History of the Tekesta

Introduction: A Question of Bones

History is less the study of the past than a study of ourselves, for how we emerge as people is constrained by what survives from the past. While the past does not define what we are, it does determine the conditions under which we define ourselves and in terms of which we act. We struggle within these inherited constraints in order to create ourselves in terms of contemporary needs and aspirations. As a consequence, the attitudes and practices we bring to bear upon the study of others, however remote they may be in terms of culture, time or genes, are really the instruments for the process of our self-definition.

Archaeologists, or more broadly anthropologists, seem often torn between loosing themselves in the other ("going native,") or remaining alien colonizers and expropriators of the past for their own immediate self-interest. What is too often missing is a dialog between the scientist and the object of study that reconciles the development of the former with respect for the latter. An example of such a lack of dialog is how we often treat Indian bones.

Bones are not just bones, merely inanimate objects to be used and discarded as so much trash. They are really a physical manifestation of people who are part of the past in terms of which must construct ourselves. If we treat the Tekesta with respect, we become better people. They are family and deserve the respect of family. How spritiual artifacts and bones have been handled has often led to harsh recriminations between excavators and treasure hunters on one hand and those who understand that people are not disconnected in time and place, but are all participants in one greater process. There is no life without death, no emergence without dissipation, no singularity without universality. This is as much a spiritual truth as it is a finding of thermodynamics.

Yet, for example, in 1959 some Tekesta boes were discovered in a burial site in Broward county. It is reported that the group which dug them up for study left the site in a terrible state. Everything from bones to screen sifters were left scatterred about in complete disregard for the sacred ground that held the deceased. These bones were stored in cardboard boxes in Boca Raton and in a museum in Dania, Florida, and after almost 40 years the expropriators still claim they are not through studying them (Tallahasee Democrat, 9 Sept., 1996)!

Such an attitude has come in for sharp criticism. Museums are becoming learning centers rather than just a way to "uncivilized" peoples by cataloging and labeling their remains to gather dust on quiet shelves. At the very least, bones, once studied, must be returned to the equivalent of "family" or to the earth from which they came. Today, for example, many cultural treasures are being restored to their country of origin (the classic base being the British theft of the Elgin Marbles). Unfortunately, depredation, treasure hunting, and unethical academic careerism still continue, and so legislation is required to discourage these disrespectful and destructive practices.

In the case of the Tekesta, they do not come under the Federal guidelines for reinternment of their bones because the law only requires the reburial of the remains of Federally recognized tribes. The U.S. government must legislate you into existence. Achieving such recognition is a long and difficult process, and in the case of the Tekesta, there is no one who can lawfully claim that heritage, for Tekesta blood long ago had mingled with that of the Seminole, and the Tekesta's ancestral relatives, the surviving Taino and Timucua Indians of Caribbean, Forida and elsewhere, are themselves not "recognized." by the white man's government, and so do not count.

And yet, the Tekesta are the ancestors of all of us, not because we necessarilty inherit their genes or there is a chain of cultural influence that links us directly to them. Modern scientific historiography and Native American spritual beliefs are not polar opposites, but just express our essential interconnectedness with each other and to the earth in different ways. What reconciles differences and separation is process, and so perhaps this little history will help bring us together in a common struggle for progress, for without that struggle, we cease to live as social beings; we become inert and disconnected.

Part 1. Florida in the Paleoindian Period (13,500 to 9,900 B.P.)

The traditional view is that in 13,500 B.P. ("Before the Present," which would therefore be 11,500 B.C.) South Florida was colonized by people characterized by the Clovis Culture. These people had crossed the Bering Strait from Siberia shortly before. It would not have taken long for even quite limited numbers of migrants to have spread South from Alaska to Texas, and from there to have diffused both East and South to occupy most productive environments in North and south America. Evidence of big game hunters comes from Vero Beach on the east coast and Charlotte Harbor (possibly named after the Calusa) on the west.

However, the picture has become more complicated in recent years. First, we now realize that not all Native American languages are related, and so apparently the people of the New World had quite different points of origin, and not just Siberia as originally thought. Second, there is now increasingly persuasive evidence that some material cultures in the New World existed long before the date of the Clovis culture. Third, it is not surprising that we are beginning to find evidence of such non-Clovis cultures. The result is that looks like the migration to the New World involved quite different paths taken by unrelated peoples over an extended time.

While some people like to believe that the Tekesta and the other peoples of Florida are Mayan colonists or Muskugean speakers, rather than Arawak speakers, the issue only arises much later because there is little doubt that the Archaic peoples of Florida were in fact colonists from the north. It is only much later that the archaic population in South Florida declined or even disappeared, and new peoples from the Caribbean and ultimately Amazonia arrived to take their place.

Perhaps because the initial Archaic settlement of Florida was from the North that South Florida was less heavily occupied. The first material evidence is Clovis in its style and dates from 13,500-12,500 B.P. So far, there is no indication of earlier non-Clovis occupations. However, it is important to note that any earlier maritime adaption in Florida would most certainly now be below sea level. At some point in the future this lack evidence for earlier peoples may be rectified by undersea archaeology. Efforts in this direction are being spear-headed at sites further up the East coast of North America by the Pequot Indians from Connecticut.