By Natalie Strom
A recent archaeological dig at MarGood Park in Goodland salvaged more than 1,000 pieces of ancient artifacts. The dig, which took place only a week prior to the official opening of the park, went by rather unnoticed for four days. A group of four archaeologists and archaeological technicians chose a very small section of the park for a very specific reason.
This is not the first dig that has taken place at MarGood Park (also known as Goodland Point), let alone, Southwest Florida. According to research by the Archaeological and Historical Conservancy, Inc., a non-profit organization based in Davie, Florida, Southwest Florida has been a focus of archaeological investigations since the 1880’s. Many of these digs took place to find “museum type” artifacts, such as the “Key Marco Cat.” This 6-inch tall, wooden carving with features of both man and cat was found during an 1895 dig by Frank Hamilton Cushing on Key Marco. The “Key Marco Cat”is now a part of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History.
Believed to be a finding from the Calusa Indian tribe who once inhabited areas of Florida, archaeologists say it is not that cut and dry. As Matt Fenno, archaeological technician for The Archaeological and Historical Conservancy. explains, “we don’t refer to the Calusa specifically because we don’t really know when or where (the Calusas) lived.” With only artifacts to refer to in regards to how the ancient Native Americans of Southwest Florida lived, it has become more appropriate to consider any findings in the area as belonging to “Calusa ancestors.”
There are some consistencies in findings, however, that do give archaeologists room to make some definitives. “I think there’s more of a consensus in our eyes that we are closer to what the truth is in terms of how these prehistoric populations were living,” explains Robert Carr, Director of the Archaeological and Historical Conservancy. Carr, who recently co-authored “Images of America: The Everglades” withTimothy A. Harrington, has been digging in, and researching, the Ten Thousand Islands since the 1970’s. Along with archaeologist, John Beriault, the two have been researching Southwest Florida’s ancient times longer than any other archaeologist in the history of the complex island chain.
One area of investigation that has become clearer is the spatial location of shell mounds, or large deposits of shells of edible mollusks. According to a 2006 archaeological assessment of MarGood prepared by the Archeological and Historical Conservancy, “it is noted both as an archaeological and ecological fact that the placement or spatial patterning of both large and small prehistoric sites in the Ten Thousand Island does not appear random. The largest sites are evenly spaced from north to south down the coast at three to five mile intervals. They are situated at nearly the same distance away from the open Gulf of Mexico.”
Each shell mound is now considered to be an area of settlement for these “Calusa ancestors.” “There were largersettlements and smaller settlements. (MarGood) was definitely one of the larger ones,” adds Carr.
This gives credit to the thought that the larger shell mounds, such as Goodland Point, may have been gathering areas. “There’s definitely a diversity and a large quantity of materials suggesting that people would be gathering there at different times of the year.”
Through their 2006 research, Carr, Beriault and John Crump noted that there was a “midden” located 200 feet to the west of the Community Center Building at MarGood Park. “The definition of a midden is an area of deposition of what most of us today would call garbage. This is the materials that are simply refuse from subsistence; from meals or normal day to day activities. This deposition of materials, particularly when it’s concentrated in one area will create a very rich, organic loamy-type soil. It is created as a result of the composition of garbage. A lot of it was fish, shell fish and other natural things thatdecompose and actually enrich the soil,” continues Carr. “The reason it’s significant is because it does preserve so much of what the daily life of these indigenous people represented. It gives scientists and scholars an incredible insight into exactly what they were eating and their technology.”
This is why the archaeologists zeroed in on a three-foot by three-foot plot located within the MarGood midden. Digging only seven feet down, John Beriault, Matt Fenno, Wes White and Scott Faulkner were able to find some remarkable remains. While their findings are still being washed, sorted, counted and analyzed, the archaeologists have somewhat of an idea as to the dating of the pieces.
“Generally, in the ‘law of sequencing’ the things at the bottom are older than the things on the top. Sometimes that’s not true because there’s been a disturbance that reversed the sequence. But in most cases, and we think in this case, the shell and artifacts on the bottom are older than those on the top,”adds Carr. “The so-called ‘midden’ here probably dates from around 1200 AD.”
Within the rich soil, Beriault, Fenno, White and Faulkner found what appears to be the skeletal vertebrae of a shark, myriad fish bones and pieces of broken pottery and shells that were probably used as tools.
While it may forever remain a mystery, speculation as to how the “Calusa ancestors” lived involves subsisting on large amounts of fish, shell fish, and other marine animals such as dolphins and sea turtles. Flat shells found with holes are believed to have been used to anchor nets used for fishing. Larger shells show evidence of being used as tools such as chisels or hammers. Intricate details on pottery shards as well as the apparent design of the shell mounds leaves indication of intelligence and organization.
What was found in the midden at MarGood will eventually be finalized in a report given by the Archaeological and Historical Conservancy. These reports lend further proof to the ideas stated above, yet the truth remains that the truth may never really be known.