Mayan Glyphs on Georgia, Florida Pottery?

Distribution of Swift Creek sites in Southeastern U.S.

The arrival of corn at the Fort Center and Ortona sites in the Lake Okeechobee area of Florida by 200 AD coincides with a pottery tradition known as Swift Creek. In fact, this pottery tradition appears in the same places where the Hitchiti language was spoken thus the two are likely related. As noted in my article “Mayan Words Among Georgia’s Indians?” the Hitchiti language has several words of Mayan origin.

Researchers noted in A World Engraved: Archaeology of the Swift Creek Culture that many of the symbols found on Swift Creek pottery are similar to designs from Mexico. Although this similarity has been dismissed by mainstream scholars as coincidental26, in light of all the linguistic evidence it seems more likely that it is far from coincidental.

For instance, a plumed serpent-like figure has been found on a Swift Creek pot that is similar to feathered or plumed serpent designs from Mexico27. Due to its duck bill-like face it has been conjectured that it represents the wind aspect of the plumed serpent known by the Aztecs as Ehecatl-Quetzalcoatl. As noted by Susan Milbrath, “in the Codex Borgia, Ehecatl-Quetzalcoat is the patron of the day Wind, the counterpart of [the Mayan] Ik.”28 The plumed serpent in Mexico is also associated with Venus.

Swift Creek “Coiled, crested serpent”

Olmec plumed serpent

Other Swift Creek designs known as “long-nose mask design,” and “unidentified creature” are similar to various versions of the Mayan ek glyph which means “star” or “Venus.”

Swift Creek “Long-nose Mask” Swift Creek “Unidentified creature”
Mayan EK glyph for “star” Mayan EK glyph for “star”

Although we do not know the meaning of the symbols on the Swift Creek pots we can deduce that they also have a relationship to stars since both designs feature two iterations of a symbol which consists of concentric circles with a central dot that has been shown to represent stars on petroglyphs in Georgia.30 The fact that this Swift Creek design features two such star symbols may represent Venus as the Morning and Evening star.

Another Swift Creek design known as “mask like design with unusual mouth element” appears to contain two other versions of the Mayan ek glyph both within a cartouche. The fact that the Swift Creek potters placed both symbols in a cartouche shows they believed these two symbols conveyed closely related or identical concepts. In Mayan, both of these symbols, the diamond and cross, are closely associated and used both separately and sometimes together to represent the Mayan word ek, “star/Venus.”

Swift Creek diamond-cross design

Mayan EK “star/Venus” glyph

features both a cross and diamond

Mayan EK glyph

featuring diamond design

Mayan Venus/EK glyph

featuring rounded-cross design

Interestingly, these designs predate the Maya. The earliest examples show up on Olmec pottery.31 When contained within a cartouche they stand for the day sign Lamat32 on the Mayan calendar and often associated with Venus, the morning and evening star.

Olmec pottery sherd with diamond version of EK “star” glyph as well as flint “eye”

On the same Olmec pottery sherd can be found another glyph that looks like an eye and represents flint. The same symbol can be found on numerous Swift Creek pots. Throughout Mesoamerica flint was often portrayed with an eye or face.

Mesoamerican flint glyphs with various eye motifs
Swift Creek flint/eye

Flint in Mesoamerican cultures is associated with the sun. Coincidentally, the Spanish friar Juan de Cordova recorded a very interesting Mayan story that relates flint with sunlight and an all-seeing eye:

On the day we call Tecpatl ( Flint ) a great light came from the northeastern sky. It glowed for four days in the sky, then lowered itself to that rock (the rock can still be seen at Tenochtitlan de Valle in Oaxaca ). From the light there came a great, a very powerful being who stood on the very top of the rock and glowed like the sun in the sky.

There he stood for all to see, shining day and night. Then he spoke, his voice was like thunder, booming across the valley.

Our old men and women, the astronomers and astrologists, could understand him and he could understand them.

He (the Solar Beam) told us how to pray and fixed for us days of fast and feasting. He then balanced the “Book of days,” (Sacred Calendar) and left, vowing that he would always watch down on us, his beloved people.33

Thus the Swift Creek flint-eye is consistent with Mesoamerican beliefs. It should also be noted that Venus was also seen as a big eye in the sky. As Malbrath notes, “the double-headed serpent on Lintel 25 [at Yax-chilan] intertwines with a volute bearing a heavy-lidded eye framed by five radiating elements, a form of Venus symbol that may refer to Venus as the ‘big eye.’”34 

The Mayan glyph for “sun” is known as kin. It looks like a flower with four petals sometimes with a dot in the center of each petal. Swift Creek pots appear to also represent this glyph.

Swift Creek  ‘four-petal-w/-dots’ designs Mayan ‘four-petal-with-dots’ kin glyph Mayan ‘four-petal’ kin “sun” glyph

The design also includes the quincunx, five dot, design which in Mayan has the phonetic value bi or be.35 Among the Maya it represented the five directions: north, south, east, west and center. Interestingly, the Hitchiti word bih means “head-chief” and the head chief was known as the Great Sun. Early eyewitness accounts of the Natchez, noted that each morning the Great Sun would smoke a pipe and blow the smoke towards the sun (center) and then to the four directions.36 Thus we see that among the Hitchiti-speakers, like the Maya, bih is associated with both the sun and five directions.

As Milbrath notes, “the Mayan quincunx glyph (T585a) may represent a variant of the central Mexican Venus sign. It has considerable antiquity, having been found on an Olmec scorpion sculpture (Monument 43) from San Lorenzo dated before 900 B.C.”37 and also had an association with Venus among the Maya. Interestingly, if the Swift Creek design is rotated 180 degrees it has a strong similarity to the Mayan/Aztec god Chac/Tlaloc who also is associated with Venus. (This will be discussed later.)

Another Swift Creek design known as “buzzard’s head” looks remarkably similar to the Mayan cimi glyph which is another calendar day sign and is associated with “death” and “reincarnation.” In fact, it is the thirteenth and final sign of the thirteen day period in the Maya Tzolkin calendar when the Trecena begins with jaguar.

Swift Creek “buzzard’s head” design Mayan Cimi glyph for “death” & “transformation”

The one difference is the Swift Creek design appears reversed from the Mayan design. This could be the result of the “stamping” process used to create the image. The Swift Creek designs were first carved into a wooden paddle and then pressed or stamped into the side of the pot while still wet. This process results in a reversed image thus the image carved on the paddle would have appeared similarly to the cimi glyph above.

Another Swift Creek design known as “unidentified creature” has been noted for its Olmec-style appearance38. It is very similar in design to the Olmec jaguar deity.

Swift Creek Olmec-style “creature” Olmec jaguar deity Mayan Ik’ glyph for “wind/breath/spirit”

The face of the Swift Creek jaguar appears to also contain the Mayan T-shaped ik’ glyph for “wind/breath/life.” To the Maya, the Jaguar’s spotted skin represented the stars of the Milky Way galaxy. The Maya also used a jaguar glyph with a quincunx symbol on its head to represent the planet Venus. (See chart below.) Thus this appears to be another possible representation of Venus on Swift Creek pottery. Jaguar is also one of the thirteen day signs of the Trecena and as just noted when the Trecena begins with jaguar it ends with cimi (death/transformation.) Thus the ik’ “breath/spirit” association with jaguar is an appropriate way to begin a cycle that ends with cimi “death/transformation.”

