Ancient burial mounds and ceremonial earthen mounds have been well documented in North America for hundreds of years. The numerous earthen mounds of Volusia County in Florida, offers one of the most diverse collections in the United States.
The mounds give archaeologists and the inquisitive a unique glimpse in to the prehistoric past of the St John’s era peoples of the Florida coast. Most of the mounds have earthen bases and are either partially or completely made of sea shells. All of the mound structures are unique in design, shape and can vary in purpose.
OLD FORT MOUND
Located at the Old Fort Park, in the city of New Smyma Beach, Florida, the site is mainly known for its legendary 19th century ruins of an old military fort. However, the conquina stone foundations upon which the old fort was built is in fact a massive shell-mound of prehistory.
Excavation at the site shows that the mound beneath the fort is but a remnant of a much larger collection of shellfish deposits. Even though most of the deposits had been removed and used in local road construction, there was a tremendous deep deposit of local shellfish remaining.
The site had been used as a prehistoric “landfill of sorts” demonstrating their integral connection with the ocean life around inhabitants. The natives were accomplished fishermen who enjoyed a wide variety of marine life. Pottery shards at the site have been dated to show that the area was occupied as early as 500AD and continued to be used in to the late St. Johns period, around 1500AD.
This mound site is located in the Canaveral National Seashore in New Smyrna Beach, Florida. Turtle Mound is the single largest collection of shell deposits in the United States. The site is believe to carry over 35 000 cubic yards of oyster shell deposits. The mound extends for over 600 feet along the Indian River shoreline. It currently reaches a staggering 50 feet in height but was thought to have extended to as high as 75 feet in prehistory. The mound can be seen for miles and has been used as a navigational landmark since ancient times.
The site was noted in ships logs during the early years of Spanish exploration of the Florida coastline. Over many years of displacement, the mound has now come to resemble a large turtle giving the site its familiar name. From the summit of the mound, the extensive estuaries that make up the land that was used by the Timucuans during the late St. Johns Period. Panoramic views show the Atlantic Ocean, nearby Merritt Island, Mosquito Lagoon and the Indian River.
The Thursby Mound is located in Blue Spring State Park on the St. Johns River. The site is remarkable for the amount of pottery effigies of corncobs, squash, gourds, acorns and various local game. The people of this site were experienced in horticulture and the growing of maze. The Thursby Mound appears to have been a place of significance to the people of the area.
As horticulture became vital to these prehistoric groups, it was realized that greater amounts of people could be supported in to a community by the stable food supplies. As a result the social and political systems developed in complexity.
Their advanced skills could be seen in the specialized mound construction at the site. The mound is a truncated cone approximately 12 feet high and 90 feet in diameter. An equally impressive shell ramp leads down to the St. Johns River below.
The site reveals that the inhabitants had direct contact with other complex cultures in Southern Florida as these believed to be the more advanced cultures at the time. Archaeological finds of gold and silver artifacts at the Thursby site is evidence of trade with the Calusa Indians of southwest Florida.
In 1955, a large log carving was unearthed at the site. The totem-like object depicts an owl which was a regarded as a symbol of evil by local natives. It is possible that the object represents a ceremonial scarecrow to ward off unwanted visitors or spirits.
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