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Late Prehistoric Florida: An Introduction



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Late Prehistoric Florida
An Introduction
     
e archaeological record of late prehistoric Florida is often bypassed or
devalued by scholars outside the state, many of whom tend to view Florida
natives as somehow cut o from the supposedly more complex and impor-
tant developments of the interior Southeast. To some extent, Florida oc-
cupies a geographically marginal position as North America’s southeastern
appendage. But it is not an island separated from the mainland by hun-
dreds of miles of ocean waters. Still, Florida societies, particularly those
of the peninsula, have been largely ignored or given minor consideration
in overviews on the Mississippian Southeast (A.D. –). Perhaps
the omission is nothing more than the by-product of gross generalizations
focused on cultures that t the “Mississippian” mold. Yet at times there
appears to be an underlying sense of indierence, allowing researchers to
cast “non-Mississippians” aside as inconsequential. But just how dierent
were Florida societies from those of the Mississippian world? And does
being dierent render Florida societies irrelevant or culturally inferior
and justify exclusion from the social landscape of the Mississippi-period
Southeast? We think not.
is volume attempts to shine a light on late prehistoric cultures in
Florida, from the northwestern panhandle to the southern tip of the pen-
insula, and to explore the degree to which Florida’s inhabitants distilled
the ideas and trends of the broader Mississippian world (gure .). As de-
tailed in the following chapters, labeling Florida societies as either Missis-
sippian or non-Mississippian pigeonholes them and distorts the reality of
the native world. Agriculture was not needed for political complexity, nor
was it a prerequisite for active participation in long-distance exchange. Our
aim is not to recast Florida societies as Mississippian wannabes pleading
 · Keith Ashley and Nancy Marie White
Figure .. Areas covered by volume chapters.
for acceptance into the in-crowd, although arguments can be made that
more-northerly Florida groups such as the historically known Timucua,
Apalachee, and ethnically uncertain Fort Walton peoples of the Apalachic-
ola River valley and points westward fall easily within the span of variation
in Mississippian culture. e importance of Florida’s aboriginal peoples
lies in their own cultural traditions and histories that often intersected
with those outside their territorial boundaries. By lifting the veil of cul-
tural uniformity frequently draped over Florida in Mississippian litera-
ture, we expose a diverse and vibrant collection of intensive maize farm-
ers, part-time gardeners, hunter-gatherers, and coastal and riverine shers
and shellsh collectors. In this light, Florida was to a degree a microcosm
of the broader Southeast, and its study has a lot to oer those outside the
state (Weisman : ).
Late Prehistoric Florida: An Introduction · 
Florida’s Spatial Boundaries and Natural Diversity
e state of Florida, like many other peninsular political entities such as
modern Italy, consists of both a slender coastal segment attached to the
continent and a thin peninsula that juts into the sea. e current Florida
peninsula extends some  km south into warm subtropical waters, di-
viding the Gulf of Mexico from the Atlantic Ocean. It is so narrow ( km
wide) that from Tampa along the Gulf coast you could see the space shuttle
take o from Cape Canaveral on the Atlantic coast; nobody is far from the
sea. Florida’s coastline is dotted with islands of varying sizes, including
many barrier islands and the Keys, an archipelago of more than , is-
lands dangling in a south-southwest arc from the peninsula’s southern tip.
Although the state is encircled on three sides by ocean waters, Florida’s
northern border is arbitrary, formalized by the U.S. government not even
two centuries ago. us, we should not expect the modern state line to
be congruent with native territorial boundaries, which themselves were
uid over the more than ,-year history of indigenous occupation.
For those late prehistoric societies living in northern peninsular and pan-
handle Florida, cultural boundaries likely extended up or across rivers and
overland into Alabama and Georgia as population sizes waxed and waned
through time. For this volume, however, our geographical area of inquiry
will be conned to the state of Florida.
Florida emerged from the sea, having surfaced within the past  mil-
lion years as limestone deposits and marine sands gradually accrued atop
igneous and metamorphic basement rocks (Schmidt : ). Guided by
global climatic conditions, sea levels have advanced and retreated, alter-
nately covering and exposing land, while at the same time building and
reworking the surface contours and shores. Marine processes driven by
sea-level uctuations have played a primary role in forming the Florida we
know today, a dynamic landscape that continues to be shaped by ongoing
depositional and erosional actions.
Outsiders who travel through Florida often leave with the impression
that the state is at, sandy, and humid. Although they are not wrong, the
state is not nearly as uniform as many assume. It is relatively at with little
relief, particularly compared to the continental interior, but deep ravines
with high walls and highland features occur throughout the northern half
of the panhandle. e horse country that forms the spine of peninsular
Florida is marked by rolling hills. Found throughout the state are sand
 · Keith Ashley and Nancy Marie White
ridges aligned parallel to the present coast, which represent dunes that
once fronted earlier shorelines. Elevations range from sea level to a high of
 m in the coastal plain uplands of the western panhandle (mean eleva-
tion of the state is  m). e southern third of the peninsula, however, is
less than  m in elevation.
Because of Florida’s great north–south length ( km), its climate var-
ies by latitude: temperate in the north, subtropical in the south, and tropi-
cal in the Keys (Chen and Gerber ). Temperatures, greatly inuenced
by oceanic conditions, can vary throughout the state, especially along a
north–south gradation. Vis-à-vis other areas of the world that share the
same latitudinal position, one might expect Florida to be a desert, but its
enclosure on three sides by warm ocean waters creates conditions that sup-
port lush vegetation (Ewel : ). In fact, Florida has more biological
diversity than any other state in the eastern United States; a recent inven-
tory documented  natural upland and wetland biomes across the state
(FNAI ). Ecosystems in temperate northern Florida contrast sharply
with those of subtropical southern Florida.
Upland native ecosystems in Florida during Mississippian times would
have included pine atwoods and dry prairies, xerophytic scrub and high
pine lands, temperate woodlands, panhandle ravines and river bottom-
lands, maritime forests, coastal dunes, and the tropical hardwood ham-
mocks of the southern peninsula. Wetland communities consisted of fresh-
water marshes and swamps as well as coastal salt marshes and mangroves.
Today, Florida has , km of coastline, more than the entire Atlantic
U.S. coast from Florida to Maine (, km) (Humphreys et al. : ).
e shoreline includes dunes fronted by sandy beaches pounded daily by
high-energy waves. In areas of low-energy wave and wind action, the coast
takes less of a beating. ere, mud oors develop, which support sea grass
marshes along the panhandle shores, the central Gulf coast area, and the
northern two-thirds of the Atlantic coast; dense mangrove swamps thrive
along the peninsula’s southern tip (Johnson and Barbour : ).
Florida holds more than , km of interior and near-shore rivers,
streams, and waterways, , lakes larger than  ha, and  springs
(Miller ). Figure . displays the location of some of the larger riv-
ers in Florida, most of which are oriented north–south. With the excep-
tion of the lower Chattahoochee-Apalachicola system, Florida rivers lack
extensive alluvial oodplains, locales that provided interior Mississippian
Late Prehistoric Florida: An Introduction · 
Figure .. Location of major Florida rivers, lakes, and bays.
agriculturalists with nutrient-rich and seasonally replenished farmland. By
modern agricultural standards, most Florida sands are often considered
porous and infertile, although the red clay and loamy soils in the northern
part of the state are more conducive to agricultural pursuits (Ewel :
). Precipitation provides the source of all fresh water in Florida, although
much of the rainwater is lost to runo and evaporation (Miller : ).
