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Sunday Favorites: the Original Aborigines
|This circa 1562 drawing by Jacques Le Moyne shows how the natives fished.|
BRADENTON – Back before Spanish Conquistadors brought livestock and early visionaries planted citrus, Florida was a lush jungle where natives flourished off of what the land and sea provided them. By excavating key pieces of evidence left behind in their mysterious mounds, archaeologists were able to envision how they lived: they made fire with spindle, gathered berries with woven baskets, fished with handmade nets and hunted with weapons made of bone. Now you can too! This week, I will be explaining how to live as the natives did.
Natives of Florida
The original population of natives were not Seminoles; in fact, the earliest humans in Florida remain unnamed. As early as 12,000 years ago, prehistoric man hunted mammoth and mastodon in the wilds of the Florida Peninsula.
Around 5,000 B.C. they transitioned from a once-nomadic lifestyle and began living along the shore and surviving mainly on seafood. The deposited their refuse in piles which eventually became so large, they were nearly 25 feet tall. The natives took advantage of the altitude and began living on top of the mounds where the sea breeze diminished the humidity and the mosquitos. After that, mounds were created specifically for living. In the years that followed, different varieties of mounds would be constructed, some for burial and others for ceremonial purposes.
In her book “The Edge of the Wilderness”, Janet Snyder Matthews lists the different species that were hunted. Deer, bear, panther, wildcat, fox, opossum, raccoon, skunk, muskrat, rabbit, buffalo, turkey duck, cormorant, alligator and manatees were all hunted by the aborigines. They dined on shellfish, crab, fish and several varieties of turtle. Vegetables included wild plum, crabapple, seagrapes, blackberry, persimmons, huckleberry and swamp cabbage.
In the book “Florida’s First People,” Robin C. Brown reinvents many of the tools used by the natives based on archeological finds. Chert, a fine-grained sedimentary rock, was gathered from riverbanks by aborigines and broken into smaller pieces using a rock. They then dug a shallow sand pit and placed the fragments in a single layer and covered them with two inches of sand. Then, a fire of slash pine branches was burned over the pit. In the morning, after the fire had died and the sand had cooled, the chert was removed. Overnight, the chert had lost its chalky-gray color and taken on a more glasslike appearance which often displayed hues of coral and orange after it was fired.
Next, each fragment was placed in a piece of leather and held in the left hand while the right hand struck the edge with a hammer made from the base of a dear antler and gradually shaping it into an arrowhead.
|This painting by Dean Quigbey shows a typical native village as it looked when the Spanish arrived.|
The natives made arrows out of the chert and fired them with a bow and arrow, but they also used a projectile device for hurtling a spear called an atlatl, which lengthened the throwing arm so an arrow could fly at a greater distance. These mechanisms would flex as they were swung backwards, launching the arrow into an arc. The atlatl were flung with just two fingers and made from oak, red mahogany or buttonwood. The shaft of the spears, darts and arrows were crafted from bamboo.
According to Brown, circular baskets are fairly easy to make from fresh vines. Natives would use a number of materials when crafting the baskets; palmetto stems, twisted sabal palm weavers, sabal palm roots, peeled grapevine, palm leaves and cattail. Vines were coiled and placed in a shallow creek to keep them flexible. Grapevine served as ribs and a smaller gauge of grapevine was used to twine. Natives would also weave fish traps and nets.
Two-ply cord was woven from strips of a sabal palm leaf. Shells were used as net gauges. A length of the palm fiber cord was wound on a simple shuttle made of polished deer bone. When all the cords were tied, floating pegs of dry cypress were tied across the top and weights were made of pierced ponderous arch shells, which were tied along the bottom. These gill nets were used to gather a variety of fish including mullett, red drum and trout. Dip nets were constructed using the same principal and used to gather crabs and conchs.
The level of skill that the natives possessed was enough to impress the Spanish Explorers who commented on the brilliance of their practices. The subject matter of this article touched on just a fraction of the many capacities of Florida’s native empire. Unfortunately, the native population that wasn’t slain by the Spanish fell victim to the numerous diseases brought over by the strangers. All that remains of an empire of 35,000 that populated the Manatee region, lies in what’s left of their refuse piles, which were diminished by early settlers who used the shell as fill for area roadways.
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