Mayan Venus glyphs. Notice the jaguar glyph in the center of second row.

Another jaguar design appears on another Swift Creek pot but when turned upside down turns into the head of a rattlesnake. It also includes a flint knife in the center of the design:

 Swift Creek “Jaguar” design w/ cleft head & flint knife nose When rotated looks like a rattlesnake head
 
Mesoamerican Tlaloc with snake eyes  Proto-Mayan flint knife

Interestingly, this combination of a snake, jaguar with cleft head, and flint knife is consistent with Mesoamerican mythology. For instance, Matthew Stirling notes in his article “Early history of the Olmec problem,”

a “jaguar god who was…the forerunner of the important Aztec god Tezcatlipoca, [was] conceived of in one phase as a jaguar. ‘Thunderbolts’ or stone axes,‘rained from heaven,’ were attributed to his activities. Saville speculated that the cleft in the forehead characteristic of these jaguar axes was caused by the blow on the head received during his struggle with Quetzalcóatl, at which time he was transformed into a jaguar. One thing Saville did not mention is that the fetish or distinguishing mark of Tezcatlipoca is the flint knife, a feature shown on many of the were-jaguar votive axes.”39

The Swift Creek jaguar design includes a cleft-head and a flint knife nose and when rotated appears to be a rattlesnake head. Thus the Swift Creek design could have represented the struggle between Quetzalcoatl, the feathered rattlesnake, and Tezcatlipoca, represented as a jaguar.

A Swift Creek design mentioned earlier, when turned upside-down, also appears to be a representation of Tlaloc:

Swift Creek  ‘four-petal-w/-dots’ designs Same design rotated looks like Tlaloc Tlaloc w/ curved fangs and circled dots on cheeks

Tlaloc was also a god of rain and thus fertility. Interestingly, the figure at left has the appearance of flowering plants but when rotated takes the appearance of Tlaloc which is consistent with these Mesoamerican associations.

?It should also be noted that Tlaloc is often represented in Mesoamerica wearing a headdress with circumpuncts in its headband. As noted previously, the circumpunct was likely a star symbol among the Hitchiti. The fact that Tlaloc had strong associations with Venus and wore a “crown” of circumpuncts suggests that the circumpunct was also a star symbol in Mesoamerica as well. (Interestingly, there are five circumpuncts in the headband at left. In Mesoamerica Venus was strongly associated with the numeral five which Milbrath refers to as the “fiveness of Venus” which she argued symbolized the “Venus Almanac of five Venus cycles correlating with eight solar years.”40 This further supports the argument that the circumpunct was a star symbol in Mesoamerica.)

The preceding myth about the battle between Quetzalcoatl and Tezcatlipoca includes symbolism which is suggestive of a meteor storm. For instance, stone axes raining from heaven could represent meteorites which fell to earth. Tlaloc has other associations which are consistent with this interpretation. For instance, he is said to fall from the sky and bury himself in the earth.

Among Native Americans, jaguars/panthers were also associated with meteors and shooting stars. For instance, the Shawnee leader Tecumseh’s name means “Shooting Star” or “Panther Across the Sky” and he received this name because of an especially bright and long-lasting greenish-white meteor that shot across the sky at his birth:41

As Pucksinwah stared at the sky on this night, he saw a huge meteor streak across from the north, leaving a trail of greenish-white flame. It lasted for fully 20 seconds and was unlike anything he had ever seen before. This was the Panther spirit that the old men sometimes spoke of, and a good sign indeed. As the women around the fire talked excitedly and pointed to the heavens, a baby’s cry came from the shelter. Usually a child was not named for several days while the parents waited for a sign to indicate what the great spirit Moneto wished the child to be called, but this child must surely be named Tecumseh, “The Panther Passing Across”

Shooting stars were viewed by many cultures, including Mesoamerican cultures, as the souls of the dead departing and/or returning to Earth.

Another Swift Creek design is similar in design to the xochitl “flower” glyph from Mexico:

Swift Creek  design w/ ying-yang element One version of xochitl “flower” glyph w/ yin-yang knot Another xochitl glyph

The xochitl flower glyph was the last day sign in the Aztec calendar and represented both the flowering of life and the disappearance from existence42. As noted above, the Mayan glyph for sun, kin, also was flower-shaped and likely represented similar concepts.

Another Swift Creek design is similar to another flower glyph from Mexico, the water lily glyph. This glyph was used to represent the number 13 which was a very important number among the Maya used to represent the concept of completion.43 The Maya included this glyph as a headdress on their Chac Serpent deity. (Chac was the Maya version of Tlaloc.) Thus we see the concepts of flowers, fertility, Tlaloc/Chac, stars/Venus, and completion are closely associated in Mesoamerica.

“Chac serpent with waterlily headdress of Classic numeral thirteen head variant” Swift Creek design similar to waterlily headdress

The water lily also seems closely associated with stars. “The Lamat glyph sometimes represents a half star with a stylized water lily (Imix), resembling a variant of the star glyph known as T510e.”44

The water lily serpent is also associated with IK45, which in Mayan is associated with “wind, breath, life, spirit.”46 As noted by Milbrath, “in the Codex Borgia, Ehecatl-Quetzalcoat is the patron of the day Wind, the counterpart of Ik. This suggests that God H, the Water-Lily Serpent and Ehecatl-Quetzalcoatl are all related by an association with Venus and the wind.”47

Flowers were also associated with stars in the secret language of the Itza Maya priesthood known as the language of Zuyva. For instance, in the sacred book Chilam Balam of Chumayel, a section called “A Chapter of Questions and Answers” includes question #8 which is “large flower (of the night)” with the answer “star (in the sky).”48 (This secret language is believed to be related to Mixe-Zoque which happens to be the language of the Olmecs. Were the Itza priests actually Olmec?)49

Flint represented not only the sun and all-seeing-eye but also duality. The flint blade could bring life (via surgery or food preparation) or death (via the warriors knife.)50 Likewise the Cimi glyph was another calendar day sign with a meaning associated with death and reincarnation.

Interestingly, the Hitchiti word for “star” was owachiki which translates literally as “soul house.” Thus we see a clear connection between stars and the concept of death and reincarnation in both cultures.

In fact, the Swift Creek xochitl (“flower”) and ek (“star”) designs look strikingly like a female womb with fallopian tubes giving birth to a shining star! Indigenous cultures throughout Latin America refer to a woman’s vagina as her “flower” because many flowers, especially orchids, greatly resemble a woman’s sex organs. Thus the symbolism between flower and rebirth is clear. A woman’s womb, as the center of creation of new life, becomes an earthly “soul house” at birth in the same way that a star becomes a celestial “soul house” at death. Or put another way, the dead are reborn as stars.

Swift Creek “xochitl” Swift Creek “ek”
Diagram of a woman’s reproductive organs showing similarity between Swift Creek “xochitl” and “ek” designs.

Considering the fact that most scholars believe the potters in Swift Creek culture were women, it seems highly appropriate that they chose to represent the story of life, death, and afterlife with the female anatomy.