Both interior and coastal wetland habitats signicantly shaped precolum-
bian settlement and subsistence patterns, particularly in areas lacking fer-
tile soils favorable for farming (Milanich : ). e archaeological
cultures of Florida were as diverse as the natural environments in which
they existed. Even during the Mississippi period it is not possible to paint
all Florida societies with the same brush.
 · Keith Ashley and Nancy Marie White
Distinguishing Mississippi Period and Mississippian in Florida
e chapters in this volume cover the time from about A.D.  to ,
a chronological interval in southeastern prehistory known as the Missis-
sippi period. Although archaeologists generally have been reluctant to
couple the terms Florida and Mississippian, John Goggin (a: , :
) recognized “Florida Mississippian” as one of his  Florida cultural
traditions. He further commented that in the panhandle “the culture in
Fort Walton times represents a blend of the Floridian elements of the
[Woodland-period] Weeden Island culture plus a strong Mississippian in-
uence” and that “a strong Middle Mississippian inuence” also was seen
in certain Safety Harbor pottery types (Goggin : –, a: ).
Other than these sweeping statements and noting that Florida Mississip-
pian straddled the prehistoric-historic divide in northwest and Gulf coast
Florida, Goggin oered little insight into the tradition.
John Grin (: –, a: –), like Goggin, observed that
the Fort Walton period in northwest Florida and the Safety Harbor period
on the central Gulf coast both displayed “a pronounced Mississippian a-
vor” between the mid-fteenth and early seventeenth century, an inuence
that diminished from north to south. At this time, the consensus among
Southeastern archaeologists was that Mississippian was a protohistoric
phenomenon. Gordon Willey (a: –) took it a step further and
proposed the movement of people from the Mississippi Valley to explain
the appearance of agriculture, temple mounds, and other Mississippian
traits in the Fort Walton region of the Florida panhandle (see Marrinan,
chapter , and White et al., chapter , this volume). His explanation was
not surprising given that most archaeologists of the day viewed migration
as the prime factor responsible for the spread of the Mississippian culture
across the Southeast landscape.
Connections to the interior were not lost on Goggin (: ), who
astutely noted that “Florida’s peripheral position by no means excluded it
from the broader aspects of the general southeastern prehistoric picture.”
Specically, Goggin (a: –, b, : –) and John Grin
(a: , b) called attention to the presence of “Southern Cult”
(Southeastern Ceremonial Complex or SECC) artifacts and stylistic motifs
on sites throughout the state. In particular they pointed to copper repoussé
plates, long-nosed god maskettes, and spatulate celts taken by C. B. Moore
from Mt. Royal and Grant and Shields mounds (Mill Cove Complex) along
the St. Johns River (Ashley, chapter , this volume; Milanich ). By the
Late Prehistoric Florida: An Introduction · 
mid-twentieth century, a link between Florida and the greater Southeast
during late prehistoric times in the form of exotic mortuary goods was
recognized by a host of other archaeologists (e.g., Ford and Willey ;
James Grin ; Larson ; Waring and Holder ; Williams and
Goggin ). However, other than acknowledging (or implying) acquisi-
tion through contact and raising important questions about trade with the
interior Southeast, little eort was made to explain what these high-prole
items were doing on Florida sites.
Perhaps the boldest statement regarding Mississippian culture in Flor-
ida came in the  landmark publication Florida Archaeology. In it Mila-
nich and Fairbanks (: ) explicitly stated that Mississippian peoples
inhabited parts of Florida, namely, the same two areas identied earlier by
John Grin. In the Archaeology of Precolumbian Florida, published  years
later, Milanich (: ) rearmed his position that “Fort Walton was a
Mississippian culture,” a claim bolstered by salvage excavations by Calvin
Jones at Lake Jackson in the mid-s. ere, high-status Mississippian
burials with classic SECC artifacts (such as engraved copper plates) were
uncovered, placing Lake Jackson on a par with Cahokia, Moundville, and
Etowah in the Mississippian pantheon (Jones , ; Marrinan, chap-
ter , this volume; Payne ).
But Milanich (: ) altered his stance on Safety Harbor in light of
new data, stating that “the Safety Harbor culture . . . like Pensacola [cul-
ture of the western panhandle], apparently was inuenced by Fort Walton
developments in the eastern panhandle but was not a true Mississippian
culture” (see Harris, chapter , and Mitchem, chapter , this volume).
In some ways, Safety Harbor seemed like a continuation of the distinc-
tive Fort Walton culture evolving in situ farther south, with some other
distinguishing ceramic characteristics such as more bottles and beakers,
for example. is Gulf coast culture, however, lacked a key Mississippian
characteristic: an agriculture-based economy. Besides Safety Harbor, the
St. Johns II culture of northeastern Florida has been touted as inuenced
to some degree by Mississippian culture, particularly three large mound
sites—Mt. Royal, Grant, and Shields—known to contain exotic stone and
copper artifacts (Milanich : , –). Bense (: ) went
further and used these same data to label St. Johns II an “early Mississip-
pian culture.”
It is worth noting that over the past half century, terms such as Missis-
sippian inuence, Mississippian-related, and other like qualiers have been
commonly used to refer to Florida cultures such as St. Johns, Pensacola,
 · Keith Ashley and Nancy Marie White
and Safety Harbor. ese terms usually indicate nothing more than the
manifestation of some Mississippian characteristic and imply a degree
of interaction with the interior Southeast. In certain instances, however,
the reference is more specic and highlights burials that contain artifacts
or exotica derived from the Mississippian world to suggest some form of
localized (and diluted) religious expression (i.e., SECC) or prestige-goods
economy gained through involvement in Mississippian exchange networks.
At this point, we are compelled to make an important distinction in no-
menclature, one recently awakened by Kidder (: –). e terms
Mississippi period and Mississippian are not synonymous. e former is a
specic unit of time, whereas the latter identies a particular way of life or
cultural pattern. We use the term Mississippi period to remove the connota-
tion of Mississippian and denote the era from about A.D.  to , a
time in which not all natives of the Southeast t the conventional deni-
tion of Mississippian. Among researchers, the terminal date for the Mis-
sissippi period tends to vary along a sliding temporal scale, from A.D. 
to . Some bring the era to an abrupt halt with the De Soto entrada
through the Southeast, beginning in . We have chosen A.D.  as
the ending date, thus providing authors the opportunity to incorporate
documentary and archaeological information from the early years of Eu-
ropean contact.
Native societies that ourished during the Mississippi period are among
the most intensely studied by Southeastern archaeologists, and a good
portion of the twentieth century was spent haggling over the concept of
Mississippian. (In earlier archaeological systematics, the time interval that
would eectively become the Mississippi period was known as Temple
Mound I and II, thus invoking an immediate bias against Florida, where
temple mounds were known only for Fort Walton, Pensacola, and Safety
Harbor cultures.) e history of this discourse followed the general trends
of Americanist archaeology. Early arguments focused on developing trait
lists for Mississippian societies, whereas later emphasis was placed on the
evolutionary and adaptive qualities of Mississippian chiefdoms (e.g., Deuel
; Ford and Willey ; James Grin , ; Peebles and Kus
; Phillips et al. ; Smith ).
