1400s and Earlier - The Timucua Tribe in Lake County

Native Americans of Lake County

   The area of Lake County was some of the oldest inhabited land in Florida.    Even thousands of years ago the area's mild weather, excellent growing conditions, and abundance of fish and game, drew the Natives of the Timucuan Tribe to call this region their home.    Evidence of their presence has been found throughout Lake County. There are over one thousand identified archeological sites in Lake County.    In the 1880s, artifacts were discovered within Native American Mounds along Lake Emma in Villa City.

   During trips to Florida in the late 1800s and early 1900s, Clarence Bloomfield Moore discovered and collected artifacts from the Timucuan Tribe in Villa City. He was an early expert in Native American archeology. Some of these artifacts made it into the Smithsonian Institute.

Paleo-Indigenous People of Florida and Artifacts

   The Paleo-Indigenous peoples [1] [2] of Florida lived in the area for more than 12,000 years before the time of first contact with Europeans. However, the indigenous Floridians have largely died out with some having been completely gone by the early 1700s. Some migrated; some were taken to Cuba and Mexico by the Spanish, and a few may have been absorbed into what became the Seminole and Miccosukee tribes.

   The first people arrived in Florida before the extinction of the Pleistocene megafauna (c. 9,700 BC). Human remains and artifacts have been found in association with the remains of Pleistocene animals at a number of Florida locations. A carved bone depicting a mammoth found near the site of the Vero Man (skeletal remains found at Vero Beach) has been dated to 11,000 BC - 18,000 BC.

   Other Early Native American Archaeological Discoveries in Florida:
   Melbourne Bone Bed - 8,000 - 18,000 BC
   Page-Ladson - 10,500 - 12,500 BC.
   Little Salt Spring - 3,200 - 11,450 BC
   Cowhouse Creek
   Cutler Fossil Site
   Devil's Den
   Harney Flats
   Helen Brazes Site
   Polk County Canoe
   Silver Springs
   Timucuan Historic Preserve
   Warm Mineral Springs
   Bison antiquus skull with an embedded projectile point has been found in the Wacissa River

   Florida at the end of the Pleistocene was very different from what it is today. Due to the vast amount of water that was frozen in ice sheets during the last glacial period, the sea level was at least 330 feet lower than current levels. The area of Florida had almost twice as much land area and the water table was much lower. This is why some early Native American sites have been found under modern ocean waters. Artifacts have also been found at sites in flooded river valleys as much as 17 feet under the Gulf of Mexico. Additional suspected sites have been identified up to 20 miles offshore under 38 feet of water. The climate was also cooler and drier.
   There were few rivers or springs in Florida. The few water sources that existed were in the interior of Florida where rain-fed lakes and water holes were located over relatively impervious deposits of marl soil, or deep sink holes partially filled by springs. Animals and humans would have congregated at these sparse water holes to drink. This concentration of animals would have also attracted the early Native American hunters. Many Paleo-indigenous artifacts and animal bones with butchering marks have been found in Florida rivers.

   Florida has archaeological evidence of some of the earliest settlements in North America. Discoveries from Florida sink holes may date from the end of the Wisconson glaciation c. 10,000 B.C.
Discoveries of organic materials are rare in Florida due to the warm, wet climate and often acidic soils, usually found only where the material has remained continuously under water. However, archaeologists have found bones that show direct evidence that the Paleo-indigenous people of Florida hunted mammoths, mastodons, Bison antiquus, and giant tortoises. The bones of other large and small animals, including ground sloths, tapirs, horses, camelids, deer, fish, turtles, shellfish, snakes, raccoons, opossums, and muskrats are associated with these sites.

   Also due to the lack of organic materials, stone tools are often the only clues to dating prehistoric sites without ceramics in Florida.
LargeProjectile points, which are often called "arrowheads", were actually spear points, since the arrow could not support the weight of such a heavy tip. Smaller Projectile points were used for arrows, which are beleived to appear much later, along with the invention of the bow. These projectile points have distinctive forms that can be fairly reliably assigned to specific time periods.

   By analyzing stone artifacts, Ripley Bullen was able to divide pre-Archaic Florida into four periods, Early Paleo-Indian (10,000-9,000 BC), Late Paleo-Indian (9,000-8,000 BC), Dalton Early (8,000-7,000 BC), and Dalton Late (7,000-6,000 BC).

   However, Barbara Purdy defined a simpler sequence, Paleo Indian (10,000-8,000 BC, equivalent to Bullen's Early and Late Paleo-Indian) and Late Paleo (8,000-7,000 BC, equivalent to Bullen's Dalton Early).

   Later discoveries have pushed the beginning of the Paleo-Indian period in Florida to an earlier date.

The Timucua Tribe of North and Central Florida


   “They be all naked and of goodly stature, mighty, faire and as well shapen… as any people in all the worlde, very gentill, curtious and of good nature… the men be of tawny color, hawke nosed and of a pleasant countenance… the women be well favored and modest…”
      — Jean Ribault, French Explorer (1560s)

   Much of what we know about early Timucuan culture comes not from the Spanish, but from the French.
   In 1564, French Huguenots, that were seeking refuge from religious persecution in France, founded Fort Caroline along the St. Johns River, in present-day Jacksonville. After an initial conflict, the Huguenots were able to establish friendly relations with the local Timicua in the area.
   The sketches and notes made by Jaques le Moyne, one of the French settlers, are one of the few primary resources about the Timicua.