Curiously Venus has a worldwide association with female sexuality:

“The planet was worshipped by all peoples and cultures of antiquity as the divinity of fertility, the goddess of war, beauty, and love. In its role as the goddess of war and fertility it is associated with the Morning star. In its role as the divinity of sexual love it is associated with the Evening star…In the West the planet Venus has always been linked to the female sex, women, in biology, botany, medicine, and other natural sciences.”51

It should also be noted that in Mesoamerican beliefs, Venus/Tlaloc/Jaguar were all associated with rain52 and thus fertility. The Maya goddess Ix Chel, depicted as an aged woman with jaguar ears, was a goddess of fertility and medicine. Ix Chel was one of the most revered gods among the Chontal Maya, also known as the Poton Maya. They were master seafarers and the most likely candidates who could have reached Florida and Georgia during this time period. (This will be further discussed in the conclusion.) Thus it is possible that these glyphs represent aspects of an Ix Chel fertility cult in the Southeast.

The association between Tlaloc/Chac, flint, fertility and rebirth can also be found in the Hero Twin myths. “In both Mesoamerican and some North American versions, ‘the second-born twin, representing the personified placenta or umbilical cord, sometimes has a flint association.’ Sometimes in Mesoamerica, the second-born hero twin is depicted as a flint or chipped-stone knife. In Post-Classic central Mexico, this human knife is shown as having anthropomorphic characteristics, including eyes and teeth. According to art historians Mary Miller and Karle Taube, ‘Chac and Tlaloc, respectively the Maya and Central Mexican hurlers of thunderbolts, were thus the creators of these valued materials.’”53

Interestingly, all of these glyphs have something in common: they all are related to astronomy, the sun, stars, life, death, and rebirth. In addition, many of these Swift Creek designs contain prominent concentric circles with a central dot. This symbol is used by cultures worldwide as a symbol for the sun and stars. It is known that Native Americans used this symbol for the sun as well.54

The fact that so many of these Swift Creek symbols are similar in design to Mesoamerican symbols whose meanings are constrained within a small range of possibilities is strong proof that they are likely Mesoamerican in origin. If the designs were based on random chance, you would expect to see designs more randomly distributed across the entire corpus of Mayan glyphs. The fact that these symbols show clustering around such a narrow range meanings provides strong evidence that something more than chance is responsible for the similarities.

Conclusion

As mentioned earlier, the Swift Creek pottery tradition began around the same time that corn agriculture first showed up in the Lake Okeechobee area of Florida. The Swift Creek pottery tradition also occurs in the same area where the Hitchiti tribe is known to have lived. It is also the Hitchiti language which features apparent loan words from Mayan. The Hitchiti migration legend appears to place them in the Lake Okeechobee area after having arrived on the Florida coast from a “place of reeds”:

“Their ancestors first appeared in the country by coming out of a canebrake or reed thicket near the sea coast. They sunned and dried their children during four days, then set out, arrived at a lake and stopped there. Some thought it was the sea, but it was a lake; they set out again, traveled up stream and settled there for a permanency”.55

At the time this legend was recorded, the Hitchiti lived in Georgia. Following this legend in reverse, the only place south or “down stream” from Georgia with a lake large enough to be confused with the sea is Lake Okeechobee. The fact they arrived at the sea coast suggests they arrived in Florida by boat.

More importantly, this legend states that the Hitchiti’s ancestors came out of a “reed thicket.” The actual Hitchiti word recorded in the legend is utski which translates literally as “reeds.” In the Mayan language, “reeds” or “place of reeds” is a metaphor for a large city. For instance, according to Mayan scholar Linda Schele in her book The Code of Kings, the Maya referred to the great Mesoamerican metropolis of Teotihuacan as Puh which means “reeds.”53 The great Toltec capital of Tula was also known as a “place of reeds.” “Place of Reeds” served as a metaphor relating the masses of reeds in a marsh to the masses of people in a metropolis thus a metropolis became a “place of reeds.”

The Hitchiti migration legend reference to their ancestors coming from “reeds” suggests they were Maya who left a major city in Mexico and then arrived on the coast of Florida and temporarily settled near Lake Okeechobee before heading upstream and settling in Georgia “for a permanency.” Interestingly, the Itza Maya referred to their ancestors as Ah Puh which translates as “Reed People.” Could the Hitchiti be descendants of the Itza Maya?

According to J. Eric Thompson in his book Maya History and Religion the Itza were a branch of the Poton Maya.57 He noted the Poton, who also called themselves the Yokot’an, lived in a province named Acala.

Interestingly, the first Spanish to visit Florida noted that a tribe named the Mayaimi lived around Lake Okeechobee. Other Spanish explorers with the Hernando de Soto expedition noted they visited a town in this area named Uqueten which was the southernmost village of a province named Ocale58, namesake of modern-day Ocala, Florida. They also noted that after leaving a town named Ocale they visited one named Potano59. Since Native American towns were named after the people who lived there it’s safe to assume people named Uqueten and Potano lived in a province named Ocale in Florida just like the Poton/Yokot’an Maya lived in a province named Acala in Mexico.

"Mirror Bearer" Maya / Olmec wood sculpture
This rare Maya wooden sculpture dates from 500 AD and possibly represents an Olmec priest or trader. (“Mirror-Bearer,” Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection)

As previously noted the Poton Maya were master seafarers, often referred to as the Chontal Maya, and the most likely candidate to have made the voyage to south central Florida around 200 A.D. Based on a magnificent wooden sculpture known as the “Putun Maya Lord”60 which dates to around 500 A.D. we know they were expert wood carvers. Researchers have noted that the intricate Swift Creek designs carved into wooden paddles show they were also expert wood carvers.61

Also as previously noted, one of the primary deities worshipped by the Poton Maya was Ix Chel, a goddess of fertility and medicine. Their other primary deity was Kukulkan, the plumed serpent. Thus if Poton Maya traders had significant contacts with an area one would expect to find representations of these two deities. As discussed earlier, both a plumed serpent and fertility symbols have been found among Swift Creek pottery designs.

"Mirror Bearer" 500 AD Maya / Olmec wooden statue

The Poton Maya (Chontal Maya) also claim to be descendants of the Olmec,62 the mother culture of Mesoamerica. The aforementioned “Poton Maya Lord” wooden statue has definite Olmec features. This may also explain the appearance of the Olmec-style jaguar glyph among Swift Creek designs.

The preponderance of the evidence seems to indicate that the Itza Maya were the ancestors of the Hitchiti tribe. They arrived in Florida around 200 AD as indicated by the arrival of corn in Florida, Mayan words in the Hitchiti language and Mayan glyphs on Swift Creek pottery. Massive earthen pyramids were also constructed at this time such as the Crystal River Mounds and Letchworth Mounds in Florida and Kolomoki Mounds in Georgia which is where much of this Swift Creek pottery has been found. The discovery of one of the largest sources of the mineral attapulgite just a few miles from these sites provides one possible reason for the Maya presence in the area. Attapulgite was used by the Maya to create the pigment Maya Blue which was very important to their culture. They were also likely mining gold in the north Georgia mountains. It seems highly unlikely that all these correlations are coincidental.

Work in progress. For more information visit: Maya in America- The Untold Story of Ancient America.

[References cited can be found on the original paper: “A Mayan Connection to Florida and Georgia Indians?“]

45-Foot Ancient Canoe Stuck In The Muck Of Weedon Island

By KEITH MORELLI of The Tampa Tribune

ST. PETERSBURG – Stuck somewhere in the muck of Weedon Island is a significant piece of history.

weeden island canoeA 45-foot canoe, buried for more than a thousand years and used by a long-dead culture of Native Americans, worked its way to the surface, and now authorities are trying to figure out how best to preserve it.