Recent research has begun to emphasize the historical trajectories of
individual chiefdoms and other communities throughout the Southeast,
exposing considerable variability beneath the veneer of Mississippian uni-
formity (e.g., Blitz a, ; Blitz and Lorenz ; Cobb , ;
Cobb and Garrow ; King ; Knight and Steponaitis ; Lorenz
Late Prehistoric Florida: An Introduction · 
; Maxham ; Nassaney ; Pauketat ). Because of the di-
versity, some have gone so far as to suggest even discarding the concept of
the “chiefdom” as too essentialist a notion to encompass this great variety
of Mississippian political systems (e.g., Pauketat ). Nonetheless, we
believe that the term, however awed, serves a useful purpose as a conve-
nient shorthand label for a “rough level” of political organization (Muller
: ). Moreover, its use as a heuristic device fosters comparison and
does not prevent the study of social process or cultural change (Zeitlin
: ).
So then, what is Mississippian? Winnowing the morass of character-
istics forwarded over the years, including shell-tempered pottery, maize
farming, temple mounds, and wall-trench houses, reveals a few salient
cultural features that stand out. Mississippian societies possessed an
economy based on intensive maize agriculture, maintained institutional
inequality and chiefdom-level political organization, and participated in
long-distance interaction and exchange networks that involved the move-
ment of exotic items of stone, shell, and copper, often embellished with
recurrent motifs and religious iconography (see Blitz ; Cobb ;
Grin , ; Smith ; Steponaitis ). But even these core
features have been shown to vary among Mississippian groups in the wider
Southeast. While these dening characteristics may have coalesced dur-
ing the Mississippi period, their seeds germinated during earlier times in
southeastern prehistory, and each followed its own developmental trajec-
tory. Moreover, the timing, extent, and tempo of the “Mississippianiza-
tion” process across the Southeast were uneven and aected by local cul-
tures, histories, and environments (Blitz and Lorenz : ; Cobb and
Garrow : –).
No doubt many Mississippian societies shared some general cultural
features, organizational as well as material and ideological, as a result of
contact and interaction. But the southeastern United States was far from
being a socially and politically homogenous landscape during the six centu-
ries prior to European arrival. is was a dynamic time marked by the rise
and fall of chiefdoms and the movements of dierent peoples across the
landscape. In addition, located along the periphery and established within
the frontiers and backwaters of the Mississippian world were non-Mis-
sissippian hunter-gatherers, shers and shellsh collectors, and garden-
ers (Jenkins and Krause : –, ; King and Meyers, eds. ;
Muller : ; Stephenson et al. ). So if we are to achieve a more
realistic and thorough understanding of the Mississippi-period Southeast,
 · Keith Ashley and Nancy Marie White
we must not only focus our attention on those varied groups that fall
within the broadly accepted range of Mississippian but also showcase
those who do not. In doing so, however, we must refrain from viewing so-
cieties as ahistorical and isolated entities, for throughout prehistory those
societies were interconnected in webs of ever-changing interaction. As we
begin to understand variation at the local level, we can ultimately strive to
comprehend why both broad similarities and variations developed across
the greater Southeast during the Mississippi period (Cobb : ; Blitz
: ).
Florida Connections with the Mississippian World
e Mississippian world, as it has come to be known by archaeologists, typi-
cally encompasses a wide area extending from the Atlantic coast of Georgia
and South Carolina westward to eastern Oklahoma and from the Gulf of
Mexico north to central Illinois (gure .). As drawn, it would include the
Florida panhandle but omit the entire Florida peninsula. e Fort Walton
culture (specically, the Lake Jackson site, with its large platform mounds,
chiey burials, ritual accouterments, and dependence on maize farming) is
often the lone Florida representative on many published maps of the Mis-
sissippian world (e.g., Barker : ; Cobb : ; Payne and Scarry
: ).
We should point out that our use of the term Mississippian world is in-
tended merely to reect the wide geographical extent of Mississippian
societies in eastern North America and does not carry the theoretical bag-
gage that attends a world systems model. While Florida clearly holds a
peripheral location in the Mississippian world, we should not presuppose
that societies there were simple pawns under the political and economic
control of more politically complex chiefdoms of the interior core. Assum-
ing that peripheral groups always strive to be just like core groups also
would be a mistake. Rather, we should expect the relationships between
peripheries and cores to vary under dierent structural conditions and
historical contingencies” (Stein : ). Comprehension of the Mis-
sissippian world as an interconnected system ultimately will come about
only through cumulative knowledge of the myriad relationships among
societies both within and outside its edges (King and Meyers : ).
Southeastern archaeologists have long been aware of the presence of
foreign artifacts and materials in late prehistoric Florida burial mounds,
but these sites often serve as nothing more than a dot on some sort of
Late Prehistoric Florida: An Introduction · 
Figure .. Florida and the Mississippian world (shaded).
artifact distribution map. And when lacking Mississippian trappings,
Florida societies are rendered isolates. is perception is misguided, how-
ever, as ample evidence indicates that Florida natives actively communi-
cated ideas and interacted with groups beyond their local catchment areas
and social boundaries (Milanich ). But this does not mean that all
Florida societies were engaged in sustained interaction with the Missis-
sippian world. Visits to distant mound centers and direct involvement in
exchange networks very well may have been sporadic and weakly struc-
tured for many Florida groups. Peoples of the southern peninsula may
have found interaction with groups in the Caribbean (and beyond) more
feasible (White a), especially since water travel is usually easier than
walking overland.
Indigenous Florida societies, as with all human cultures, were not closed
systems sealed o from external contact, but rather open and dynamic so-
cial formations involved in an array of interactions that include intermar-
riage, emulation, trade, questing, gift giving, migration, alliance, warfare,
 · Keith Ashley and Nancy Marie White
and the diusion of ideas and information (none of which are mutually
exclusive). As such, they were open to the reception and transmission of
cultural inuences across social boundaries, although some appear to have
been better able at times to resist the outside world. It is therefore a chal-
lenge for researchers to determine how and to what degree specic local
events and developments were constrained or conditioned by processes
operating at regional or macroregional scales (Kowalewski ). While
maintaining an explicit concern for the external relations of Florida’s late
prehistoric societies, we must never lose sight of the local people and their
history and cultural traditions. We must strive to “strike a balance between
the recognition that no society can be understood in complete isolation
from its neighbors and the assumption that contact with the outside is
the main factor explaining a society’s development” (Stein : ). What
we are advocating is a multiscalar approach that permits a synchronized
consideration of similarity and variation across space (Marquardt a;
Marquardt and Crumley ; Nassaney and Sassaman ).
It is in the realm of economic (and embedded political) interaction that
Florida societies are most often linked to the interior Southeast. But the
phenomena of long-distance contact and exchange were not exclusive to
the Mississippi period. In midwestern and southeastern North America,
including Florida, the far-ung movement of exotica appears to have been
episodic, with three major periods of orescence: the Late Archaic, Middle
Woodland, and Mississippi periods (Cobb : –; Johnson :
). From this, however, we should not infer that local societies lived
completely insular lives during other periods of prehistory (Cobb and Nas-
saney ; Nassaney and Cobb ). Rather, these three intervals signify
specic times of increased interregional contact and ow of unusual items
outside their source areas.
e Mississippi period heralded the growth of wide-ranging spheres of
social interaction that provided access to information and resources sepa-
rated by tens, hundreds, and even thousands of kilometers (e.g., Brown et
al. ). Taken as a whole, the widespread distribution of exotic materi-
als across the Mississippian Southeast highlights the existence of complex
connections that linked much of eastern North America. is should not be
surprising, because Indian-authored maps of the early historic period in-
dicate that Southeastern natives possessed subcontinent-wide geographic
knowledge (Laerty : ; Waselkov ). Long-distance exchange is
generally assumed to have been accomplished primarily in a down-the-line
manner through an intricate web of short and overlapping trading links,
Late Prehistoric Florida: An Introduction · 
some well orchestrated, others loosely connected (Brown et al. ; King
and Freer : ; Muller , ).
