Sacred Lands Preservation and Education 

Indian Mounds - Tampa Bay

(By Mac Perry)

Manatee County has an impressive mound complex called the Portavant Mound. Here you will see stately royal palms, twilight bats, and a jungle of marlberry trees covering the many mounds that overlook the mouth of the Manatee River. Most impressive is the large temple mound with a 150-foot flat top that once held a modern home and cistern. A boardwalk will take you to the top where you can read about the site. Be sure to follow the trail that leads over and around the horseshoe-shaped middens that end at the water. Notice how storm tides are eroding the midden at the water’s edge. The most unusual thing about this site is that the temple mound has a subsidiary mound, a smaller, lower flat-top mound attached to the NW corner. Subsidiary mounds are rare in the US and no one knows for sure what they were used for. To get to the site, head west out of Palmetto on 10th Street, cross the bridge, turn right and look for the sign to the park on Snead Island. Or you can take a tour to the site by hooking up with historian/naturalist Karen Fraley of "Around the Bend Nature Tours". Karen teaches about the cultural and environmental history of the mounds, the Indians, and the plants and animals found there.

Madiera Bickle Mound

Just north of Palmetto on Terra Ceia Island follow the sign west from US 19 to the Madiera Bickle Mound. A 40-foot wide burial mounds sits at the head of the trail. It dates to about AD 800 and has a sign reminding visitors that these sites are protected by Florida law. Please do not disturb. Follow the trail through a thicket of cabbage palms (our state tree) to where a stepped ramp (the only curved one in Tampa Bay) leads up the flat-top temple mound ( photo.) You may smell the skunk-like odor of White Stopper trees growing on the mound and will surely see the flaking bark of Gumbo Limbos (called Tourist Trees because of their peeling red skin.) Archaeologists tell us the mound stands 20 feet tall and the original flat top where the chief lived was 25 by 68 feet.

Before leaving Manatee County, be sure to see the splendid Florida Indian exhibit and pottery collection at the South Florida Museum at the intersection of US 19 and SR 64 in Bradenton. Then drive west on 64 to north on 75th Street to the DeSoto National Memorial where you’ll see remnants of Indian mounds (along the beach and under the monument), a tourist center with Spanish exhibit, and a short movie about the 600-man (and women) DeSoto expedition that landed in the vicinity in 1539.

Hillsborough County once had many Indian mounds but because of an over active bull dozer in the highly populated area, they are either gone or inaccessible. You can read about them in Indian Mounds You Can Visit. Archaeological excavations at the Fort Brooke Parking Garage downtown did show that occupation there began in 8,000 BC. Where were you in 8,000 BC? You’ll find Florida Indian exhibits at the Tampa Bay History Center in the Convention Center Annex, 225 South Franklin Street and at the Upper Tampa Bay Park south of SR 580.

Pinellas County is loaded with Indian mounds you can visit. First there is the Maximo Point Site (illustrated under Bizarre/Tocobaga.) Enter Maximo Park just NW of the Skyway Bridge, park, and walk to the tower along the beach. In the nearby woods is a nature trail that runs along the top of the old midden. If you look close you’ll see that the mound runs 1200 feet along the shore from the woods through the picnic area. Once, it crossed I-275 to the east. The temple mound and horseshoe-shaped midden are gone now. Archaeologists say the village was occupied in AD 800 but can’t explain why a village on such productive waters was abandoned around 1400.

Pinellas Point Temple Mound

A couple of miles to the east on 62nd Avenue South, turn south onto 20th Street till you run into the Pinellas Point Temple Mound. Walk to the top and sit on the bench. If you look close you can still see where the 30-foot-wide ramp once ran down the south side. The mound where the chief once lived was measured at 16 feet tall and had a flat top 103 feet across. There are two historical markers at the site ( photo.)

At 17th Avenue North and Park Street in St Pete you’ll find the Jungle Prada Mound in a city park. There are actually two mounds in this serene woods overlooking Boca Ciega Bay. A small mound with what appears to be a ramp running south may have served as a domiciliary mound. And there is the south end of a 900-foot long midden that once ran along Park Street. Many believe the flat south end of this midden could have held a temple for the chief. An archaeological dig made on the privately owned section next door to the park revealed the site to have been occupied between AD1000 to 1600. Spanish pottery sherds and Spanish beads were found near the top of the test pit. This is the village allegedly visited by the 600-man Narváez expedition in 1528. My historical novels Black Conquistador and Children of the Sun  tell this amazing story.

Lynda Faye and I live on the Bayshore Home Midden at the southwest corner of Tyrone Blvd. and Park Street. It’s all that is left of the village illustrated by Dean Quigley on the Education Page. The midden along the shore runs up and down for several blocks south of our house. Homes sit on top of it just like they did a thousand years ago. Archaeological investigations showed that this village had three different occupations between AD 800 and 1100. The temple mound, perhaps the first in Tampa Bay, was destroyed when the neighborhood was built. In 1957, a physical anthropologist exhumed 118 skeletons from the burial mound for study. He wrote that the Indian’s teeth were worn in half (perhaps from cracking oysters or handling rope) but had no cavities (indicating that sweet corn was not grown in the area.) He said the Indians were muscular, a little heavy, had wide spread toes, and walked on the outside of their feet. The men averaged 5’6" and the women 5’. The older people had arthritis, especially in their back, and many had syphilis. Most had died from a bone disease. 34 of them were children, and a few had been cremated. The remains of this burial site are now protected under the parking lot at Lighthouse Point. Today, Florida laws and moral correctness prevent exhuming skeletons of any age or race. No one knows why this village was abandoned long before the Europeans arrived.

The Safety Harbor Temple Mound is the home mound of Chief Tocobaga himself. It can be seen in Philippe Park in Safety Harbor. It was here that Menendez brought Chief Carlos to meet Tocobaga in 1565. Chief Tocobaga summoned 29 sub-chiefs from surrounding villages for the event. That gives us a hint as to how many villages were around Tampa Bay in the 16th century. In 1880, the mound base was measured at 146 feet by 162 feet and was 20 feet tall. Climb to the top of the mound and see what Tocobaga saw every morning when he woke up. In 1948, archaeologists found post holes and 2700 pottery sherds that date the site from about 1200 to 1600.

While in Pinellas County, be sure to see the Florida Indian exhibits at the St. Petersburg Museum of History at the Pier in downtown St Pete, the Safety Harbor Museum at 329 Bayshore Blvd. and at Bay Pines Medical Center lobby in Bay Pines.


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