The vessel is carved out of a single pine tree, and archaeologists say it was used to paddle over the open waters of the bay — unlike the other ancient canoes uncovered in Florida over the years, which were used to ply the calmer waters of lakes and rivers.

With the back end of the canoe broken off, it measures 39 feet, 11 inches. If the missing piece was attached, archaeologists estimate 5 more feet would be added to the length. The size of the vessel and configuration of the bow leads archaeologists to think the vessel may have been used to trade with people living some distance away.

“It’s the longest prehistoric canoe ever found in the state of Florida,” said Weedon Island Preserve Center manager Phyllis Kolianos.

“I think it’s fascinating,” she said this morning. “I think it’s a very important find, and it’s very significant. It gives us an understanding that these weren’t simple people living here, that they were probably trading with other cultures.”

The dugout is the first pre-Columbian seagoing vessel uncovered in Florida. It points to a culture that thrived in what would become the Tampa Bay area and traded with others along the Gulf of Mexico coast and beyond. The influence of the Weedon Island culture stretched to places as far away as Georgia, archaeologists say.

Kolianos said carbon dating of the canoe shows it to be about 1,100 years old.

Continue reading the full story here: http://www2.tbo.com/content/2008/may/05/051620/45-foot-ancient-canoe-stuck-muck-weedon-island/

New excavations at Pineland site Mound 5

The Randell Research Center was offered an opportunity to examine Mound 5 of the Brown’s Mound Complex on property adjacent to the Randell Research Center. Brown’s Mound 1, the largest mound on the Pineland site, is thought to have been surrounded by five other mounds, forming a six-mound “complex.”

Initial examination of the pottery shows a diverse assemblage of types from Lake Okeechobee, Tampa Bay, and the St. Johns River basin, as well as locally produced wares. Locally produced pottery such as Sand-tempered Plain and Pineland Plain were not of the highest quality or durability due to the poor quality clays available. By the first century A.D. the Calusa began to seek out and acquire better quality pots from other parts of Florida.

We know that by the sixteenth century the Calusa had established wide-ranging contacts through their system of trade and tribute. Part of the story of Mound 5 may include evidence of how and when the Calusa came to rule much of South Florida.

The above was excerpted from the September 2009 Friends of the Randall Research Center newsletter. Read the full article here.

Turtle Mound, Florida investigation

Turtle Mound in Florida which is a massive oyster-shell midden is being re-investigated. Archaeologists have found 1,200 year old pottery and other artifacts for radio-carbon analysis. Turtle Mound is the highest shell midden in the country being 35 feet tall at this point but may have been 54 feet tall before erosion. There are 35,000 cubic feet of oyster shells.

The mound may be as old as 1000 BCE and the new radio-carbon dates may confirm that.

Orlando Sentinel has the story here with a video;

http://www.orlandosentinel.com/news/local/volusia/orl-mound2908apr29,0,5758195.story?page=1&track=rss

Here is a tiny URL;

http://tinyurl.com/6ljper 

Mike Ruggeri

Mike Ruggeri’s Mississippians and Mound Builders including the Adena and Hopewell

http://tinyurl.com/276d8z

Letchworth-Love Mounds State Park

This mural, installed in 2008, shows how the Letchworth-Love mounds was constructed around 200 AD

This 80-acre park includes one of the tallest and most architecturally complex pre-Columbian earthen mounds in Florida. Archaeological research indicates that Letchworth is one of the oldest mound complexes in the Southeast, dating to the Late Swift Creek and Early Weeden Island periods (ca. A.D. 200-900); Letchworth Mounds significantly predates the nearby Lake Jackson Mounds site. Detailed mapping of the large mound indicates a basal platform with wing-like extensions to the east and west, a large apron to the south, a ramp on the north side, and a truncated pyramid (the top is flat instead of pointed) at the mound summit. At least four smaller mounds have also been identified at Letchworth.

Letchworth Mounds is often referred to as a “mound complex” because the site has more than one mound and archaeological evidence suggests it was a center of activity and organization. The function of the Letchworth Mounds site is not yet known, but experts agree that the 50-foot tall mound is most likely where important ceremonies were conducted.

Weeden Island period mound complexes are widely represented in North and Northwest Florida and are also represented in adjacent sections of Georgia and Alabama. Early Weeden Island is characterized by mound burial and elaborate burial goods, especially finely crafted ceramic vessels and ceramic effigies that depict animals and humans. The McKeithen site in Columbia County, Florida and Kolomoki Mounds in Early County, Georgia are examples of Weeden Island mound complexes that have been investigated extensively.

Internal Links:
Ancient Civilizations of Florida: Letchworth Mounds
Ancient Civilizations of Georgia: Kolomoki
Public Indian Sites of Georgia: Kolomoki Mounds
Public Indian Sites of Florida: Lake Jackson Mounds
Public Indian Sites of Florida: Indian Temple Mound Museum

External Links:

Le Moyne’s Florida Indians @ TheNewWorld.us

Letchworth-Love Mounds Archaeological State Park @ FloridaStateParks.org

 

Big Mound Key & John Quiet Mounds (850 BC)

Big Mound Key- Ancient NativeAmerican civilization in Florida

The Big Mound Key site in southwest Florida’s Charlotte Harbor has a series of semicircular ridges reminiscent of the Poverty Point site in Louisiana.

Located on the Cape Haze peninsula within Charlotte Harbor in southwest Florida are two very similar mound sites: Big Mound Key and John Quiet Mounds. Approximately eighty miles due west of Lake Okeechobee, both sites are constructed from tons of seashells and feature several flat-topped mounds situated next to a series of semi-circular ridges. The layout of the ridges is very similar to the Poverty Point site in Louisiana. Poverty Point was the center of a vast trade network with trade contacts as far north as the Great Lakes, as far south as Florida and as far west as coastal east Texas.

Big Mound Key, the older of the two Cape Haze sites, was first inhabited beginning around 850 BC. The Poverty Point site in Louisiana dates from 1800 BC to 500 BC placing Big Mound Key towards the end of that site’s habitation period. About eighty miles east of Big Mound Key near Lake Okeechobee is Fort Center (next in our story) which was also first occupied around 850 BC and provides the earliest evidence for corn agriculture in the southeastern United States. It is likely that both settlements, Big Mound Key and Fort Center, had trade relationships with each other.

Big Mound Key- an ancient Native American civilization in Florida

Aerial view of Big Mound Key

Big Mound Key possibly started as a massive shell midden (or trash pile) built up over a long period of time by Indians discarding oyster shells and other shells from the food they ate. The site covers an area of approximately 37 acres. Later, several mounds were built within the midden that rise to over 18 feet tall. These mounds had steep sides and intentionally flattened tops so that a structure could be built on top. It is believed these structures would have been temples, administrative buildings or communal structures.

During a later period of the site’s habitation archaeologists have found evidence of shell tool manufacture at the site. Whelk shells were converted into both cutting tools and hammers. This required highly skilled craftsmen who selected the appropriate sized whelk shell and delicately cut holes in the proper locations for handle insertion. Evidence also shows that the diet of these craftsman was different than the surrounding local population suggesting they were of a higher status.

