Sacred Lands Preservation and Education 
 

Indian Mounds - Charlotte Harbor

(By Mac Perry)

 

Indian Mound in Lee County Florida

In Lee County, you’ll be in the heart of Calusa territory. Surely you’ll want to see where Chief Carlos himself lived. His magnificent Temple Town is today called Mound Key and sits on an island in the middle of Estero Bay southeast of Ft. Myers Beach. Go there and see the twin temple mounds of Carlos, one 28 feet high the other a whopping 40 feet high, as well as the barely discernable canal that ran between them. The water courts on the northeast side are fantastic. You can tour this famous site by hooking up with Arden Arrington at (941) 994-3286. He takes groups out to the site by boat.

Then take the bridge across to beautiful Sanibel Island, collect a few shells from the famous seashell beach, and proceed to the Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge. Enjoy the visitor center, foot trails, observation tower, and five mile wildlife drive through a watery habitat where thousands of seabirds live and breed (take your camera and binoculars.) At the north end of the wildlife drive you’ll come to Shell Mound Trail, a winding boardwalk that leads you through a mangrove and mastic jungle where thickets of sanseveria and wild air plants grow on the shell middens left hundreds of years ago by the Calusa.

If you drive north on Stringfellow Road on nearby Pine Island, you'll come to the site of a major archaeological investigation conducted by the Florida Museum of Natural History's Dr. Bill Marquardt and his team of experts (both photos.) This site was visited by Cushing in 1895 who spoke of foundations, mounds, courts, graded ways, and canals. There are two large mounds there today with the remnants of a canal between them, as if built on the same plan as Mound Key. (Did the Indians have architects in those days?) The mounds started to build up after AD 500. A remnant of a midden can be seen on the south side that dates to about AD 500 to 700 also, and a large oval burial mound sits on the east side and has the remains of a moat around it. The most amazing thing at the Pineland Site are the remnants of the hand-dug canal 6 to 8 feet deep and 30 feet wide that aerial photos show once ran 2½ miles across the island. The Calusa were canal builders, as is evidenced by a number of canals in SW Florida. Tours of the site are available by contacting the Randell Research Center on Pine Island at (941) 283-2062.

While in Lee County be sure to visit the Children’s Science Center at 2915 Northeast Pine Island Road, the Museum of the Islands on Stringfellow Road, the Ft. Meyers Historical Museum in the Atlantic Coastline Railroad Depot east of US 41 and south of state road 82, the Useppa Island Historical Society on Useppa Island and the Calusa Nature Center and Planetarium 3450 Ortiz Ave in Ft. Myers.

Charlotte Harbor Mound Key There are a number of impressive mounds in Charlotte County but none are open for public visitation. There is the 15-foot Cash Mound that dates from AD 700 to 1500, Bay Three, a salt water midden containing numerous fresh water shells, the strange looking John Quiet Mound with five circular ridges that may have served as shellfish unloading and processing stations, and Big Mound Key that covers 37 acres and has semi-circular ridges like the John Quiet Mound. Because storm tides, hurricanes, and looters using bulldozers have caused extensive damage to these and other Charlotte County mounds sitting on US government property, they are heavily guarded, and trespassers might expect big fines or jail sentences. So stay away and keep your visits to the public sites. I do, however, recommend the Charlotte Harbor Environmental Center at Alligator Creek at 10944 Burnt Store Road in Punta Gorda.

Of all the Indian Mounds in Sarasota County, my favorite is Spanish Point on US 41 just north of Osprey. There is so much here to see and learn. This site was occupied by Florida Indians before Genesis 12 when Abraham began his famous trek to the Promised Land. Park and follow the stony trail beneath shading mastic trees to the burial mound that was in use between AD 300—800. Nearly fifty years ago, archaeologists excavated 400 burials (including four dogs and an alligator), 9000 pieces of broken pottery, a flute made from a human thigh bone, numerous shell tools, and 52 fossilized shark’s teeth (Indian knives.) Take the trail’s left fork and you’ll cross over the midden left by the Indians who built the burial mound. You’ll also see a ten-foot square test pit dug by the archaeologists, the cemetery of the Webb family who homesteaded the property in 1867, their citrus packing house, and a small chapel. The right fork leads you along the ridge on top of an older midden that juts out into the bay. Dating between 300 BC and AD 150, this mound now holds a classroom museum, pergola and sunken garden, and a grotto that houses an interpretive center and cut-away view of the midden. Then follow the footbridge to the aqueduct, guest cottage, fern garden, and horseshoe-shaped Hill Midden. Here, archaeologists found the usual post holes, ashes, shells, and pottery. But in the bottom half of the test pit, they found something very unusual — no pottery. That meant the first people who started this midden did so before pottery came to Florida, before 2000 BC, before Abraham took the high road out of Ur. Look down into the test pit and try to imagine what life was like in Florida 4000 years ago. While our race has been here barely 300 years, the now-extinct Indians lived at Spanish Point for 3000 years. Today they are extinct.

One additional mound in Sarasota is worth visiting. It’s at Indian Mound Park. From Englewood’s Deerborn Street, head south on Magnolia Avenue. Along the gulf you’ll find an interpretive sign and a foot trail that winds back and forth across the shell midden. Plants on the mound include towering oaks, wild coffee, myrsine and marlberry once used as Indian tobacco, coontie from which the Indians extracted bread flour, and cabbage palm that gave them "heart of palm." This 320-foot-long mound ridge stands about six feet at the high point. Archaeologists excavated 27,000 pieces of broken pottery and dated the site from 1000 BC to AD 1350.

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