Thousands of years of indigenous history still on Florida land

11/29/12 Janelle Irwin
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Many places across the state were home to Native Americans beginning thousands of years ago. The historical significance of some of those spots have been lost over time, but many of them have been preserved.

One of them is Maximo Park at the southern-most tip of Pinellas County. Where there is now an observation tower, beach front playground and picnic areas, there once was villages of Native Americans who were here long before Europeans settled in Florida. Jeff Moates is the Florida Public Archeology Network’s director of the West Central regional center.

“The educational value is intense. You know, it’s really out there. Not only can it add to the quality of life and kind of add to the sense of place that we have in a community for these places and kind of add to that character preservation and aesthetics, but we can also learn about the daily lives of these prehistoric inhabitants of this same area and how they lived and got along and utilized the resources in the bay.”

November is Native American History Month. Moates gave a lecture as a grand finale called Obscured by Time at USF Tampa highlighting how some of the educational and historical opportunities offered by places like Maximo Park have been lost over time.

“For different reasons; through development, construction and just kind of obscured by – it’s importance or its value was kind of downplayed maybe in the past.”

Maximo Park is one of about 200 archeological sites in the state that can still be recognized as an archeological site. Not far from the park is one of the largest remaining mounds and another handful of smaller mounds scatter waterfront land throughout St. Pete. But even though some areas have been untouched enough to leave some traces of Native American history, they have still degraded. At Maximo, a Frisbee golf course snakes through an old village and storms carry the history off through beach erosion. Moates said St. Pete city officials and park staff have played a key role in preserving what’s left.

“Really well done erosion control measure that was a wave break to kind of dissipate the erosional forces that were kind of taking away the archeological remains slowly.” “Some of the recreational activities have been re-coursed or rearranged so they don’t impact the archeological remains…”

Sites like Maximo were once indigenous villages. Robert Tykot, a professor of anthropology at USF said many sites like the one at Maximo Park and some along St. Pete’s waterfront along Park Street were once Native American settlements.

“And what’s left behind tends to be the trash – the broken pottery, things they had, wooden structures, things that burned down – that kind of thing.”

But he said some of the larger mounds were burial sites.

“Where we would have perhaps remaining would be the human skeletal remains and maybe grave offerings – in tact ceramic vessels or nice stone tools or other kinds of materials like that.”

Whether it’s skeletal remains or ceramic cooking tools, artifacts dating back as far as 500 and 600 BC have survived the tests of natural elements and even some man-made ones. Tykot said many people don’t realize just how important that history is.

“We have a pretty good idea from our written history after Columbus came to America about people coming from Europe and elsewhere and yes, we know about Native Americans, but the point is there were thousands and thousands and thousands of them living here for thousands of years.”

The Obscured by Time lecture was the last in a series celebrating Native American History Month. Earlier in the month archeologist Jeff Moates discussed the historical significance of some areas in downtown Tampa including the city’s first drinking water source, Uylele Springs.

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