John Quiet Mound- An ancient NativeAmerican civilization in Florida

The John Quiet Mound site in southwest Florida’s Charlotte Harbor has a similar site plan as the Poverty Point site in Louisiana suggestive of a trade connection. (Image by I. Mac Perry from his book “Indian Mounds You Can Visit.” Click the image to purchase the book.)

The John Quiet Mounds are located across a small bay, Turtle Bay, east of Big Mound Key. The John Quiet mound complex consists of one large mound approximately nine feet tall with steep sides and a flattened top, 20 feet by 60 feet. Like Big Mound Key it also has a series of semicircular ridges below the mound near Turtle Bay. The one foot high ridges, five in all, are very reminiscent of those at the Poverty Point site in Louisiana. It is probable that structures were constructed atop these ridges. A hand-dug canal ran from the bay to the base of the large mound. Several other mounds with flattened tops exist throughout this site which were probably the locations of more structures.

It has been suggested that canals existed between the semi-circular ridges. This would allow the trading canoes to pull along side the ridges, load up with cargo, and then set off on their journey. If true, this would make John Quiet Mounds and Big Mound Key the Native American equivalents of Venice, Italy. The Venetians also built their mercantile city-state on islands in the coastal marshlands where they could set off on trading expeditions around the Mediterranean, their version of the Gulf of Mexico. As is often the case, people around the world separated by time and geography hit upon similar solutions to shared problems. Coincidentally, Hernando De Soto brought glass trade beads manufactured in Venice, Italy when he landed in Charlotte Harbor to begin his expedition to explore the southeast in 1539. The Venetians controlled the manufacture and distribution of these glass beads for over 600 years. Florida’s Indians themselves had a long history of manufacturing and trading shell beads and John Quiet Mounds and Big Mound Key were likely sources for such trade goods thus another similarity between these two unrelated maritime cultures.

The John Quiet Mounds site dates to approximately 200 AD which places it in the same period as the Ortona Mounds to its east. In fact, the Ortona Mounds feature a canal that connects it directly to Charlotte Harbor south of both Big Mound Key and John Quiet Mounds. Archaeologists now know that the people of Ortona had extensive trade networks along both coasts of Florida and extending up the Mississippi River as far north as Ohio. It is unlikely these trade networks developed overnight and were probably a continuation of those first established between Big Mound Key, John Quiet Mounds and Poverty Point.

Gulf Loop Current made trade between west Florida and Louisiana possible

The Gulf Loop Current goes through two cycles several times throughout the year. Step 1 of its cycle starts at the tip of the Yucatan peninsula and heads straight for south Florida giving mariners from the Yucatan a free ride. Step 2 of the cycle sees the current pushed far north, often times to the coastal waters of Louisiana thus giving the Tunica traders a free ride to their trading outposts in Charlotte Harbor, Florida.

What makes possible such long distance travel across the Gulf of Mexico is the Gulf Loop Current. This current loops up from the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico and can extend as far north as the coastal waters of Louisiana before looping back down the coast of Florida. Traders could ride the Mississippi River into the Gulf of Mexico, catch a ride on the Gulf Loop Current and jump off at Charlotte Harbor in Florida. The return trip would most likely take a coastal route up the west coast of Florida and along the panhandle back to Louisiana. Coastal currents flowing northward would aid this journey.

It should also be noted that John Quiet Mounds and other sites on Cape Haze seem more influenced by the Weeden Island cultures further to the north than they are by Glades cultures just south of

them. It is possible that they are the southernmost participants of this advanced culture which exhibited a detailed knowledge of astronomy, an accurate twelve-month calendar, and constructed enormous earthen pyramids at sites such as Crystal River and Letchworth Mounds in Florida and Kolomoki Mounds in Georgia. A large ocean-going canoe was found at Weedon Island providing proof for such long distance trade.

The Poverty Point site in Louisiana features a unique site plan of parallel, semi-circular ridges which are also found at Big Mound Key & John Quiet Mounds in Florida. (Image courtesy of Wikipedia.org)

Although it is possible that both Big Mound Key and John Quiet Mounds started off as trash middens, there are similar shell sites in the area that have proven to be more than simple trash piles. Some are entirely constructed from one type of shell, such as busycon, while others are constructed in purposeful layers with each layer representing a single shell type such as whelk or oyster. Could it be that these were “manufacturing” centers, so to speak, where the production of shell tools, jewelry, and ornaments as well as dried, salted or smoked seafood were prepared for trade? It should also be noted that archaeologists once thought the Poverty Point site was also constructed over a long period of time due to the size of the site but recent research shows, instead, that it was constructed over a matter of months in one large building episode. Thus Big Mound Key and John Quiet Mounds may also have been built rather quickly.

Archaeologists know that an extensive trade network existed across the eastern United States during the Poverty Point culture period. Archaeologists have found trade items at Louisiana’s Poverty Point that could only have come from south Florida and vice versa. The similarity in site design strongly suggests that Big Mound Key and John Quiet Mounds were likely trading outposts established by the people of Poverty Point. Not only is the site plan similar to Poverty Point but the natural environment is similar as well. Poverty Point sites were built near major rivers, junctions of lakes and rivers or in coastal marshes. Although archaeologists claim that the Poverty Point culture ended in 500 BC perhaps they simply moved to south Florida?

Possible linguistic evidence of this exists in the language spoken by the inhabitants of the area during historic times. The Calusa were in control of Charlotte Harbor and southwest Florida when the first Spaniards arrived and attempted to explore Florida. The Calusa built many sites similar to Big Mound Key and John


View larger map
Big Mound Key is west of John Quiet Mound in the above map. Zoom out to see a possible trade route between these two Florida sites and the Poverty Point site in Louisiana. View Big Mound Key & John Quiet Mounds in a larger map. (Please note, in order to protect these sites, the locations above are not precise and only meant to provide the general area in which they are located.)

Quiet Mounds throughout southwest Florida (including Mound Key later in our story.) They also were known for their extensive canal network. Recent analysis of words from their language suggests they spoke a dialect of Tunica. The Tunica are a tribe in Louisiana and quite possibly descendants of the people who built Poverty Point. They were great traders and during the historic period traded salt, their major export, as far west as New Mexico to the Mescalero Apache in exchange for horses. Thus it is likely the Calusa were descendants of a Poverty Point/Tunica outpost in Charlotte Harbor.

Not only do Big Mound Key and John Quiet Mounds fit the typical Poverty Point site locations (coastal marshes, riverways and river-lake junctions) but so do the next two sites in our story, Fort Center and Ortona Mounds, where even more evidence for long distance trade contacts is found but this time from Mexico.

Fort Center Mounds (850 BC)

Around 850 BC new people arrive in Florida possibly from Mexico or Central America. We know this because of something they brought with them: corn. Large amounts of corn pollen were discovered at the Fort Center site in south Florida near Lake Okeechobee. The pollen was found both in the soil and embedded in the paint on buried artifacts thus archaeologists have been able to rule out the possibility of modern contamination.

This is a complete enigma because corn is not found any where else in the southeast until over 1500 years later. Thus how was corn, a native plant of Mexico, present in Florida in 850 BC? If it had arrived through overland trade networks one would expect to find evidence of corn all over the southeast long before it shows up in Florida but we don’t. Therefore we know something else about these immigrants: they arrived by boat.

