History of the Tekesta

Part 4. Ethnogenesis to Contact (500 A.D. to 1513)

Decorated ceramics appear in some areas of South Florida ca 500 A.D. and help us distinguish among its emerging regional cultures. One was these was the Caloosahatchee culture area along the southwest coast, west of Lake Okeechobee, near what is now Port Charlotte and Fort Myers. It eventually became the location of the Calusa state capitol. To its east was the culture area around Lake Okeechobee, known as as Belle Glade. South of these two culture areas was a larger area roughly encompassing the Everglades, in which prevailed the Circum-Glades culture. This was the culture area in which lived the Tekesta.

Despite some earlier suggestions that large scale order in Florida simply reflects Mississippian influence, by 800 AD we find large sites, up to 25 hectares, with temple mounds, indicative of a large dense population and a political hierarchy, well before such influence from the North would have been felt.

For example, one of the two highly productive areas on the southwest coast was the Key Marco Site and the nearby Ten Thousand Islands area, which were in the Circum-Glade culture sphere. Its remarkably high level of development dates back as far as the 8-9th century. Certainly the population density at the Key Marco site was sufficient to support social complexity at an early date. Also, Sanibel Island had non-mortuary ceremonial mounds shortly after 700 A.D. Later ethnographic literature suggests these platform mounds were used for chief's houses or temples. So the Ten Thousands Islands area by the 8th century had a substantial dense population, which was by 800 A.D. apparently ranked. Also, the platform mound and causeway construction, dating as far back as 800, suggests a hierarchical sociopolitical organization.

The absence of Belle Glade ceramics in the Caloosahatchee area in the early period suggests that Caloosahatchee-Belle Glade interaction was at first minimal, but after 700 A.D. the amount of Belle Glade ware in the Caloosahatchee area increased dramatically. From the Caloosahatchee III (1200-1400 AD) Period we find import wares, notably St.Johns Check-Stamped and Englewood period ceramics. Furthermore, there are also now ceremonial mounds after 1200 which resemble those of the Ten Thousand Islands area and reflect a similar mortuary behavior. Evidence such as this suggest that the Calusa state, which loomed so large in Spanish eyes in the 16th century, might have had its roots in these developments after 1200 A.D., and the concentration of state power at that time, might have been anticipated in some other areas of South Florida.

The term paramount technically refers to a chief of chiefs, and is generally thought to be transitional to full statehood. A certain cautious is natural, but as we will see below, it is clear that the Calusa ruler was more than just a paramount, and that may be true of earlier rulers as well. It is too soon to insist that South Florida had a fully state-level society in the 16th century, no less the 11th or 13th centuy, and so I will use the conventional term paramount here instead of king.

The chronology of the Bell Glade culture area around Lake Okeechobee (called by the Spanish, Lake of Mayami) is not well known, but it seems closer to that of the Caloosahatchee culture than the Circum-Glades. It seems that Bell Glade influence initially spread west into the Caloosahatchee area and east to the Atlantic coast and then down the coast to Fort Lauderdale, displacing Circum-Glades ceramic types. This "East Okeechobee" region is likely to correspond with to the sphere of power led by the Guacata state. While the term Guacata was used to refer to as a "tribe," it is the name of the state capitol at the eastern edge of the Lake.

The cacique (chief) of Guacata (whether town or ethnic division) was an independent ruler and had a political standing comparable to the Ais, the Jaega and the Tekesta on the southeast coast. The other towns on Lake Okeechobee were probably independent of Guacata, and may have fallen subject to the rising power of the Calusa.

Circum-Glades culture area and the Tekesta

The Circum-Glades culture region, in which the Tekesta lived, encompassed the Everglades area south of the other two areas, from Naples south along the coast to include the rich Ten Thousand Islands area, into the keys. It also included important inland sites in Great Cyprus Swamp. The Circum-Glades culture extended up Florida's Atlantic coast to Palm Beach, including the inland area south of Lake Okeechobee. The Circum-Glades can be further subdivided into three areas based on ecology and ceramics: Ten Thousand Islands area to the West, the Everglades area, including Miami, and the East Okeechobee area. It has been suggested that after c. 1000-1200, the northern border of the Circum_Glades retreated south to between Boca Raton and Fort Lauderdale, and the Belle Glade replaces it. So it may be that Guacata was the seat of a paramount before the rise of the Calusa after 1200 A.D.

There were other tribes that must have played some role in these developments, such as the Tocobaga from the St. Petersburg area further up the west coast, and tribes scattered along the southeast coast. One might be inclined to count the Tekesta among their number, but the Miami Circle site suggests that perhaps they experienced a quite early political development and their early importance was significant, later overshadowed by the cacique of Guacata and Calusa paramount of Calos.

In fact, there is some archaeological evidence to support this. Directly West of Lake Okeechobee lies an area near the Jupiter River in which lived a people known as the Jega (Jobe in their own language). Near the village of Jupter, which is a corruption of the name Jobe, lies the village of Tequesta. It seems that in 1955, the area where Tequesta is now located was so lush that a developer decided to build the Jupiter Inlet Colony on Jupiter Island. The excavation for his project exposed a mound that contained artifacts that showed the Tekesta had penetrated Jega territory. As a result, the developer named the village established on his development site, Tequesta. The Tekesta's ability to extend their hegemony over their neighbors and the social complexity we associat with monumental mound construction suggests a ranked society, at least a chiefdom, if not a paramount chief.

In Glades IIA (700-900 A.D.), ceramic types suggest a cultural division between southwest Florida (Ten Thousand Islands area) and the Everglades area of southeast Florida, including Miami. By 900 A.D., at approximately the time when the Miami Circle suggests the presence of political hierarchy, this ceramic distinction dissolves, so that all Circum-Glades becomes uniform. The the older Key Largo Incised type continues, and elsewhere the more uniform culture is characterized by the Matecumbe Incised type and a new shape, an in-curving bowl.

In the Circum-Glades after 1200 A.D., there may be some Mississippian influence on ceramic decoration (Pinellas Incised), and trade wares become common (Englewood-like shards). This includes the southeast coast and therefor the Tekesta. By 1200 A.D., quantity of trade shards has considerably increased in the Circum-Glades culture area, which might mark the beginning of the Pan_Florida trading network that fell under Calusa control.