Marco Island Florida, Calusa Indian Mound Exploration 

Our two day trip started on Good Friday at the end of March during a warm, humid windless day that would be more appropriate for us if we were planning a trip to Cape Romano for a beach day rather than our planned adventure.  My wife and I both have been curious about the Calusa Indian Mounds of S.W. Florida.  I did some research on the computer and using satellite photography (free on the web) located several spots that we thought that we would explore.

For reasons that my wife and conclude would protect the history, artifacts and the overall condition of theses sites, we will not disclose the actual locations of our discovered mounds.  These mounds are known to the archeological communities as we found a couple of places where there were "spot" digs during the past years.

We knew this island well, deep into the 10,000 islands, as we have fished it's shores for many years, catching plenty of sea trout, snapper and redfish mixed in with the occasional snook.  Today and the next day, we will not be going after finned food, but, making an adventure into a region that was inhabitated by the early pioneers of Florida, the Calusa Indians.  We moored our boat nose into the red mangrove roots and climbed off with our faithful dog Penny in the lead, exploring the mangrove roots for anything moving.  We hobbled over the roots, and after a few feet were on hard ground, packed oyster shells to be exact, on a island of perhaps of 70 acres give or take a dozen acres.  We thought ahead and printed a map from the computer, easing our way through two species of cactus, the taller of the two, towered up to 10 feet tall, and punctured our skin along with the multitude of mosquitoes that swarmed our bodies even after being sprayed with 20 percent deet, from our favorite bug spray.  With my lips tingling from the bug spray, and my body feeling like a pin cushion from the cactus, we plunged into the area that should be wide open and clear according to our aerial photography.  My spirit and body were tiring and much to my surprise, my wife was willing to forge on, deeper into the thick forest.  So on we plugged, my wife leading the way, in a direction that we concluded was the correct direction.  I was about ready to turn back when I heard my wife's happy voice stating that she had found the mounds!  We emerged from the mosquito infested woods, I was amazed to see the huge expanse of piled shell from years of Calusa's shucking oysters and other shelled mollusks.  We estimated the height of the mounds to be in the neighborhood of 20 feet above sea level, and the mounds are somewhat shaped in half circles. See below.

Now, as you can see, from the aerial photograph, this area is a very large area, perhaps a bit smaller than Goodland. I would speculate that the photograph would cover a distance of about 2 miles from top to bottom, or side to side for a scale reference. The brown area is water, green trees, and the white and gray areas the shell mound.  Look to the left of the photo and you will see what look like dark lines in the white shell mounds, these are boat passage ways or canals for the canoes of the Calusa.  They were very low areas, with mangrove and button wood growing in them.  We explored the large ring on the left of the picture and did not investigate the other two semi rings.  To give you a scope of the size of this mound to walk the left semi circle, it took us about 45 minutes, this is a very large area, perhaps a mile square or so.  Day one, we mostly explored the area, looking for a means of getting to the other semi circles without avail.  Along the way in a couple of other areas, we could see Calusa Pottery pieces laying atop of the heaps of shell.  Please note that Florida State law prohibits the collecting or disturbing of any Indian Mound.  The pottery we saw was of three colors, black, red and orange.  Most pieces were the size of a quarter, however we saw some larger pieces that were almost the size of my hand.  We wondered what lies below our feet as we walk the ridges of the mounds, knowing that people that lived in days before Christ were walking the same ground that we are treading upon.  There was a feeling of still, (maybe because of no wind) tranquility, and smallness here at this mound, and we felt like we were treading where many had lived centuries before.  We could not believe the huge expanse of shell required to build a mound of this size, or the hundreds of years to build them.  What were the half circle rings?  Where did they get fresh water, perhaps the little lake above the rings?  

Day two, we decide that we want to try to get to the lake to determine if it is fresh or salt water.  We look at various areas to determine the best route to the lake.  We start into the bush, with the usual swarms of mosquito's and cactus biting our skin.  I tell my wife that I was not up for this leg of the adventure and that if she wants to proceed for a bit more, go ahead.  I went back to the clearing, and looked at various pottery pieces.  I yelled to my wife not to go out of yelling distance, which of course she did.  Two hours later, and after I went back to the boat to get a whistle, I found her lying below mangrove roots in a little pool of water covered with cactus spines.  She said that she had gotten lost and was  floating on a boat cushion (her seat on the shell mound) in some mangrove lake.  She further said that the dog heard me yelling and blowing the whistle and jumped into the water swimming toward my noise making.  I speculated where she would be, judging by her last calls.  We made it out safely, with the exception of several cactus splinters and loss of blood from the hoards of mosquitoes. 

To  the left, my wife takes a break and looks at the various pottery shards that were found in this section.  We found that the pottery was not present in all sections, and it appeared that it was isolated to the areas that contained other shells, not just the oysters which make up the majority of the mounds.  We also noted that the prickly pear cactus which are edible, along with papaya were growing in the areas next to the woods and other rings.  These plants must be from hundreds of generations of plants that the Calusas used on a daily basis for general food consumption.  We also noted that others had dug this area as evidenced by what appeared to be a old dig trough.

I was also surprised to see signs of wild life, such as rabbit droppings, large animal droppings with what looked like rabbit fur in them perhaps from a fox.  We also found several box turtles, along with what looked like gopher tortoise dens.  There is fresh water somewhere on that island, and we speculate that was the reason for the Calusa settlement.  Without fresh water close by, a culture could not survive.  We decide that the lake search would be saved for a day in the future, perhaps next winter, when the weather is cooler, and the bugs a bit less hungry. 

  To the right, you can see a couple of pieces of pottery that we found, and again, we remind you that the pottery should be left where it is found to be left for future generations of explorers.  In all, I estimate that we saw a couple of hundred chards of pottery ranging from fingernail size to a bit smaller than my hand.  Most of the pottery was smooth, without markings, however, one chunk, had some design that looked something like this WWWW.  Almost like w's?  Hmmm. 

In conclusion, we enjoyed our adventure and both of us are very tired today.  We are making plans for next winter, when  the weather is more accommodating, and our bones healed!

 


Back to Marco Sun

www.marcosun.com


Patrick Wilkins  for all of your Marco Island real-estate needs!