Some of the earliest features found at Fort Center are large circular moats. The moats were not all built at once but instead were built one after the other. The first circle was around 300 feet in diameter. It was then replaced by another circle of the same size. Finally a third circle, called the Great Circle, was built to replace the previous circle. It was completed by 450 BC. It has a diameter of 1200 feet, quite an increase in size, and enclosed an area of approximately 23 acres! The moats themselves were on average about 28 feet wide and six feet deep which is amazing considering they were dug by hand using simple shell tools for digging and baskets for hauling away the dirt. Archaeologists believe these circular moats served to drain the land within and around the circle for agricultural purposes. It was within and around these circles that the corn was grown. Access to this interior space was made via two causeways, one from the southeast and another from the northeast.

In addition to these circles, small mounds were also constructed. It is believed that a building was constructed atop each mound (perhaps a home or communal structure.) The mounds and the circles were located next to a river currently named Fisheating Creek. The area next to the river floods for weeks and this is the most likely explanation for why the inhabitants needed to elevate their homes and drain their agricultural fields. Most of the people lived on top of natural levees formed by the river. Living next to this river also provided the bulk of their diet which mainly consisted of fish, turtles, alligators and other aquatic species. Archaeologists believe approximately 100 people lived here during this time period.

One of the mounds, referred to as Mound 13, was two feet high, built upon a natural levee and contained at least three burials. In association with the burials were the remains of two pottery vessels. It is believed that a building existed on top of the mound and the bodies were interred within its floor. Whether this was a normal house for living or a special mortuary building specifically for burials is unknown. Yet we know later in the site’s history, around 200 AD, a mortuary mound complex was constructed thus this could have been an earlier version.

The mortuary complex constructed in 200 AD and used until about 600 AD is the most spectacular part of Fort Center. It consists of two mounds (Mound A & Mound B, both once topped with buildings), a pond with an associated wooden platform built within it (from which amazingly life-like wooden sculptures were recovered), and a low earthen wall surrounding the complex.

Based upon artifacts discovered during excavation, Mound A appears to be where people once lived. These artifacts were unlike any others found elsewhere at the site including pipes for smoking, tools for carving wood, and raw materials for making stone tools. There were possibly one or two round or oval buildings, thirty feet in diameter, constructed here and the mound itself is a trash midden that built up around this building. From the artifacts it has been suggested this was a “men’s hut” where men gathered to work and smoke pipes.

One activity that took place on Mound A has puzzled archaeologists since its discovery. It appears that lime was created by the burning of shells in round pits. This activity took place in and around the oval buildings. Archaeologist have offered many explanations for this lime factory yet seem to miss the most obvious use: fertilizer for growing corn.

Some uses archaeologists have suggested include:

  • plaster. When mixed with sand, this lime made a fairly good plaster which could be used on the interior and exterior of buildings.
  • corn processing. In Mexico, lime had been used for millenia in the preparation of masa to create tortillas. Although tortillas do not appear to have been produced at Fort Center, the lime can be used to soften the outer shell of the corn kernel thus making it edible as hominy porridge. This process also increases the nutritional value of the corn.
  • bathroom deodorizer. It appears that the residents would defecate beside the pits. Lime decreases the odors associated with feces. (It also artificially hardened and preserved the feces. After the residents swept these remains into the pond they were so well preserved that the archaeologists were able to analyze the fecal remains and once again discovered corn pollen thereby removing all the doubt of the presence of corn at Fort Center.)
  • paint. Some of the artifacts discovered in the pond were painted with lime. Once again, corn pollen was found enbedded in this lime paint thus providing more proof of corn production at Fort Center.

Lime is regularly used as fertilizer today. The soil at Fort Center was acidic and acidic soils do not contain enough calcium to support prolific plant growth. When soil pH is below 6.0, plants may show signs of calcium deficiency. Without calcium plants will experience yellowing leaves, retarded growth of roots, dieback of growing tips and premature death of older leaves. Soil liming increases microbial activity and the proliferation of earthworms and beneficial insects. There is an added benefit of using seashells to produce this lime because these shells also contain calcium and magnesium. Calcium is not only an essential element for plants but it also improves soil texture, makes phosphorus and micronutrients more available to the plant and improves the environment for microorganisms, the builders of the soil. Magnesium is part of the lifeblood, or chlorophyl, of the plant and controls the development of this molecule.

When mixed with water, as the occupants of Mound A were doing, the lime becomes available to the plant immediately. The readily available calcium in the soil around the plants encourages the utilization of other nutrients. The crop responds with vigorous green growth since it can now use nutrients more effectively. Thus lime production at Fort Center was probably first and foremost for the production of fertilizer for their corn.

Lime was also most likely used to process the corn for eating in a process known as nixtamalization. This process for preparing corn requires that the grain is soaked and cooked in an alkaline solution, usually limewater, and hulled. Corn subjected to this process is more easily ground, is more easily digestible and increases the nutrients absorbed by the human body, flavor and aroma are improved and mycotoxins are reduced. These benefits make nixtamalization a crucial preliminary step for further processing of corn into food products, and the process is employed, using both traditional and industrial methods today, in the production of tortillas, tamales, corn chips, hominy and many other items (The word “nixtamalization” is derived from the Aztec word for the product of this procedure: nextamalli. “Nextli” means “ashes” and “tamalli” means “unformed corn dough, tamal.”)

It is likely that lime’s deodorizing properties were what led to the next stage of construction near Mound A. As noted earlier, archaeologists discovered evidence that the residents at Mound A were defacating next to the lime pits. By doing this they discovered the odor-reducing properties of lime which led them to use it in processing dead and decomposing bodies. There is archaeological evidence that dead bodies were once processed at Mound A. Lime has a long association with burials around the world due to its ability to both mask the odors of decomposition as well as speed up the process of decomposition.(This ability to speed up the process of decomposition by increasing microbial activity is also what makes it a good fertilizer.)

At some point in time, a small pond was dug near Mound A and the fill from this pond was used to create the second mound in the complex, Mound B. This mound started out as a low mound with a flat top where a building was located. This mound appears to have been ceremonial in nature due to the artifacts discovered there. Flakes of red, pink and white chert chips were discovered that matched stone spear points found in the pond associated with burials; thus, it is believed that Mound B was the location for the manufacture of these prestige objects. A bathtub-like depression was also discovered inside the structure on Mound B which is thought to have been used to prepare bodies after death. The bodies probably received a thorough “bath” in lime in order to neutralize odor and speed up decomposition. They would have later scraped any remaining flesh from the bones before bundling them for burial.

Apparently a large, D-shaped, wooden platform was constructed in the center of the pond upon which were laid the bone bundles of the deceased. The structure was constructed from many large posts. These posts were all topped with very realistic, life-size (and some larger than life-size) carvings of animals ranging from birds (eagles, woodpeckers, osprey, turkey, etc.) to mammals (deer and panther but mostly cat-like animals). Smaller posts decorated the sides of the platform. Dozens of small carvings of animals and birds, just as realistic, were placed on top of these posts via mortise and tenon joints.

