History of the Tekesta

Part 3. The Glades I Early Tradition (700 B.C.- 500 A.D.)

Tekesta carved deer antler
[Tekesta carved deer antler]
In about 2700 B.P. (700 B.C.), sea levels had risen to a level that resulted in highly productive coastal environments. Besides the increase in the area of coastal ecosystems, there was also sedimentation and water flow from the interior which resulted in an increased productivity of the freshwater Big Cyprus Swamp. This more favorable environment seems to have encouraged the change to a primarily reliance on marine resources. This adaptation is called the Glades Tradition of South Florida. It relied on seafood and the exploitation of aquatic plants. The wide range of seafoods included whales, star fish, sharks, crabs, rays, crayfish, and even sailfish and marlin. Secondarily, deer, raccoon, reptiles and birds were hunted to supplement the diet, wild plant foods were gathered seasonally, and tubers imported. The coontie plant was used by the Tekesta as a source of ground flour, and was later used in making hardtack biscuits for sailors.

South Florida becomes distinguished from the rest of the peninsula on the basis of this tropial maritime adaptation rather than technology or culture.

In Glades I Early, there was a shift to an almost exclusive reliance on river mouth resources. By AD 280, this coastal subsistence pattern was fully articulated, and no longer are there, as in the past, small temporary camps 60 m in diameter located on dune ridges, but instead, permanent settlements at the water's edge. These settlements were quite large, and they were occupied year round by multiple-lineage groups.

With increased fertility and economic prosperity, there was probably a rapid fissioning of villages and a colonization of the remaining unoccupied areas of South Florida, accompanied by an increase in the size of settlements. As a result, the population of the southwest coast grew to 10,000 by 800 A.D. According to a popular anthropological theory, once the land's carrying capacity was reached, fissioning would no longer serve to resolve disputes, and so ranking and a chief became necessary to maintain order, coordinate labor and village defense. This "circumscription theory,", in this case looking to both social and environmental constraints, when applied at the regional level in about 800 A.D. would suffice to explain a rise of chiefdoms. However, theory only serves to guide investigation, not substitute for it, and much work needs to be done.

So far, investigation has focused on the southwest coast, where the 16th century Calusa state was located, but an urban development on Lake Okeechobee and the recent discovery of the Miami Circle suggest that perhaps there were other state-level or nearly state-level societies in South Florida up to half a millennium older. The Miami Circle Tekesta site, that dates to the beginning of the Christian era, suggest there was at the time a stratified society and extended exchange relations, probably with areas in the Appalachan Mountains. In fact, there do seem to have been some Hopewell influences on the Lake Okeechobee are not long after.

The Glades tradition did not practice agriculture, but nevertheless made extensive use of pottery throughout the period. It was of fairly good quality in technical and aesthetic terms, although not the best. Distinctive sand-tempered paste and decorative motifs may reflect early influence from neighboring areas. However, otherwise, Glades culture is clearly a continuation of Archaic material culture in terms of wood, fiber, bone and shell tools, especially the latter two. It is distinguished from the rest of Florida and the southeast more broadly by its diversity of art forms.

Clearly, not all South Florida manifests the "Glades" culture, and the Everglades area, from which the name derives, originally had only a sparse population without the characteristic "Glades" traits. Neverthless, the distinctive Glades Tradition seems to reflect the early presence of social complexity in South Florida: villages, plentiful ceramics, the complete occupation or use of land in South Florida. However, the material culture is much as before. The same old mortuary customs and artistic styles; still a strong emphasis on shell and bone tools which carry over from Middle Archaic.

There do not seem to have been signficant regional cultural differences in South Florida before 500 A.D., to judge by the presence of the uniform Glades Plain ceramic style. However, there were some exceptions. For example, at the Fort Center site in the Lake Okeechobee basin, there was some maize horticulture with a circular drainage ditch, and later on the use of raised fields above the water table. Also at this site is evidence of a distinctive mortuary ceremonialism with some Hopewellian traits. At the center of an artificial pond, a structure was built for burials that had large carved wooden birds used for support and decoration. Furthermore, many Hopewell-like artifacts were found in the pond. But despite these Hopewellian influences, there remains a strong link with the old Middle Archaic cemetery tradition.

Along the southwest coast, the mortuary practices are less known, but we do see the appearance of the earliest South Florida burial mounds that came to replace the earlier charnel house built in the middle of a pond as in the Okeechobee basin site. In other words, although the latter seems economically progressive in traditional terms (Enlightenment ideology was strongly biased in favor of agricultural production), and was probably subject to outside influences, the principal locus of South Florida development seems to lie elsewhere. Supporting this notion is the discovery of a Tekesta mound on Jupter Island, directly west of Lake Okeechobee.