While this kind of trade certainly took place, we should not disregard
other forms of interaction and exchange. For example, questing or direct
acquisition by Florida groups may have resulted in trips to the interior
and returning home with foreign materials, or perhaps representatives of
Mississippian communities may have made their way to Florida with the
same intent. ere were likely many mechanisms and contexts for extralo-
cal exchange. In fact, according to early historic accounts, gift giving was
essential to native diplomacy, and such reciprocal relationships played a
vital role in exchange partnerships, alliance building, and chiey negotia-
tions (Hall ; Smith and Hally ). ere is no reason not to think
that such factors motivated giving and receiving during the Mississippi
Items of frequent acquisition included marine shell from the Atlan-
tic and Gulf coasts, copper from the Appalachian Mountains and Great
Lakes region, and various other minerals from localized sources scattered
throughout eastern North America (Brown et al. ; Grin ). ere
is little doubt that Florida natives were directly involved in the collection
and export of much of the marine shell (e.g., whelk, marginella, olive) that
ended up in settlements throughout the greater Southeast, as discussed
in several chapters in this volume. Whelks, for example, were popular be-
cause their large size and thick shell made them a suitable material for
artistic expression and ne craftwork.
Florida societies of the Mississippi period were not the rst to engage
in shell trade. Abundant evidence indicates that their Woodland-period
ancestors were heavily involved in exchange systems that sent whelk shells
away from the coast to points as far north as Ohio and Michigan during
Hopewell times (Brose and Greber ; Caldwell and Hall ). Indeed,
Florida natives appear to have beneted for a long time from the demand
for marine shells by groups living in the landlocked interior of southeast-
ern and midwestern North America (e.g., Brown et al. ; Claassen and
Sigmann ; Mitchem b; Muller , ; Phillips and Brown
: –). As Mitchem (chapter , this volume) advises, sourcing stud-
ies of marine shell are needed to reconstruct specic points of origin and
routes of exchange that covered broad areas.
With respect to Mississippi-period shell artifacts, a potential trend is
emerging. Engraved gorgets, masks, and drinking cups, which would have
required whole shells or very large sections of the outer whorl, are not as
 · Keith Ashley and Nancy Marie White
frequent in early Mississippian mounds as they are in mounds that post-
date A.D. . Moreover, these exalted and symbolically charged items
appear to have been made from sinistral lightning whelks (Busycon sinis-
trum), a species with greater frequency (and larger size) along the Gulf
coast (Abbott ; Hale ; Kozuch : ; Milanich : –).
Kozuch () argues that because most gastropods are right-handed
(dextral, or spiraling in a clockwise direction), left-handed (sinistral, or
counterclockwise spiral) whelks may have been targeted for their peculiar-
ity. Moreover, she suggests that value or symbolism may have been tied to
the direction of their spiral (Milanich : ). e knobbed whelk (Busy-
con carica), a stout dextral species, is abundant along the Florida Atlantic
coast (Abbott ; Hale : ). While knobbed whelk would have been
suitable for beads, it may not have possessed requisite features for cup and
gorget manufacture. us, the Gulf waters of Florida might have become
the preferred source location for whelks during middle and late Missis-
sippian times. e greater demand for lightning whelks after A.D. ,
combined with the eventual decline of Macon Plateau (and even Cahokia),
might have negatively impacted the role of Atlantic coast St. Johns II com-
munities as shell suppliers and dampened their involvement in Mississip-
pian exchange (Ashley, chapter , this volume).
It is important to keep in mind, however, that simply because some
Florida societies, such as in the Alachua and Suwannee Valley of northern
peninsular Florida or the Indian River region of Atlantic coastal central
Florida, lacked the exotica of the Mississippian world does not mean they
did not actively communicate ideas and move utilitarian goods or even
people beyond their local environments and territorial boundaries, as was
the case in the Southeast during the Late Woodland period (Cobb and Nas-
saney ; Nassaney and Cobb ). In addition, a dearth of material
evidence for contact and exchange does not automatically translate to iso-
lationism, because such evidence may be relatively invisible owing either
to the nature of interaction or to preservation biases (Brown et al. :
Florida Farmers
Maize agriculture, for many, has been the litmus test to qualify as Missis-
sippian. In fact, a lack of dependence on maize farming appears to be the
common denominator when one looks at the lot of archaeological cultures
Late Prehistoric Florida: An Introduction · 
relegated to the status of non-Mississippian. e archaeological literature
is relatively mute with regard to Mississippi-period foragers who may
have lived in the recesses of the interior Southeast, so precisely how much
smaller-scale gardening or plant encouragement, if any, was practiced by
these groups remains unclear. ere tends to be more mention of forag-
ers along the coast, most notably the Guale of the Georgia Bight, who ap-
parently added small-scale crop production (swidden gardening) to their
shing-hunting-gathering way of life less than a century prior to European
arrival (Crook ; Reitz ; omas ). But farming, even in the
Mississippian heartland, was always supplemented with collection and ex-
ploitation of many wild animals and plants.
Florida archaeologists have been plagued by dissatisfaction when
it comes to precolumbian agriculture, best expressed by paraphrasing
a catchphrase of the s: “Where’s the corn?” While details are typi-
cally lacking, textual references to corn farming among the Apalachee and
Timucua of northern Florida are scattered throughout sixteenth-century
Spanish and French documents (Hann ; Milanich ; Worth a).
e impression given by these direct accounts is that the Indians of pan-
handle Florida practiced rain-fed agriculture involving large cleared elds,
whereas the Timucua of the north, north-central, and northeastern parts
of the peninsula cultivated small plots or gardens that included maize. Ac-
cording to the earliest Mission-period documents of the late sixteenth cen-
tury, the Atlantic coastal Timucua and Guale (Georgia) routinely produced
enough surpluses to construct and use public granaries (Worth : ).
Preserved maize has been recovered from precontact Fort Walton sites
in the Tallahassee Red Hills and Apalachicola River valley as well as from
numerous seventeenth-century Mission-period sites throughout the cen-
tral and northern parts of the state. But outside the eastern panhandle,
direct evidence of maize is minimal, and the dearth of evidence for preco-
lumbian agriculture in Florida remains perplexing in light of documentary
evidence (Milanich : ). Even a high-prole site such as Mt. Royal,
along the middle St. Johns River, which evinces clear connections to the
Mississippian world during the period A.D. –, has yet to yield
evidence of precolumbian corn, although seventeenth-century Mission-
period contexts at the site have produced charred corncobs and kernels
(Ashley a; Jones and Tesar ). e absence of corn agriculture is
the number-one reason Florida cultures such as St. Johns, Safety Harbor,
and Pensacola are typically ignored or at least downplayed in popular Mis-
sissippian summaries.