Evidence shows that this platform was partially burned and collapsed into the pond at some point in time and the bone bundlings were recovered and buried in Mound B. This process entailed laying down a layer of clean sand, placing the bone bundles on top and then covering them over with another layer of clean sand. This process was repeated several times and thus Mound B grew to over 14 feet in height. Not all of the bones and associated burial objects were recovered from the pond and would be found 2000 years later by archaeologists.

It is possible that one of the reasons for locating burials on a platform in a pond was to protect the bodies from scavenging by wild animals. Another reason is less practical and based on Florida Indian’s spiritual beliefs. Many tribes believed that water served as a barrier to spirits of the deceased thus preventing them from returning to the realm of the living and causing problems such as sickness. This is an ancient belief going back thousands of years as evidenced by places such as Windover Bog (near Cape Canaveral) where bodies were buried in water. When buried underwater, water also blocks the odors and pathogens (i.e., “evil spirits”) associated with decomposing bodies which probably explains the origins of the spiritual beliefs just mentioned.

At a previous site in our discussion, Tomoka Mounds, we also find a burial mound with a small manmade pond. Thus burial mounds with ponds have a long history in Florida. Based on artifacts uncovered at Mound A, the people living here were most similar to other Natives from southeast Florida. Therefore it is possible that whoever the original immigrants were who brought the corn, they either merged with the local inhabitants or more likely, simply used the local population to work as laborers in their “corn factory.” Yet these “laborers” were clearly not slaves based on the elaborate burials and grave goods uncovered. They appeared to have profited quiet nicely from their partnership with the newcomers.

The question remains: who were the people who brought corn to Fort Center? One intriguing possibility comes from the migration legend of the Hitchiti, a tribe located in Georgia when the first British colonists arrived. Their migration legend states that they emerged from the reeds near the seashore and walked towards the rising sun until arriving at what they thought was the sea but discovered, instead, was a large lake. They stopped here but eventually followed a stream north and settled permanently.

This seems like an ancient memory of arriving in Florida by boat and discovering Lake Okeechobee, a lake large enough to be confused for the sea. It appears that they settled near Lake Okeechobee before heading north, eventually settling in Georgia. At the time of European exploration in the southeast, Hitchiti was spoken over most of Georgia and South Carolina. In fact, the Creek speakers insisted that the Hitchiti speakers were in Georgia when they arrived (about 800 AD) and were considered one of the indigenous people of the area. Based on this as well as the fact that Hitchiti place names are located across a large geographic area, it is apparent that Hitchiti speakers were in the southeast for a long time before 800 AD. Therefore they could have been at Fort Center in 450 BC.

Is there any linguistic evidence that connects Hitchiti speakers to Mesoamerica? Indeed, there is. In Hitchiti, the word ‘chiki’ means ‘house.’ It also means ‘house’ in the Totonac language on the Gulf Coast of Mexico just north of the Yucatan. (The Totonacs spoke a dialect of Nahuatl like the Aztecs.) In the Itza Maya language just south of the Totonacs, the word ‘chiki’ means ‘woven basket.’ Both the Totonac and Maya words derive from the same root word which has an association with “weaving with reeds.” Interestingly all of these cultures, Totonac/Maya/Hitchiti, built their houses by the wattle and daub method. This method requires weaving thin branches or reeds between upright poles forming the house walls which are then covered with a layer of mud or plaster. Therefore these houses could be considered ‘woven containers’ just as a basket is a ‘woven container.’ Thus the Itza Maya word and the Totonac word are, in fact, related.

The Itza Maya were responsible for building of one of the most famous pyramids in Mexico, the Castillo at Chichen Itza in the Yucatan. The word ‘chichen’ in Itza Maya means ‘mouth of the well’ (chi = mouth, chen=well). In Hitchiti, ‘chi’ also means ‘mouth’ and ‘chahni’ means ‘well’ thus ‘chichahni’ would mean ‘mouth of the well.’ A related group known as the Chontal Maya actually referred to Chichen Itza, as ‘Chichan Itza’ or ‘Mouth of the Snake of the Itza.’ Again, ‘chi’ meaning ‘mouth’ and ‘chan’ meaning ‘snake.’ Somehow ‘snake’ and ‘well’ were interchangeable concepts.

The Chontal and Itza also used the suffix “ha” to denote water or lake. Thus “chiaha” in Itza Maya means “water’s mouth” or “water’s edge.” (‘Chi’ can also mean ‘edge’ in Itza Maya.) Interestingly, a Hitchiti speaking group in Georgia whose capital was located on an island at the headwaters of the Little Tennessee River were known as the Chiaha thus either “water’s mouth” or “water’s edge” would be an appropriate name for this location. Lots of other Hitchiti-named rivers and lakes throughout Georgia, South Carolina and Florida end in “ha” such as Georgia’s Altamaha River and Florida’s Lake Hatchineha which suggests the “ha” suffix was also a way of denoting water in the Hitchiti language though more research is needed on this question. (It should be noted that “oki” is the modern Hitchiti word for water found in the names of such places as Lake Okeechobee and the Okefenokee Swamp.)

Who were the Itza Maya? According to their own history, they invaded the Yucatan from the sea sometime around 200 BC. Thus we know they were seafarers and we know they were conducting exploratory voyages as early as 200 BC. It is thought that the Itza were a branch of the Putun (also spelled Poton), who are a branch of the Chontal Maya. The Putun were the sea traders of Mesoamerica and controlled the sea routes around the Yucatan peninsula as far south as Honduras. (It is believed they inherited these routes from the Olmecs, their ancestors.) Their homeland was in southern Campeche, Mexico and in the huge delta of the Usumacinta and Grijalva rivers of Tabasco, Mexico. They called their land Acala which means “Land of the Canoe People.”

Interestingly, when the De Soto expedition marched through central Florida in 1539 they passed through a great swamp named Cale’ on their way to a corn-rich province called Ocale’ in Central Florida just north of the Lake Okeechobee region. Ocale’ means “Water People” in Hitchiti and is where the modern town of Ocala, Florida gets its name. After leaving Ocala the expedition next entered the territory of the Potano. Could Ocala and Potano be the Florida equivalents of Acala and Poton?

The Putun’s Acala homeland looks amazingly like Florida’s Charlotte Harbor area which is the nearest seaport to Lake Okeechobee and Fort Center. Acala (known today as Chontalpa) is filled with lakes, marshes, swamps, wetlands and rivers. The Hitchiti speakers were also known as Muscogee which means “Swamp People” because of the location of their settlements.

Another area that is very reminiscent of Acala is the coastal areas of Georgia. Coincidentally during the historic period we find a Hitchiti-speaking tribe living in this area on the Altamaha River called the Tamali (Tama people). Usually translated as “Drum People” based on the Hitchiti word for drum “tamamakti”, could this tribe have actually been known as the “corn dough people” at an earlier time due to their trade in ‘tamal’ or processed corn dough? Several other Hitchiti towns in Georgia and North Carolina were also named Tamali, Tamahle, Tamatli and Tomotla and they were all located on rivers or the junction of rivers.

The Putun’s homeland was on the periphery of the Classic Maya area and no evidence has been found indicating they were involved in the great artistic, architectural and scientific advances of their neighbors. Perhaps they could be called the illiterate cousins of the Maya.

