Changing their landscape on many fronts, the Calusa people left behind traces of their way of life on the shell mound complexes they built. The size and locations of the settlements, many of which are in the Ten Thousand Islands, indicate that large communal groups flourished on the abundance of coastal resources with fish and shellfish accounting for up to 70 percent of their diet.
Archaeologists studying the Calusa culture look closely at artifacts (items made or carved by humans) to learn about what life was like for prehistoric peoples. Within each mound complex are middens (smaller mounds) that served specific purposes. The “kitchen middens,” or refuse piles, tend to provide the greatest clues to the mysteries surrounding their lost culture. In addition to shell tools, pieces of broken pottery are, by far, the most commonly found remnants of the Calusa civilization. These artifacts have provided valuable insights into their social evolution.
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Since 1978, the reserve has cataloged more than 200 artifacts in its inventory, which also includes shell tools, shell net weights, carved bones and remnants from pioneer settlers who squatted atop the abandoned mounds in the 1880s. Each artifact in the inventory has been recorded in a database along with the GPS coordinates of the location where it was found and other details about the find.
This database serves as an incredible resource for archaeologists and other researchers who are studying at the reserve. Expanding our collective knowledge of the local history and land use is essential to guiding management efforts, educating the community and planning for trails or other recreational opportunities.
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