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Understanding the Calusa

On the heels of Christopher Columbus' initial ventures into the New World, word traveled quickly among the indigenous peoples of present-day Florida and the Caribbean. Of those, the Calusa, began a protracted battle with the Spaniards that lasted centuries. The work of archeology professor Victor Thompson to understand the world and the ways of the Calusa is uncovering fascinating new artifacts and details:

Thompson stands behind the steering wheel of a pontoon boat, threading it between the mangrove islands of Estero Bay where pelicans, herons, and wealthy retirees all compete for the estuary’s abundant fish. A strong, steady wind threatens to knock Thompson’s cowboy hat off his head, but never succeeds. Thompson likes to keep it light, making banter and jokes during the 15-minute trip to Mound Key. As he edges the boat into a narrow channel surrounded by mangrove trees, the wind dies and a mullet jumps in the still water. Thompson ties the boat to a tree next to a sign informing visitors that they have come to a State Historic Site.

Thompson thinks that the Calusa designed the landscape of Mound Key with care, almost as if they had a blueprint in mind. The two tallest mounds, he explains, lie roughly at the center. In between, Calusa workers carved out a large canal that divided the island into two, and each half was sprinkled with several smaller mounds. Spacious, multi-family houses seem to have stood on the summits, providing homes for an estimated 2,000 people when Mound Key’s population was at its peak. 

Great article on this terrific new work, itself an important exploration of our past. The more we can understand the European migration from the perspective of the indigenous people, the better we begin to understand who we are today.

Images from the online version of Hakai Magazine, coastal science and societies. Thompson photo by Zach Zorich.

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