Sacred Lands Preservation and Education 

Pre-Historic Indians of Florida

(By Mac Perry)


Indians (a misnomer because Columbus thought he’d landed in India) have been living in Florida for over twelve thousand years. Perhaps the best way to get a glimpse at how they lived through the ages is to develop an archaeological timeline based on major changes in the environment that affected and changed the Native American lifestyle.


Click on the bottom date of the image below and work up to the surface. Archaeological Timeline of Florida

(The following artwork by Hermann Trappman is from Indian Mounds You Can Visit}







12,000 BP


About 12,000 years before present (BP) Indians who had crossed the dry land bridge between Siberia and Alaska arrived in Florida. They migrated around the state gathering roots and berries and other plants and hunted huge animals such as giant sloths, tortoises and mammoths. Because it was the end of the Ice Age and much cooler and drier than it is now, Tampa Bay and Charlotte Harbor were prairies, and the shoreline was more than fifty miles out from its present location. Water was available only at sinkholes where Paleo (meaning pre-historic) Indians ambushed animals killing them with spears thrown with the aid of an atlatl spear thrower.


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9,000 BP


Around 9,000 BP the huge animals became extinct. By then the Indians were making a variety of small tools from wood and a flintlike stone called chert. They also wove plant fibers into cloth and baskets. With the shoreline coming in these Archaic (meaning ancient) Indians began to settle down into family settlements near water sources where they continued to gather plants and hunt smaller animals such as opossum, black bear, and whitetail deer. But water resources—fish, seabirds, alligators, and shellfish—soon became their principle source of protein.


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5,000 BP


By 5,000 BP the climate and shoreline had become much as it is today. Bays formed and sinkholes overflowed to create rivers and lakes. Indians moved into all parts of Florida. They began eating huge quantities of shellfish and made trash piles (middens) from the discarded shells. Because clay could now be collected in the bay bottoms, containers from wood, shell, and plant fiber were replaced by pottery, a major improvement. The Indians made traps, weirs, and nets to catch sharks, porpoises, rays, and over twenty species of fish. Whelk shell tools began to appear—hammers, cups, and cutting tools. Post holes discovered by archaeologists indicate their houses were round and about 14 feet in diameter.


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2,000 BP


By 2,000 BP, when Jesus was born, the Indians had become a full blown fishing culture. Thousands of dugout canoes were built, mostly out of pine because the sapwood in the center easily burned out. Shell mounds grew thick and tall. The Indians became more artistic and produced delicate wood carvings and some of the finest pottery ever made in the eastern US, pots highly decorated with punctuations, incisions, and check stamps. There were gardens of beans, squash, pumpkins, and peas. Indians followed river highways and traded with villages outside of Florida. They buried their dead in large mounds while conducting elaborate rituals. Villages followed strict religious principles and were ruled by a shaman or elder skilled in ceremony.


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1,000 BP


By 1,000 BP corn was being grown in huge acreages in north Florida. Storehouses kept surpluses. The excess food resulted in population expansions. South Florida continued to develop their fishing culture especially around Charlotte Harbor and Tampa Bay. Societies became complex. Each villager had a specific job e.g. potter, fisher, weaver, dugout maker. A chief who often lived on a temple mound ruled over them. He had a council of elders or advisors who drank the Black Drink and ruled on daily decisions. Multimound towns became religious centers and had armies of warriors and collected tribute taxes from dozens of smaller outlying villages.


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500 BP

After 500 BP Columbus and other Europeans and Africans came to America. The Narváez and de Soto expeditions brought horses and pigs, glass and metal pots and pans, guns and Christianity to Florida. Indians stopped building mounds and pottery and quickly adapted to the new products. It was a windfall at first but soon became a nightmare. Inadvertently, the Europeans had brought smallpox, flu, measles and other diseases in which the native peoples had no resistance. Missions were built in north Florida and the diseases spread. Within 250 years all of the Florida Indians were extinct. After 1750 Creek Indians began arriving from Georgia and Alabama. They took up residence and a new name, Seminole, from the Spanish Cimarron meaning runaway.


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