewhat smaller than bay or sea scallops. In addition to frequently finding themselves as the entrĂ©e at many of our Islands’ seafood restaurants, calicos are preyed upon by starfish, octopus, squid, numerous species of fish, crabs, rays, and even sharks.

Monday, November 26, 2012


After being closed since the late 1570s, in 1699 Spain reopens “legal” trade between Cuba and Florida and contemporary historical records rather casually observe that “Glades Indians” in dugout canoes were commuting between Key West and Havana, travelling in a 24 hour crossing to conduct trade. They brought furs, plants and fish, and quite interestingly, willow cages containing live song birds such as cardinals and mockingbirds which were sold to the cigar factories and wealthy homeowners to provide musical entertainment.

Paddling at least 90 miles across the Gulf of Mexico in a dugout canoe is an amazing feat by any modern measure, that this was something done on a regular basis to conduct trade is an indicator of remarkable physical endurance and navigational skills. Of course, as a means of transportation, the canoes of the Calusa were a vital component of their culture, providing transportation and a means to conduct trade throughout south Florida and the Caribbean.              

The dugout canoes utilized by the indigenous people of South Florida were long and narrow shallow draft boats, crafted from the trunks of pine or cypress in which fire was used to burn into the trunk, sculpting out the hollow interior of the canoe which would then be finished to a smooth surface with hand tools.

As a sophisticated maritime culture with a network of over fifty villages up and down the coast of southwest Florida, the ability to travel and fish the rivers, creeks and estuaries meant life itself.
Known by their neighbors as the “fierce people”, the Calusa maintained a large and powerful warrior class that employed war canoes, enabling them to reign over a vast area and collect tribute from numerous other tribes while effectively defending their realm for over 2,000 years.  

When Ponce de Leon encountered the Calusa for the first time in 1513, he and his men were attacked in force by hundreds of warriors in large canoes which were lashed together and protected by interlocking shields. As one can easily imagine, the ability to assemble and deploy large numbers of warriors in canoes gave the Calusa a significant  tactical advantage.

Here in 2012, we can’t offer you a hand carved canoe ride through the back country creeks and bays of Matanzas Pass and we don’t deploy large numbers of warriors at a moment’s notice, but we do offer specially scheduled kayak tours and educational events as part of our program curriculum here at Mound House. Our next scheduled kayaking event will be held December 8th from 9:00-12:00. This trip will include a tour of the creeks connecting Hell Peckney Bay to Matanzas Pass and the Dog Key Calusa Mound site. This event is free of charge, but is limited to volunteers and those interested in becoming a Mound House volunteer. Call 239-765-0865 for details.     

-Parke Lewis
Environmental Educator
Town of Fort Myers Beach  

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Mound House History - Video

Former intern Lindsay Mancuso had many versatile talents - from archaeology to multimedia. While she was working at the Mound House she produced this video on the historical history of the Mound House structure. Please take a moment to view this fantastic video and take a Walk Through Time.

Due to copyright laws, the original soundtrack has changed.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Plants in Profile #20

#20 - SEA OATS (Uniola paniculata)

This weeks plants in profile specimen does not grow here on Mound House, but without the sea oat ,there may have been no Estero Island at all . Barrier islands are formed as sandbars that build up over time and become stabilized by dune vegetation. As this vegetation holds the dunes together and prevent wind and water erosion, over time, the island expands and grows landward of the dunes. The sea oat is a beautiful plant that has a very high salt tolerance. As such, it is often the first line of defense against the erosion of storms . It is out there on the dunes where very few other species can grow. Its dense root systems hold back wave action and as the breakers roll in, the root mass coils upon itself forming a natural barricade that resembles a bundled roll of twine.
The “oats” or seeds of the sea oat are not harvested by humans, but do serve as a food source for birds and wildlife. It is unlawful to pick sea oats on public property.  

Creature Feature #20

#20 - LIGHTNING WHELK (Busycon contrarium)

One of the first things Visitors to the Mound House learn is that they are standing upon millions of shells and that the Calusa ,who once inhabited this mound, used these shells not only for food ,but for tools, weapons, jewelry and ultimately, building material. So, as we tour the underground exhibit examining  the layers of shells that constitute the mound ,or study the mural, or check out the artifacts on the display shelf, we will find the lightning whelk. Lightning whelks shells from the Gulf of Mexico have been discovered in archaeological sites as far away as the great mounds in Cahokia Illinois. Large lightning whelks were carved out into elaborate drinking gourds as part of ancient religious ceremonies conducted on these mounds by Native Americans  .
Closer to home, we find lightning whelk shells dispersed like old cans of spam  within the ancient hunting middens of the Calusa  dozens of miles from the gulf, these shells were carried by hunters to serve as a quick meal when  traveling or at camp.    

