Florida's Archaeology

By: Chelle Koster Walton

On land and in water, from B.C. to A.D., Florida's archaeological sites are fascinating studies in the state's diverse history.

Years and land have swallowed much of Florida's earliest history, since the days when gigantic prehistoric creatures thudded the earth, aboriginals lived off the land and sea, and rudimentary colonial settlements dotted the landscape. Archaeological sites throughout the state rediscover signposts left by early cultures, signposts that point to their way of life and survival in the seething wilderness of the times. Sift back to those days at these sites, where archaeologists have uncovered Florida's past - and in some cases continue to do so - bit by bit.


Ponce de Leon's Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park, St. Augustine. This is the 1565 birthplace of St. Augustine, Florida and Colonial European America where Spanish Explorer Pedro Menendez established the first permanent European colony in the United States. You can drink from the Legendary Fountain and learn the story of Ponce de Leon's 1513 exploration of Florida.

Mission Nombre de Dios, St. Augustine. The grounds mark the site of the landing of Pedro Menéndez, the celebration of the first parish Mass and the first Franciscan mission in what is now the U.S. Excavations are ongoing, including a large coquina foundation believed to be a church built in the latter 1600s.

Mission San Luis, Tallahassee. One of an extensive system of Florida missions that emanated from the establishment of Nombre de Dios. This one, settled from 1656 to 1704, today offers visitors living history and a working archaeological site.

Lake Jackson Mounds Archaeological State Park, Tallahassee. Signage interprets two earthen temple mounds and others are scattered along nature trails through the park, where visitors can witness evidence of a Native American settlement dating to the 1200s.


Crystal River Archaeological State Park, Crystal River. Many of Florida's archaeological sites research and preserve remnants of prehistoric cultures, and this one dates back furthest to 200 B.C. The museum displays excavated items dating from then through 1400 A.D., during which eras the site was home to various native tribes. Attractions along the outdoor foot trail include a 30-foot burial mound you can climb and rare ceremonial stones.

Safety Harbor Museum of Regional History, Safety Harbor. Located on the site of a Tocobaga Indian mound, it showcases artifacts that were found in the mound, which dates back to the Safety Harbor culture, 1500 to 1700 A.D. Many of these ancient mounds were leveled by development, but at nearby Philippe Park, you can climb to the top of a preserved ancient mound that scenically overlooks Old Tampa Bay.

Weedon Island Preserve Cultural and Natural History Center, St. Petersburg. The Weedon Island culture (A.D. 400 to A.D. 1000) was first identified at this site in the 1920s by the Smithsonian Institution from the sherds of pottery and other proof of existence left in shell mounds by the early native people. An educational facility exhibits and interprets the finds from these early versions of waste management landfill.


Mound Key Archeological State Park, Estero. The capital of Calusa civilization, this un-bridged island is accessible by canoe, kayak or boat tour to intrepid visitors who wish to explore the dig site of a 32-foot mound.

Randell Research Center, Pineland. On the site of the second most important Calusa settlement in Florida, its walking trail crosses an ancient canal dug by the tribe. On Wednesdays and Saturdays, January through April, the center conducts interpretative tours of its mound and dig site. Backed by the Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville, the Randell Research Center was designed to inspire and educate the public about Florida's natural history and rich cultural heritage.


Underwater archaeological sites. In both coastal and inland waters, state underwater archaeological preserves tell tales of Florida's rich maritime past and allow recreational divers to explore wrecks. Urca de Lima, one from a string of early 18th century Spanish treasure shipwrecks along the central east coast, is preserved near Fort Pierce for divers in search of gold doubloons. The SS Copenhagen, a steamer that crashed into the reef near Pompano Beach, is another sight for masked eyes. Near Old Town in north central Florida lies the wreck of the 1920s steamboat, City of Hawkinsville. The SS Tarpon State Underwater Archaeological Preserve, off the shores of Panama City Beach, provides further grounds for down-under exploration.

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