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Calusa Indians on the Islands

W.I.S.D.O.M., n.d.

Scientists tell us that people have inhabited the Lee Island Coast for as long as 12,000 years. About 4,000 to 5,000 years ago, the barrier islands formed along the Southwest Florida coast, creating our incredibly productive estuarine ecosystems. This in turn resulted in the permanent settlement of Archaic peoples, who were attracted to the coast by the bountiful supply of fish and shellfish. These Archaic people were the early predecessors of the Calusa Indians.

By the time Ponce de Leon led the first documented Spanish landing party ashore near Sanibel Islands in 1513, Calusa culture was thriving. Its people were divided into two distinct castes. Common people worked at tasks ordered by the nobility. They provided food, dug canals and labored at the construction of immense, complex shellworks and mounds like those that still exist on Mound Key today. A well-armed, highly structured military defended the Calusa realm. The Calusa paramount, or king, was said to have had supernatural ties to the heavens through which the day-to-day well-being of his subjects was assured.

The Calusa are considered important by researchers because they achieved a remarkable level of complexity without the benefit of agriculture. As hunter-gathers, they harvested their food from the rich Southwest Florida estuarine environment. Although they eventually died out due to the introduction of European disease for which they had no natural immunities, they succeeded in keeping their would-be Spanish conquerors at bay for almost two hundred years.

2000 Years on Mound Key One significant Calusa Indian site is the Mound Key State Archaeological Site, a 125-acre sub-tropical island in the center of Estero Bay. Contained within its dramatic ridges, inland water courts, canals and shell mounds are archaeological clues that reveal that Mound Key has been inhabited for almost 2000 years. Native Florida Indians, Spanish fisher folk, and twentieth-century Euro-Americans all made their homes here each group altering the landscape in its own way.

Many scientists and researchers believe that Mound Key was Calos the capital town of the Calusa Indians. Positions of the mounds and the layout of the canal system offer support to this theory. All around the island, on shell ridges and high spots, were the houses of the people who lived on this island.

Help Protect Mound Key As you explore the island, please leave the fragments of Mound Key's past where you find them. Each seemingly insignificant potsherd or broken shell is a piece to a gigantic jigsaw puzzle of the past. By studying these fragments in their original locations and contexts, archaeologists can piece together the picture of past life on the island. Removing even one small puzzle piece, means the picture will never be complete.

All natural and cultural resources in Florida parks are protected under Florida law. Please do not harm or remove plants, animals, or archaeological or historical remains. Burial mounds and human burials are protected under both federal and state law. Restrooms and drinking water are not available on the island, and pets must be kept on a leash at all times. Please plan accordingly. Enjoy your visit to Mound Key.

Pineland: A Key to the Past For more than 1500 years the Calusa Indians occupied Pineland, now a 240-acre, internationally significant archaeological site. The indians' enormous shell mounds overlook the waters of Pine Island Sound. Middens, the remains of many centuries of Indian village life, blanket pastures and citrus groves. Remnants of an ancient canal that reached across Pine Island are found throughout the complex. Sand burial mounds stand secluded and mysterious in the woods. Historic structures representing Florida's early pioneer history still stand at Pineland.

Native plants characteristic of coastal hammocks, pinelands, wetlands , and shell mounds are in abundance. Animals include gopher tortoises, osprey, pileated woodpeckers, bald eagles, white ibis, alligators, otters, and many others.

The Pineland Site Complex is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The site complex is of critical importance to Calusa archaeology for several reasons, more important of which is that its waterlogged deposits preserve artifacts not found in dry sites. The remains of many centuries of Calusa daily life reveal the fascinating, complex world that existed before the arrival of Europeans.

Pineland provides a key to understanding larger, global issues as well. Pineland's accumulated deposits record sea-level fluctuations and perhaps even climate changes. Such fluctuations are of interest to scientists all over the world who study the earth's recent environmental history.

Aside from the fascination of learning about past people and the satisfaction of knowing more about our state's history, the story of the Calusa also helps us raise awareness of the richness and complexity of Florida's environments. As Florida faces issues of balancing development and environmental conservation, learning about the role these fragile ecosystems play in our lives is more important than ever before. The more we learn about Florida's past people and environments, the better prepared we are to ensure Florida's future is a bright one.