Reprint Granted: April 16, 05
Dr. Colette M. Dowell ND                         

Circular Times                                                            
Moving Forward Publications

Note: This is a historical article.


Amazing Amerindian Antiquities of Old Florida

By Christine Rhone 1999


        Florida is not a place that is usually associated with places of antiquarian interest and numinous places of power, but with Disneyworld, retirement communities, and launch-pads to outer space. For years, my interest was limited to visits to my mother and to the lazy beauties of coco-palms and beaches. Everything seemed as shallow and flat as the land itself; much a shelf of coral rock only inches above sea level.


        It was at the end of one of my long walks on the beach that I first began a to feel a deeper atmosphere at the foot of an old brick light house, which was subtly suffused with the memory of an Indian mound that had once stood there. When I found out that there had been hundreds of such mounds in early Florida and that the Indians had built dozens of artificial islands entirely out of seashells off the west coast, it was like finding a bit of the philosopher's stone, a trace of ordinary matter transmuted to its perfect state of gold.


       My daily works took on a new rhythm of excitement. What ancient campfires had burnt beneath the concrete of these supermarket parking lots? What animal totems had reigned in the shadows of these vast condominiums? I learned of oriented pyramid mounds, standing stones, mysterious circular earthworks, aboriginal canals cut for miles through the lowlands, and even an effigy island. The mundane mask of modern Florida seemed to crack and fall away, revealing a forgotten face of old Gaea.


Native American Mound Builders Mound Archaeology Mississippi Mounds

        Some of the earliest human habitation anywhere in the world may have been in the North America, as evidenced by worked stones indicating occupation in the Mojave Desert some 200,000 years ago. This would turn the tables on our concepts of New World and Old. By conventional chronology, however, the paleo-Indians arrived in Florida some 15,000 years ago, where the traces of habitation date from 2000 BC. By 600 BC, the mound-builders of the Ohio Valley were active, first the Andeans and then the Hopewellians. After 1000 Ad, the mound-building culture of the lower Mississippi Valley became the most advanced north of Mexico. Through trade, this mud-building culture reached Florida. The degree of cultural influence from Central and South America is being debated; a glance at a navigation chart nevertheless shows favorable ocean currents leading directly from these regions to the Florida coast. The place name Miami is found in both Ohio and Florida, and is commonly taken to mean something like "great water".


        The waters in the Crystal River mouth, about eighty miles northwest of Orlando, are famous among skin-divers who come to observe the many manatees, or sea-cows, that congregate there. Overlooking the river lop is the main temple pyramid of the Crystal River Mounds, a fourteen acre complex with six mounds and two standing stones. For one and a half millennia this was an imposing ceremonial center and major necropolis, in use until about 1400 Ad, when it was apparently suddenly abandoned. The main temple mound is a flat-topped pyramid of earth and midden material, restored to a height of thirty feet, with an associated ramp. The second temple mound, low and flat, is covered with live oak trees dripping with Spanish moss, and has a powerful atmosphere, perhaps because it remains virtually intact and un-restored.


The two standing stones are a great rarity in the Southeastern US. One of them is inscribed with a petroglyph resembling a human face. Some archeologists believe the face is that of a sun god who faces the summer solstice sunrise, the whole complex having calendrical meaning. A complete picture of the archeo-astronomy of the Crystal River site remains to be developed.


        A group of mysterious earthworks lies in the Lake Okeechobee region of central Florida. These are very faint seen on the ground, but easily visible from the air. There are three types of features: linear ridges, circular-linear lines earthworks, and circular ditches often associated with embankments. The circles vary from about 200 to 1200 feet in diameter. One of them has been dated to 1000-450 BC. Some of the linear ridges reach as far as 2400 feet, the lines going straight through a variety of environments: grassy savannahs, ponds, and even an upland hammock. The purpose of these earthworks is not known.



        Around Tampa Bay are five platforms or temple mounds attributed to the Tocobaga Indians. Originally there were probably fifteen or twenty of   these steep-sided, truncated pyramids around the bay. All but two were made of gradually built-up layers of sand and compacted varieties of shell. Six mounds were oriented to the cardinal directions, and four others deviated from cardinal alignment by twenty degrees or less. The ramps of four others were aligned north-south or east-west. The building style of these platform mounds resembled that of the Mississippians, whose additions of new layers to their mounds had ceremonial significance: new layers were added at the kindling of the fire of the new year and at the death of important individuals.