 · Keith Ashley and Nancy Marie White
In terms of macrobotanical remains (cobs and/or kernels), the only in-
controvertible proof for the presence of precolumbian corn in peninsu-
lar Florida comes from four sites at the mouth of the St. Johns River in
northeastern Florida (Ashley ) and one site in north-central Florida
(Rolland, chapter , this volume). Surprisingly, no other sites to date have
yielded preserved corn in unequivocal precontact contexts. A possible ex-
ception is the Fig Springs site, a late precolumbian and Mission-period vil-
lage in Columbia County (Weisman ; Worth, chapter , this volume).
ere, a charred cob was directly dated to the late sixteenth/early seven-
teenth century. In the northern part of the site, another feature with corn
was radiocarbon-dated to the eleventh century. However, this assay was on
charred hickory hull fragments, not corn. In addition, chinaberry seeds—a
plant introduced to the region in the nineteenth century—were present in
the feature, indicating postdepositional mixing.
Recent archaeological research in northeastern Florida may shed some
light on the corn dilemma. ere, corn has been recovered from precon-
tact and Mission-period contexts, and radiocarbon dates (at the two sigma
level) suggest maize was incorporated into the coastal Timucua subsistence
economy no earlier than A.D.  (Ashley ). e rst appearance of
preserved corn on archaeological sites in northeastern Florida is coincident
with the emergence of San Pedro pottery, which includes a cob-marked
type similar to Alachua Cob Marked of north-central Florida. is evidence
suggests a much later date for the introduction of maize cultivation into
the subsistence mix of the coastal Timucua than previously thought. On
the Georgia coast, David omas’s recent work, including AMS dates and
isotope analysis, “point to very late maize; no more than a century prior to
European contact” (omas, personal communication ).
Similarities in stylistic trends between San Pedro and Alachua pottery
suggest that the late date (post–A.D. ) for the entry of maize in north-
eastern Florida might also apply to inland Timucua groups such as the
Potano (see Rolland, chapter , this volume). In fact, in northern peninsu-
lar Florida the only radiometric assay on corn comes from a feature at the
Ardisia site (Mr) dated to A.D. –; three additional radio-
carbon dates on charcoal samples from contexts containing cob-marked
pottery corroborate this late date (Wayne and Dickinson ; Rolland,
chapter , this volume). Moreover, available carbon and nitrogen isotope
ratios on human bone from a variety of sites suggest that C plants such as
corn were a minor constituent of native diets in peninsular Florida prior to
Spanish mission times (Hutchinson et al. , ; Larsen et al. ).
Late Prehistoric Florida: An Introduction · 
is also may be the case for coastal Fort Walton in the panhandle, where
shell middens so far have turned up no evidence for agriculture, only reli-
ance upon the same abundant aquatic resources that had provided a de-
pendable living since at least Middle Archaic times (see White et al., chap-
ter , this volume).
Most rivers in Florida are spring-fed, with little organic sediment. e
absence of extensive oodplains annually replenished with fertile allu-
vium may explain the delayed spread of corn cultivation into the penin-
sula. Moreover, corn agriculture may have diered in Florida from that
practiced in the interior Southeast. Corn very well may have been grown
in small gardens, contributing little to the diet until the mid-fteenth cen-
tury or so, at which time its importance increased. e cultivation strategy
of inland and coastal Timucua at the time of European contact was likely
quite exible and included a mix of farming and foraging that probably
varied annually (and spatially) depending on environmental and social
circumstances. e potential late date for the introduction of corn into
peninsular Florida, combined with the lack of testing at contact-period
villages, might account for its scarcity in the archaeological record there.
Broadly speaking, a mixed subsistence economy based primarily on
hunting-shing-gathering might characterize most Florida societies prior
to the fteenth century. Knowledge and use of the sea and inland waters
were always crucial to Florida natives. Despite any environmental con-
straints, however, some Florida natives eventually turned to agriculture.
With the adoption of maize farming and the rise in hereditary leaders con-
trolling multiple communities, the contact-era Timucua clearly represent a
regional variant of agricultural Mississippian chiefdoms (Worth a and
chapter , this volume). e reasons for and the cultural and political rami-
cations of the shift to agriculture at this late date provide fertile grounds
for research with implications for Mississippian archaeology.
Florida Chiefdoms
By and large, archaeologists agree that the term Mississippian refers to
ranked and hierarchically organized societies with institutionalized in-
equality and marked status distinction, time and again classied as chief-
doms (Cobb ; Smith ; Steponaitis ). Mississippian chief-
doms are often modeled to include a size ranking of dierent kinds of sites,
ranging from paramount “towns” with massive and numerous earthworks
and populations estimated to have been in the thousands, to midsized
 · Keith Ashley and Nancy Marie White
subsidiary mound centers, to small, numerous and dispersed rural farm-
steads. Mound centers contained one or more platform mounds and other
corporately constructed earthworks arranged around one or more large
plazas (e.g., Lewis and Stout ; Smith , ; Steponaitis ).
Many towns were fortied with defensive walls to protect against raids
launched for control over productive farmland (alluvial oodplains), re-
venge, or prestige building (DePratter ).
Most late prehistoric Florida settlements depart from this general im-
age. ere is currently no conclusive evidence in Florida for precontact
villages guarded by palisades within either the archaeological or the docu-
mentary record. is is somewhat surprising given the raid-prone Florida
landscape described in sixteenth-century Spanish and French accounts.
Platform mounds, as used in the Mississippian world, do not seem to
have gured prominently in Florida villages outside the Fort Walton and
Pensacola communities of the panhandle (Harris, chapter , Marrinan,
chapter , and White et al., chapter , this volume). What appear to be
platform mounds and plazas occur at a few of the more nucleated Safety
Harbor villages in the Tampa Bay area, but their function(s) is still unclear
(Mitchem, chapter , this volume). e Early Mississippi–period Shields
Mound in northeastern Florida seems to have had a at summit, but there
is currently no evidence to suggest it served as a platform for any struc-
ture; it was a mounded communal cemetery (Ashley, chapter , this vol-
ume). In southwest Florida, elevated midden-mounds were constructed,
but to house domiciles and other buildings and keep them elevated above
surging waters (Marquardt and Walker, chapter , this volume). A similar
situation may have taken place in areas of southeastern and east-central
Florida prior to or shortly after contact (Carr, chapter , and Penders,
chapter , this volume).
According to documentary sources, by the late sixteenth century, societ-
ies throughout Florida exhibited “dierent levels of chiey political com-
plexity and practiced an array of economic strategies” (Milanich : ).
Prehistoric Fort Walton groups and one of their contact-era counterparts
(Apalachee) clearly maintained a chiefdom structure (Payne ; Payne
and Scarry ; Scarry ), although details regarding many aspects
of its political operation are still matters of discussion. e Calusa are no
strangers to Mississippian studies, in which they are commonly presented
as a foil to the archetypical Mississippian society—that is, a chiefdom-
level society without agriculture. Living amid the spectacular richness
of the estuaries of southwest Florida, which are among the state’s most
Late Prehistoric Florida: An Introduction · 
productive natural ecosystems, the historic Calusa maintained a tribute-
based complex chiefdom and subsistence economy fueled by the harvest-
ing of sh, shellsh, and other wildlife that inhabited or frequented the
shallow, inshore coastal waters (Marquardt a, ; Marquardt and
Walker, chapter , this volume; Widmer ). But outside these groups
and excluding studies predicated on historic documents, the political or-
ganization of Mississippi-period societies in Florida has been an under-
pursued topic of inquiry, and most interpretations derive from severely
limited data.
e various contact-period Timucua of northern peninsular Florida
from the Suwannee River east to the Atlantic coast present an interesting
case, which may have an important bearing on Mississippi-period research.