Thus either the Itza or Putun, both being great sea traders, could have made the voyage to Florida with the more likely candidate being the Putun. A map showing the currents of the Gulf of Mexico reveals that a journey to Florida would be very possible. The Gulf Loop is a strong current in the eastern Gulf of Mexico that would give canoes a free ride from the Yucatan to the Florida Keys. Thus, a small group of Putun could have made it to Florida, entered Charlotte Harbor and settled near Lake Okeechobee.

Interestingly, the name given to Lake Okeechobee by Native Americans in south Florida during the historic period was “Mayaimi” (from which the city of Miami takes its name) and a river near this lake was called “Mayakka.” Even more interesting, the ancestors of the Putun- the Olmecs- claimed to have come from the east by boat. Since we know they originally settled in Veracruz on Mexico’s gulf coast, the only place east of there is the American southeast. The only similar mound building culture in the American southeast at this time was the Poverty Point culture in Louisiana. Poverty Point culture also appears to have favored wetlands, marshes, rivers and river-lake junctions as settlement locations. They also had an extensive maritime trade network with artifacts being found as far as east Texas and outposts in Charlotte Harbor at Big Mound Key and John Quiet Mounds. The Gulf currents from the Mississippi river in Louisiana flow directly along the Mexican coast by Veracruz thus it would not have been impossible for the Olmecs to have travelled from Poverty Point. Thus, could the Putun have made an exploratory voyage to the east of Yucatan in search of their fabled ancestral homeland but, due to the different currents, landed in Florida instead? There’s no easy way back to the Yucatan from Charlotte Harbor thus they would have been stuck. Perhaps they decided to make the best of their situation and began establishing new trade routes and taking over older ones in the coastal areas of the southeast.

There was an enormous amount of corn being grown at Fort Center that could not have been completely consumed by its inhabitants. It takes approximately 1/10 of an acre to grow enough food for one person for a year using organic methods. Thus one acre would support ten people if their diet was exclusively vegetarian. But as noted earlier, the people at Fort Center ate mostly an aquatic diet of fish, turtles and alligators. The interior of the Fort Center circle was 24 acres and thus could have produced enough food to feed 240 people. Yet the moats drained an area twice this size effectively doubling the amount of land in production bringing the total people who could be fed to 500. Now add to this the three growing seasons of south Florida and Fort Center could produce enough food to feed 1500 people a year an exclusively vegetarian diet at this one site alone. Since most people were not eating exclusively vegetarian diets and probably used corn flour to supplement their diets, the corn from Fort Center could have been distributed to thousands of people. Plus there were several other large circle-moat systems in the Lake Okeechobee area. This was large scale industrial production meant for trade and not local consumption.

Fort Center was in operation at the same time as the two previous sites in our story, Big Mound Key and John Quiet Mounds. Thus it is likely that Fort Center was engaged in the same trade network. It was pointed out that these coastal sites appeared to be “factories” for shell tools, ornaments, jewelry and perhaps even salted, dried and smoked seafood. Similarly, Fort Center would have been a factory for corn flour (as opposed to corn.) It would make sense to only trade the dried corn flour because then your trading partners couldn’t grow their own corn and would be dependent on you to supply their needs. This could also explain why no corn appears anywhere else in the southeast during this time. Fort Center would also be the perfect location for this operation since, being located in south Florida, it would experience three growing seasons.

Much later in Fort Center’s history (1200 – 1400 AD) circular and linear mounds were constructed which have been interpreted as house mounds with extended raised agricultural fields.

The next site in our story, Ortona, contains more evidence that the people who arrived in Florida were from the Gulf Coastal regions of Yucatan, Mexico. The Ortona site contains both transportation canals, the first such built in America, and u-shaped ballcourts which are also hallmarks of Putun and Hitchiti cultures.

Ortona Mounds (250 AD)

Twenty miles southwest of Fort Center in the Lake Okeechobee basin is another equally impressive Native American site: Ortona Mounds. Occupied at the same time as Fort Center, Ortona’s collection of mounds suggests it was an administrative center whereas Fort Center was an agricultural center. The people of Ortona also dug an extensive network of transportation canals, the first such canals north of Mexico, which gave them direct passage to Lake Okeechobee in the east and the Gulf of Mexico in the West. It is believed they controlled an extensive maritime trade network along both coasts of Florida and even inland via riverways as far north as Ohio. Such a network has always believed to have existed since we find bird feathers from the Everglades in Ohio and stone pipes from Ohio in the Okeechobee area. It is now believed the people at Ortona were those responsible for this trade.

 

As we discussed at our previous site, Fort Center, it is possible the inhabitants of Ortona and Fort Center were the ancestors of modern Hitchiti speakers who were, in turn, descendants of the Chontal Maya. Hitchiti has many words borrowed from Chontal Maya. In fact, the name “Hitchiti” derives from a Creek word “ahi’tchita” which means “to look up the stream.” Interestingly, in Ohio we find a group of people called the Miami which is derived from “Myaamia” (Maya-amia) meaning “downstream people.” Coincidentally, Lake Okeechobee was known as Mayaimi and a nearby river Myakka when the first Spanish explorers arrived. This is where the city of Miami takes its name.

Crystal River Mounds (150 BC)

Still another example of Woodland period archeological sites is the Crystal River Mounds found in northwestern Florida. The Crystal River mounds consist of two larger temple mound structures, a small mound used for residential purposes, as well as several burial mounds (Florida). The Crystal River mound complex is approximately 14 acres and dates variously from 200BC to approximately 1300 or 1400AD (Milanich).

The Crystal River Mounds have been found to contain various pottery artifacts and the burial mounds, as other mounds in pre-Columbian archeological sites within Florida, contain artifacts that were not sourced locally, such as Grizzly Bear teeth, mica from the Appalachian Mountain area to the north of Florida, and copper earrings from the Ohio area. The primary burial mound consists of white sand and is said to contain, by some estimates, as many as a 1,000 separate burials (Milanich). The Crystal River mound complex also contains two stone objects estimated to date to 440-450AD and whose purpose is not definitively known. These stone objects are about five feet in height and are fashioned out of limestone and one is carved to be representative of a human head (Milanich). Some archeologists have hypothesized that the entire complex is a massive calendar to mark the major planetary events such as equinoxes, solstices, and star alignments (Milanich).

Letchworth Mounds (450 AD)

The Letchworth Mounds by nearby Monticella in Florida are, like the Crystal River Mounds, considered a complex because there are several mound structures of varying purposes. The Letchworth Mounds represent the tallest mounds of the period with the tallest one certainly being ceremonial in nature (Mainfort).

 

Like the other Woodland Period mound structures, the Letchworth complex dates from circa 450AD to approximately 900AD and have yet to be fully examined. The native-American culture supposed to have constructed the Letchworth mounds belonged to the Weeden Island culture which disappeared circa 900AD while other researchers have connected the Letchworth complex with the Ft. Walton period which was later, around 1000-1500AD (Mainworth).

 

Regardless, the sites largest mound, one of the largest mounds in existence from any period, measures approximately 300 feet in width by 46-50 feet in height. All told there are, or were 5 mounds but one has been destroyed in the modern era. The culture that populated and constructed the Letchworth Mounds is little known other than the Weeden Island hypothesis. However, most Woodland Period cultures constructed these large mounds for varying purposes from burial to ceremonial but in all instances they occupied a central role in the community life of the population. Additionally, it is supposed that the presence of these mounds and their use in daily life indicated an elite or ruling class.