        Most of the largest constructions on the west coast of Florida were made from around 500 to 1000AD, at the peak of the Calusa culture, a period coinciding with zenith of the Maya. Calusa territory was the southeast coastal region, from Tampa Bay down to the Thousand Islands. This people lived off the balcony of the sea, traveling by canoe to Cuba and the Bahamas, in a highly organized but non-agricultural society. The chief commanded fifty towns with a trade and communications network of hundreds of miles, aided by the canals they constructed wide enough to accommodate two way traffic. The canals, some ten miles long were reinforced with thousands of conch shells driven into the canal walls, and lined with layered varieties of seashells, their primary building material, out of which they also built seawalls and even built up entire islands. Clamshells were used as facings, spaced regularly as tiles. Seawalls were made of conch shells and were flat as a turnpike on top. One of the canals, 2.6 miles long, intersects Pine Island east to west, but not through its narrowest part. Associated with it are funerary mounds and other huge shell mounds. The canal then continues inland, leading to Corbett's Mound some ten miles away. The canal provided a short-cut access to the central Lake Okeechobee region. The association of the canals with mounds and other features which are coeval has prompted some archeologists to propose axial significance to the overall layout, a north-south and east-west alignment, with Pineland, the ceremonial complex, at the center.


        Early observer F.H. Cushing, whose name may be familiar through his pioneer work in Zuni anthropology at the turn of the century, said that one island out of five was artificial within a fifteen to twenty mile radius of Key Marco, the Calusa ceremonial center. He specified that, besides what the Calusa's built there was very little inhabitable land in that area. The shell-work keys were arranged like semicircular atolls. With the growth of vegetation and mangrove, they are indistinguishable at a distance from the natural low-lying islands, like big green buttons floating on water, as an artist accompanying Cushing's expedition described them. Key Marco was cut by a series of nine canals, connecting water-courts and their associated temple mounds. This is where some of the best of the Calusa woodcarvings were found. One, a small statue of a panther sitting in human position with characteristic eye markings denoting a deity, exudes the dignity and presence of a colossus.


        Mound Key, in the Estero Bay, was the Calusa political center, with several mounds, a water-court and a canal that may have had a solar orientation. Interestingly, this bay was also the site of an ideal community that flourished earlier this century, built by followers of Cyrus Teed, a Chicagoan whose theory that the earth is hollow and that we are actually looking inward when we look at the stars, connecting with the idea of heaven on earth and international community. The Koreshans, as they called themselves, used to canoe down to Mound Key on Sundays for picnics, enjoying their sandwiches on what had been the royal mound of the Calusa chief. The Calusas were the tribe whose arrows fatally wounded early explorer Ponce de Leon, on a quest for slaves and a fabulous city of gold.


        Another shell-work Key, This one in Charlotte Harbour, is exceptionally large and unique in shape. This mound midden shell complex covers over fifteen hectares to a height of twenty-three feet, with nine long finger ridges extending into waters of the bay and joining a central canal. It has been proposed as a giant effigy island representing an octopus or a spider, an image whose bilateral symmetry is especially striking from the air. This key has been severely vandalized by people hunting for treasure supposedly buried by the notorious pirate Gasparilla.


        Near Everglades City, along Turner's River, are some twenty-eight midden mounds up to twelve feet high and seventy feet wide, and at least one thousand years old. They run in regular rows perpendicular to the riverbank a quarter of a mile inland with consistent distances from mound to mound, a sighting that suggests a carefully preplanned arrangement. These mounds are a one-of-a kind set. Further up the river are more mounds that are probably related to them. It was to the farthest reaches of the Everglades that the last of the surviving Calusas were pushed, as the state was receiving the refugees from Georgia and the Carolinas that were to become known as the Seminoles.


        Many modern Floridians are living near, or even on, ancient aboriginal mounds without realizing it. Unrecognized and unprotected, these mounds have been disappearing at an alarming rate during the past century, despite increasing awareness of the richness of pre-Columbian traditions in North America. Temple mounds have been laid waste for the sake of obtaining road-fill, others ransacked in search of imaginary gold trinkets. But the real buried treasure is all around us, in Florida and in every state, waiting to be discovered, in the small corners and obscure places surrounded by what seems to be very ordinary. It is there, on forgotten mounds never visited for one hundred years, that one may feel the reviving touch of ancient spirits. The golden faces of old Gaea are everywhere. We need only seek with eyes of love.      By Christine Rhone


Photographed Image of Painting, Courtesy of John Michell and Colette M. Dowell


INTERESTING LINKS I found: This article was originally written in 1999, so there is new information that has been written and is available since then, I placed links inside the article. These links are not inside the article.

Colette  Links to Indian Mounds.  Links to books available on American Indians.  Interesting site about Indians and related articles.  Indian Burials and Mounds.  American Archives of Photography of Indians.   Dean Quigley Limited Edition Art Prints.  Nice site, lots of photos.







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