 An edible species of very large predatory sea snail, as such it has  a muscular foot to crawl on ,eye stalks and a feeding tube or proboscis. The lightning whelk has a unique sinistral or “left handed” spiral  that is not found on other whelks or conchs. A large specimen may be over 15 inches in length and be over 20 years old. The lightning whelk feeds primarily on clams and other bivalves, and smaller whelks can be found just below the low tide mark on our beaches and patrolling the bayside grass flats. As a protective measure, smaller whelks will dig into the mud leaving only the sharp pointed end of their shell protruding and protecting the breathing siphon. This sharp protrusion will puncture the foot of an like The largest of our lightning whelks prefer the bayside to the beach. Using its operculum or “door”, to wedge open a bivalve, such as a quahog  clam or cockle ,the whelk extends its proboscis into  the bivalve and devours it from the inside out.  
As the water temperature dips below 78 degrees, as it does here in November, the lightning whelk will greatly reduce its activity. Likewise, they will be much harder to find on the beaches and patrolling the shallows as they spend the winter in deep water making them much harder to find this time of year.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Mound House Timeline

Historic and archaeological sites such as ours here at Mound House use timelines to give visitors a sense of “when” they are visiting. It is a common misconception among visitors and residents alike that human history here on Estero Island is relatively brief. In reality, this is a very ancient place.

Estero Island is a Barrier island. By their very nature, barrier islands form and reform, changing shape in a near constant adjustment to the unstoppable and eternal forces of nature. Like the island itself, the people who inhabit Estero Island have changed dramatically as well. In geologic terms, Estero Island is very young indeed. Our island formed only about 6,000 years ago. Emerging from the gulf after the last ice age, modern sea levels were established as we know them today.

The first people to inhabit Florida were the Paleo Indians who moved south into our state some 14,000 years ago, and going back about 4,000 years, archaic Indians with a maritime based culture  lived throughout Florida and including our region. Later, the Calusa became what archaeologists recognize as a distinct culture about 2,500 years back. Our site here at Mound House is about 2,000 years old and was essentially abandoned for over 400 years before the Spanish explorer Ponce de Leon first encountered the Calusa in 1513. Abandoned even though the capital of the Calusa kingdom was a scant 3 miles away.  At that time, there were perhaps tens of thousands of Calusa living in the region and they were at the height of their culture civilization and power.

However, by 1700 Estero Island was very nearly devoid of humans until the arrival of Cuban fishermen, some of whom used Mound Key as a seasonal fishing camp or “rancho”. This in turn ended in the 1830s as federal troops evicted the Cuban fishermen. Pioneer settlers have inhabited Estero Island since the 1870s, and traffic has gotten steadily worse ever since.

12,000 BC              : Initial human presence in Florida, the paleo  Indians
2,000-1,200 BC     : Late archaic period
500 BC                  : Early Calusa period
1500 AD                : European Contact with the Calusa             
1700 AD                : End of Calusa, Florida depopulated
1921 AD                : The first bridge to Estero Island is built
2010 AD                : Mound House underground exhibit Stories Beneath our Feet opens to the public 


- submitted by Parke Lewis

Friday, November 2, 2012

Volunteer Training - Kayak Event

Volunteer Training - KAYAK EVENT

A volunteer training and kayaking trip to the Dog Key archaeological site will be depart from Mound House to tour the back country mangrove creeks and stretch our legs at the Dog Key archaeological site. The goal of the trip is to train volunteers interested in assisting with future kayak tours , to learn a little about our estuary creek system , visit the Calusa mounds at Dog Key, and if there’s any time left… have fun. Kayaks, equipment and bottled water will be provided, but please bring your own gear if you prefer. The group will be back at Mound House by 11:30 and a picnic lunch will be served on site.

Volunteers, as well as those interested in becoming a Mound House volunteer are encouraged to participate .

Please call the office to sign up, or if you have any questions.

December 8th, 2012, 9am - 12pm
Mound House
451 Connecticut Street Fort Myers, FL 33931