On the basis of ethnohistoric information, Timucua polities are modeled
as simple chiefdoms, each consisting of a small cluster of villages (approxi-
mately –), with a centralized political administration that included
noble lineages and inherited positions of authority (Hann : –;
Milanich : –; Worth a: –). Given the documented cou-
pling of hereditary leadership and centralized decision making above the
individual village level, one would be hard pressed to argue that sixteenth-
century Timucuan societies did not “fall within the anthropological de-
nition of chiefdoms” (Worth a: ). From an archaeological perspec-
tive, however, none of the Mississippi-period groups occupying the vast
Timucua-speaking region appears to possess the settlement hierarchies,
population levels, or material trappings characteristic of mainstream Mis-
sissippian societies in the interior Southeast. As Milanich (: ) is
quick to point out, “Were it not for the documentary record, we might not
ever recognize that the Timucua were organized as simple chiefdoms” (see
Worth, chapter , this volume).
For the Timucua, there was no formal political organization above the
local multicommunity level, although one or more simple chiefdoms may
have united to form regional alliances that at a glance resembled a complex
chiefdom (Milanich ; Worth a). Milanich () believes that
these alliances were ephemeral, military in nature, and misinterpreted by
early French and Spanish explorers as a formalized and complex sociopolit-
ical organization. e volatile Timucuan landscape, which in the sixteenth
century included the European presence, may have caused simple chief-
doms to ally themselves and “act complex” when the need arose in order
to thwart military aggression posed by other allied groups, complex chief-
doms, or European forces (Milanich : –). e apparent ability of
 · Keith Ashley and Nancy Marie White
sixteenth-century Timucuan polities to range from simple to short-term
complex chiefdoms suggests that political systems were quite uid, mak-
ing it dicult to generalize polities as chiefdoms or not chiefdoms over the
broad temporal range of the Mississippi period.
Unfortunately, little signicant research has been aimed at examining
how specic late prehistoric political systems in Florida formed, operated,
and changed during the ve centuries prior to European contact. When
chiey organization rst emerged in each area of the state is still open to
debate, and researchers have not yet determined how far back into the
Mississippi period we can extend the social and political order seen in ac-
counts penned by European explorers and missionaries. How much of what
was documented was a postcontact phenomenon, a direct response to the
European presence, is still not known. A typological debate over whether
Florida societies were chiefdoms or not is not what is needed. We should
start by asking, how were Mississippi-period societies complex and how
did they get that way? We need to turn to the archaeological record and
address political-economic questions through sound empirical evidence,
multiple scales of analysis, and appropriate theories.
Shell-Tempered Pottery
An oft-cited characteristic of Mississippian societies is the production of
shell-tempered pottery. However, little or no shell-tempered pottery oc-
curs in Mississippi-period Florida except in the western part of the pan-
handle, within the Pensacola culture, located at a juncture with the rest of
the Mississippian world (see Harris, chapter , this volume). e decided
lack of shell-tempered pottery in Florida became enormously important
to archaeologists quite early, especially in dening Fort Walton. ere has
been a recent urry of activity in studying shell tempering in the eastern
United States, including functional and historical explanations of its origin
and use, technological and ring experiments, exploration of its origins,
and documentation of its existence far earlier than the Mississippi period
in a few regions (e.g., Feathers ; Feathers and Peacock ; Sabo and
Hilliard ). Crushed shell appears in some Amazonian ceramics thou-
sands of years earlier than in the eastern United States (Roosevelt ),
and despite all the studies, it is anyone’s guess how individual tempering
agents were chosen in dierent times and places. Also, despite the inten-
sive work, many other questions remain about shell-tempered ceramics.
For example, why, of two sherds in the same context, does one have the
Late Prehistoric Florida: An Introduction · 
shell leached away (leaving slit-shaped voids) and the other does not? Why
do some have coarsely crushed shell and others, nely crushed? How are
choices made between freshwater, marine, and fossil shell, and how can
these be distinguished during laboratory sorting?
Now there is good documentation of other regions in the Southeast
outside Florida where shell-tempered ceramics are not common during
the Mississippi period, such as some Lamar areas (Williams and Shapiro
). Many researchers think temper is not important and potters used
just what was lying around or easiest to get. Others embed the whole pro-
cess of materials procurement and ceramic manufacture within deep, even
sacred meaning, practice, and ethnic or other identication. We are still
grappling with some basic questions, such as why a particular aplastic or
tempering agent was used at any given time, let alone used in certain pro-
portions in a pot or an assemblage. However, it is abundantly clear that
potters of Mississippi-period Florida, by not using much or any shell, are
doing something fundamentally dierent from most of the Mississippian
world that surrounds them. ey certainly had no lack of shell to use. Per-
haps avoiding shell temper was a deliberate means of manifesting identity.
Volume Overview
is volume is the rst statewide synthesis devoted exclusively to the Mis-
sissippi-period archaeology of Florida. Despite the burgeoning number
of Mississippian studies over the past few decades, outside the Fort Wal-
ton culture area, the Mississippi period has never been a major research
topic in Florida. Although Florida archaeologists have at times explored
site-specic or local adaptations, reconstructed local events, and worked
toward developing local ceramic chronologies that cover the ve or so cen-
turies prior to European arrival, little eort has been spent trying to bring
it all together at the regional level and assess the development of Florida
cultures in relation to their Mississippian neighbors. To address this la-
cuna, we organized a symposium entitled “A New Look at the Mississippi
Period in Florida” for the sixty-third annual Southeastern Archaeological
Conference. Expanded versions of all symposium papers are included in
this volume, as is an additional paper on southeastern Florida.
e following chapters provide the most up-to-date information on
the Florida Mississippi period, spotlighting a mosaic of cultures. A con-
certed eort was placed on reconstructing late prehistoric Florida from
real archaeological data. Many of the volume’s authors revisited original
 · Keith Ashley and Nancy Marie White
eld notes and maps, site forms, and other primary sources, which often
meant crawling around dusty shelves and boxes. In some cases, artifact
collections were reexamined to address various stylistic, technological,
or taxonomic issues. We believe a necessary rst step is to come to grips
with what archaeological information on the Mississippi period is actu-
ally available throughout Florida. We must assemble the array of pertinent
archaeological evidence to build a solid empirical foundation that we can
then draw upon to answer more complex, theoretically charged questions
such as those of an ideological nature.
At present, many areas of Florida severely lack ne-scale data relating
to the Mississippi period. Without relevant data, we believe interpreta-
tions can become contrived. Consequently, the majority of chapters lack
extensive theorizing. For the most part, the general theoretical perspec-
tive employed in this volume, implicit if not directly stated, emphasizes
a centralist position—combining interpretations based on empirical data
in scientic fashion with more humanistic ideas to produce workable,
imaginative models that nonetheless do not stray too far from the real
evidence. Authors focus on a variety of issues but pay particular atten-
tion to infrastructural aspects of late prehistoric Florida societies such as
subsistence economy and the timing and extent (if any) of maize-based
farming; regional settlement structure as it relates to social and political
organization; ceramics as chronological markers and potential means of
identity; human-environment relationships; and exchange and possible in-
volvement in broader networks of interaction, particularly those reaching
beyond Florida. Such information is vital to regional comparative synthe-
sis and interpretation.