Timucuan Indians
[Timucua Tribe]
Map of Location of the Timucuan Tribes in Florida
[Map of Location of the Timucuan Tribes in Florida]

   The Timucua were the Native American people living in the Northeast and North Central portions of Florida, including what would become Lake County.
   Their name may have been derived from the Spanish pronunciation of the Timucuan word atimoqua, which means “lord” or “chief.”
   The Timucua probably numbered between 200,000 and 300,000 people that were organized into various chiefdoms, which all spoke a common language.
   The earliest evidence of their presence in Florida dates to around 3000 BC.

   In 1492 AD, it is estimated that there were about 100,000 - 350,000 Native Americans living in the area now known as Florida.
   Accepting the conservative estimate of 100,000, the distribution was thought as this:
      Timucuans in the northeast, 40,000;
      Apalachee and Pensacola in the northwest, 25,000;
      Tocobaga in the west-central, 8,000;
      Calusa in the southwest, 20,000;
      Tequesta in the southeast, 5,000;
      Jeaga, Jobe and Ais (pronounced 'ice') in the east-central, 2,000.
      There were others, as well as sub-groups, i.e., Saturiwa, Santaluces, Boca Ratones, Tocobaga, etc.


Fortified Village - Le Moyne Print
[Fortified Village - Le Moyne Print]

   Timucua settlements seem to have been generally quite small. It is thought that a Timucua settlement would have consisted of a small number of round timber houses with palmetto palm thatched roofs arranged in a semi-circle around a central plaza equiped with a large post for the traditional Timucua games.
   In some larger settlements, there would have been an artificial mound for a temple, another for the chief's residence, and a large “townhouse” (sometimes incorrectly described as a communal dwelling) for tribal gatherings in the center of the public square. These towns were compactly built with a stockade of tall wooden poles around their villages for protection against attack.

Farming Methods of The Timucua

   They were semi-nomadic, so during the mild Fall and Winter months, the Timucua lived in the inland forests. They planted maize, beans, squash, melons, and various root vegetables as part of their diet. They employed a “slash and burn” style of farming. Trees would be cut then the fields would be cleared with fire. The soil would be toiled thus mixing in the nitrates from the wood ash, which makes an effective fertilizer. They would also collect wild fruits and berries, cultivate tobacco, and bake bread made from the root starch of the koonti plant, which is a type of low growing palm. The Timicua were known to utilize a communal food storage system, which suggests crop surpluses were common.

Timucua Harvest Ceremony 1 Timucua Harvest Ceremony 2
[Timucua Harvest Ceremonies]

Hunting and Fishing

   Timucuans hunted game, including deer, alligator, bear, turkey, and possibly even eastern bison. Hunting was a dangerous task, but was worth it as the animal yielded a lot of meat and their pelts were highly valued. Animal bones were also used as weapons or other types of tools, so that every part of the animal was used in wome way.
   Many would migrate to the cooler seashores during the hot summers. The Timucua were skilled at building canoes that were used for fishing. Here they would fish and collect oysters and shellfish. Fish and seafood, as a primary source of protein, were incredibly important to the Timucua diet. Fat from the fish was also used as an oil in sauces or as a kind of butter. The evidence of their culture still exists today in the many piles of discarded shells, known as shell middens, still found around Florida’s coastal areas. Oyster shells and other kinds of food trash were stacked generation after generation in the same mounds. They offer archaeologists important information about the diet of the Timucua.

Fate of the Timucua

   By the 1600s, their population was greatly reduced, and with the influx of new peoples from the North such as the Creek and the impact of Spanish colonizers, not much of that original culture survives among the Timucuan people today. For example, we know of only a small number of Timucuan words.
   Many of the Timucua died from exposure to Eurasian infectious diseases, such as smallpox and measles, to which they had no immunity, and others died from warfare with both the Spanish and English raiders from the Carolinas, along with their Native allies.
   The few survivors migrated out of Florida, mainly to Cuba and New Spain (Mexico) with the Spanish as they ceded Florida to Britain in 1763 following the Seven Years' War, although a few Apalachee reached Louisiana, where their descendants still live.
   By the late 1700s, it is thought that all of the indigenous peoples of Florida were gone, having been replaced by the immigrating Seminole tribe, which was forming as a unique tribe in the early 1700s.
   Today there survive a small group of people in Florida who are of Timucuan heritage who would like to unite on that basis, even though they have lost much of their language and culture. Peoples of Taino descent, such as the Timucua, are trying to recover as much of their cultural heritage as they can and gain the tribal recognition necessary to win some control over their circumstances.

   More Information:
    Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve
   12713 Fort Caroline Road, Jacksonville, Florida 32225

[Contributors: Jason Brown]

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