A focus on regional coverage allows for comparison of broad patterns
of similarity and diversity within Mississippi-period Florida and beyond.
ough the articial constructs of archaeological cultures and the multi-
tude of local archaeological names used over the years have traditionally
spotlighted mostly ceramic characterizations, the volume’s authors are
now able to add a great deal more information. Each of the main cultural
regions in Florida is covered to some degree, although the societies high-
lighted may not reect the entire region in time and space. For example,
the St. Johns region is represented by groups living at the seaward end
of the river, and the focus is on the Early Mississippi period. At present,
archaeological knowledge of the Mississippi period is uneven across the
state. We also must remember that Florida cultures were not static prior to
the invasion from Europe; all were altered by time. ose living in Florida
Late Prehistoric Florida: An Introduction · 
in A.D.  diered from those of A.D. , who themselves changed
in the aftermath of European arrival. e chapters in this volume are ar-
ranged geographically, beginning in the south, farthest from the Mississip-
pian world. e volume concludes with a perspective on Florida from deep
within the Mississippian world.
In chapter , William Marquardt and Karen Walker trace the Mississippi-
period cultural trajectory of the Calusa of subtropical southwest Florida
against an environmental backdrop bolstered by climate and sea-level data
from the Florida Gulf coast and beyond. e richness of the paleoenviron-
mental information allows Marquardt and Walker to identify short-term
meteorological uctuations in the mostly favorable environmental condi-
tions of the southwest Florida estuaries. ey then turn to the available
archaeological record to assess the impact of these environmental oscilla-
tions on the native population and explore how the Calusa reacted. While
lacking true platform mounds, shell-tempered pottery, and corn farming,
the Calusa had social complexity and a scale of construction projects in
the form of midden-mounds and a sophisticated system of excavated ca-
nals that rivaled those of any Mississippian chiefdom, save for perhaps
Cahokia. As Marquardt and Walker rightfully state, “Calusa society was far
from a depauperate reection of Mississippian social formations.”
In chapter , Robert Carr continues the focus on south Florida by exam-
ining the Atlantic coast and the interior Lake Okeechobee–lower Kissim-
mee River regions. His brief description of the south Florida environment
summons an interior landscape that was topographically low and perenni-
ally wet prior to the major water diversion and drainage eorts of the past
few centuries. Carr outlines three culture areas—Glades, Belle Glade, and
East Okeechobee—in terms of ceramics, mound centers, and settlement
distributions. Each area was characterized by a shing-hunting-gathering
subsistence economy predicated specically on estuarine (coast) and fresh-
water (interior) aquatic resources. A conspicuous feature of Carr’s study
is the ample evidence of large-scale construction projects in the form of
mounds, earthworks, and shellworks. Massive amounts of wet soil were
moved as lengthy canals were cut through the interior wetlands, eventu-
ally linking Lake Okeechobee with the Caloosahatchee River and the Gulf
coast. Water travel was key to human movement throughout south Flor-
ida, and the canal system represents an impressive display of engineer-
ing knowledge. Carr posits that ditches and ponds were constructed in
the interior as weirs and impoundment areas for sh, suggestive of early
 · Keith Ashley and Nancy Marie White
Moving up the Atlantic coast to east-central Florida, omas Penders
in chapter directs his attention to the Malabar II culture of the Indian
River Lagoon. In the archaeological literature, this coastal area is often
overshadowed by the nearby St. Johns region, to the extent that, at times,
it is subsumed within St. Johns as a border or transitional area. Following
the lead of earlier separatists, beginning with Irving Rouse in the s,
Penders argues that although the two regions shared in the production of
chalky St. Johns pottery, Malabar and St. Johns are not the same culture.
Clearly, Indian River natives were shers and shellsh collectors for mil-
lennia prior to and for a century or more after European arrival. e most
sweeping changes in Malabar II culture appear to have been the result of
contact not with outsiders from the Mississippian world but rather with
foreigners from another continent. e historic Ais of the Indian River
Lagoon took advantage of their fortuitous location along Spanish shipping
lanes to become master salvagers of Spanish booty, parlaying its acquisi-
tion into increased political power among south Florida natives.
Chapter , by Keith Ashley, moves the volume’s focus to St. Johns II
groups in the far northeastern corner of the state. Perhaps nowhere in
Florida were connections to the Mississippian world stronger during the
opening centuries of the Mississippi period than in the St. Johns River
valley. Highlighted by spatulate celts, copper long-nosed maskettes, and
variously shaped small copper plates, the spectacular Mississippi-period
artifacts of the Grant and Shields mounds (Mill Cove Complex) were rst
brought to everyone’s attention by C. B. Moore in the s. is impres-
sive list of mortuary items, combined with the fact that these St. Johns
II communities were not Mississippian farmers, presents somewhat of a
paradox and often leads to the question, Why would a bunch of shers
and shellsh collectors have rare pieces of foreign artifacts such as spatu-
late celts and long-nosed god earpieces? Eschewing a traditional prestige-
goods economy interpretation that views the high-prole exotic items in
mounds as instruments of power aunted by elites, Ashley focuses more
on the communal nature of ritual and mortuary ceremony and views burial
mounds and grave goods as an expression of corporate identity.
In chapter , Vicki Rolland tackles the Alachua culture of north-cen-
tral Florida, which emerged in Late Woodland times and persisted into
the Spanish Mission period. At present, Alachua components lack clear
archaeological evidence of both long-distance interaction and chiey or-
ganization. While indirect evidence of maize horticulture is revealed on
cob-marked pottery surfaces, sparse macrobotanical evidence in the form
Late Prehistoric Florida: An Introduction · 
of preserved corn has been recovered from precolumbian contexts. More-
over, limited available stable isotope data on human bone suggest a pre-
dominantly hunting-gathering way of life. Rolland draws attention to the
fact that we have yet to pinpoint conclusively when maize farming was in-
corporated into the Alachua subsistence base, but it appears to have been a
rather late addition. In fact, maize apparently did not become a signicant
part of the Alachua diet until a century or two prior to European contact,
a time that may also have witnessed the rise of chiey leaders.
In a complementary study, John Worth in chapter provides a stun-
ning look at a cultural manifestation that gives every indication of a small-
scale society with a simple, nonhierarchical political organization in the
archaeological record but is known historically to have been a complex
chiey society. e Suwannee Valley culture is a relative newcomer to
the pages of Florida archaeology in that it was rst dened in the early
s. ough rooted in the Mississippi period, Worth’s study eectively
draws on primary Spanish accounts to expose sociopolitical complexities
not apparent in the archaeological record. e discrepancy between the
documentary and archaeological records leads one to wonder whether the
dearth of typical Mississippian material correlates is a result of a chiey
form of organization that emerged very late in precolumbian times, leav-
ing little hard evidence, or was something qualitatively dierent. While
present archaeological data are limited and hinder a solid interpretation of
Mississippi-period political organization, Worth is optimistic and believes
the rich documentary record combined with systematic archaeological re-
search will allow archaeologists to explore the Suwannee Valley culture in
greater detail.
Jerey Mitchem, in chapter , examines the Safety Harbor culture
along the central peninsular Gulf coast. It developed in situ out of the lo-
cal Manasota culture, a regional variant of Weeden Island, similar to the
development of Suwannee Valley, Fort Walton, and some other Florida
Mississippi-period cultures out of their local Woodland roots. Safety Har-
bor features platform mounds and plazas in nucleated settlements around
Tampa Bay but more dispersed habitation to the north and south, with
burial mounds farther from domestic areas. Ceramics include classic Mis-
sissippian jar and bottle forms but not enough similarities to indicate sus-
tained interaction with the wider Mississippian world. ere was no shift
inland to grow maize, only continuity of coastal lifeways. Mitchem believes
that whatever attenuated Mississippian inuence is present, it is related to
economic interaction: movement far into the continental interior of highly
 · Keith Ashley and Nancy Marie White
valued marine whelk shells in exchange for the ground stone, copper, and
other nonlocal objects found at a few Safety Harbor sites. While perhaps
not Mississippian in the strictest sense, Safety Harbor people were orga-
nized into chiefdoms in the Tampa Bay area when the Spanish rst re-
corded them.
e Fort Walton culture of northwest Florida has clear Mississippian
credentials, but understanding it is fraught with diculty. In chapter ,
Rochelle Marrinan critiques questionable Fort Walton models, arguing
that most are based upon meager data and have become very derived. She
questions whether the Lake Jackson site was a paramount chiefdom on a
par with Etowah and Moundville merely because it produced SECC arti-
facts. In the rolling Tallahassee Hills between the Aucilla and Ocklockonee
rivers, Fort Walton settlement aligns with the multitude of lakes, in the
absence of large alluvial streams, but soils were still good for agriculture.
Platform mound–village complexes, abundant exotic artifacts, and ceram-
ics in Mississippian forms (but not shell-tempered) indicate typical Mis-
sissippian political systems. Engraved copper plates at Lake Jackson with
female burials even suggest the possibility of women chiefs in these likely
matrilineal societies. Marrinan shows gaps in the eld data for many sites
and questions the continuity between prehistoric Tallahassee Fort Walton
and the historic Apalachee encountered so early and changed so quickly by
the Spanish. She further believes that Leon-Jeerson is a postcontact phe-
nomenon, possibly a result of processes at work in the sixteenth century
after Narváez and De Soto arrived.
In chapter , Nancy White, Jerey Du Vernay, and Amber Yuellig pres-
ent Fort Walton in the Apalachicola–lower Chattahoochee Valley. ey too
question models emphasizing power, agency, and migration—specula-
tions requiring empirical evidence. ey describe mound sites, evidence
for maize farming (but continuing foraging lifeways on the coast), and Fort
Walton emergence from local Woodland foundations. New investigations
at the Yon, Pierce, and Curlee sites provide details of ceramic chronology.
e distinctive six-pointed open bowl, near-absence of shell temper, and
unusual lack of chipped stone in Apalachicola Fort Walton may all mean
maintenance of a specic identity within the greater Mississippian world.
A few protohistoric dates suggest that Fort Walton peoples of unknown
ethnicity retained their culture as something else moved in. No Spanish
were in the region until the late Mission period, but their germs and a very
small number of their artifacts did arrive. Rapid depopulation in the six-
teenth century apparently left much of the valley empty. Lamar ceramics,
Late Prehistoric Florida: An Introduction · 
now dated to around , may represent Proto-Creeks moving downriver
into the empty land. Remnant Fort Walton peoples may have already been
gone when they arrived.
In the far western panhandle, Pensacola is the only Mississippi-period
culture in Florida with traditional shell-tempered pottery—understand-
able given its location. In chapter , Norma Harris describes the Pensacola
region and addresses the mixture of Fort Walton and Pensacola ceramics
from the Apalachicola River westward. She reviews sites in the major estu-
aries: St. Andrew, Choctawhatchee, and Pensacola bays. ere is some evi-
dence for maize, most of which appears to be protohistoric, but the major
adaptation is to coastal aquatic resources. Harris thinks the interior was
abandoned during the Mississippi period, possibly because of infertile soils
and increased communication along coastal waterways. A few mounds and
many rich habitation and cemetery sites on the coast have high-prole
goods such as copper, shell beads, and pottery with Mississippian iconog-
raphy; some have European items. Harris points out the absence of ethno-
historical records. Research in this region could expand our knowledge of
both prehistoric and protohistoric societies.
In chapter , John Kelly examines our work from the perspective of
a Mississippian insider and a researcher uninuenced by all the biases of
Florida archaeology. It is from the stage of Cahokia that Kelly views Florida
and the broader Southeast. Cahokia, in western Illinois, was the largest
Native American mound complex north of present-day Mexico, reaching
its zenith between ca. A.D.  and . It maintained a central precinct
of some ve square miles with more than a hundred earthen mounds rising
above the articially altered urban landscape (Milner , ; Pauketat
). Away from the town center were farmsteads positioned along the
fertile alluvial soils of the Mississippi River and its tributaries. While con-
troversy reigns over the precise political structure of Cahokia and how
chiefs there came to and wielded power, there is no doubting its size and
scale of inuence during the Early Mississippi period (see Milner  and
Pauketat  for contrasting views). Aboriginal peoples of Florida must
have been aware of Cahokia.
Kelly begins with a short primer on the concept of Mississippian, then
delves into a discussion on what he sees as a Mississippian horizon, which
he further subdivides into Formative or pre-Mississippian (A.D. –
), Pre-Classic Mississippian (A.D. –), Classic Mississippian
(A.D. –), and Post-Classic Mississippian (A.D. –+). Fo-
cusing on the spatial and temporal aspects of these constructs, he explores
 · Keith Ashley and Nancy Marie White
a series of material trends and their behavioral implications. He touches
on the Florida cultures most involved in interactions with (and directly
inuenced by) Mississippian societies. He speculates that the creation of
social ties, perhaps through clan organization, structured the movement
of materials and ideas across the Southeast and Midwest. Like others in
this volume, Kelly views the availability of marine shell and the desire on
the part of many Mississippians to acquire it as the primary conditions
drawing Florida societies into interactions over broad distances during the
Mississippi period.
e chapters in this book present signicant new syntheses on the Mis-
sissippi period throughout Florida, altering some long-standing perspec-
tives. But our collective eort is more an introduction on the subject than
the nal word, for we have only begun to scratch the surface. is volume
issues challenges and clarion calls for systematic survey, excavation, and
new research and perspectives on Mississippi-period Florida. e peoples
represented were the rst in the Southeast (and the entire United States)
to see, react to, and be devastated by invading Europeans. It is imperative
that we try to understand how they once were, so that we can then explain
how they changed and all disappeared.
Full-text available
The Lake Jackson Mounds site (HLEi), located near Tallahassee, Florida, has long been considered to be a frontier Mississippian center. This assertion is primarily based on elaborate burial goods recovered during salvage excavations in the 1970s. Ground penetrating radar (GPR) on the two largest intact mounds at Lake Jackson revealed new information about their morphology and construction histories. These findings demonstrate that mound-building practices at the site were distinct from earlier, local Woodland mound-building traditions, and more similar to those of other Mississippian centers, such as Etowah and Moundville. Lake Jackson revitalized mound building in the Tallahassee area under the influence of external connections with groups in the Mississippian interaction network. These findings show how mound building was an integral practice for expressing and expanding Mississippian ideologies and rituals. This work also shows the utility of GPR in exploring mounds' morphologies and construction histories.
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