April 17, 2005

Late Archaic Period – Orange Culture -2000 – 1000 BC


The earliest hard evidence we have for Native American occupation of Pelotes and Pinders Islands dates from about 2000 BC. Both islands possesses shell middens (giant oyster trash piles) which are full of fiber-tempered pottery. This pottery was made by mixing clay with fibers from Spanish moss or saw palmetto and firing it. The fibers function as a temper and keep the pot from cracking during the firing process.


Firing makes the pot hard and waterproof. This pottery is usually plain, but sometimes decorated with incising (lines scratched into the wet clay). The pottery shards found are approximately 1/2 inch thick, and would have made very heavy pots. This fiber-tempered pottery, called Orange Period wares, was first invented along the Florida-Georgia Coast. It was used from 2000-1000 BC.

Since most of the pottery found on Pinders island is from this time zone, we can assume that these early peoples made much use of the area. Fiber-tempered pottery is their hallmark. Its invention enabled them to store food for the winter more effectively and cook stews and broths. It may also have contributed to their settling down in one place, rather than continuing the semi-nomadic lifestyle of earlier Florida natives. This early slab pottery is heavy and not easily transported. 

Historically, these peoples are a Late Archaic culture. These people lived before agriculture, and before the advent of the bow and arrow. They were very dependent on the salt marsh for their livelihood, and were accomplished fishermen with hooks and lines (no poles), nets, spears, and fishing weirs (traps.) They also hunted land animals including deer, bear, raccoon, opossum, squirrel, and turkey. Water species included fish, crustaceans, migratory water fowl, alligators, turtles, and marine mammals. Land animals were probably hunted with spears, atlatls (spear-throwers), traps, bolas, and slings. These people may have used fire drives to flush out animals for the hunt.

Plant species were also heavily utilized. Although there was no agriculture, they may have fire-cleared areas to encourage the growth of useful plants. Many things like wild onion, beans, pigweed, peppergrass, etc., grow well in waste areas. Wild foods like acorns, hickory nuts, plums, persimmons, paw paws, prickly pear, blackberry, blueberry, etc. were available on a seasonal basis as well. Plants also provided medicines. Willow bark has salicylic acid (aspirin) in it, and wax myrtle leaves have natural insect repellent in them. The natives would have utilized these resources fully. 

Settlements probably included about 40 individuals from one or a few kin groups. Social classes may have been developing at this point. Trade among groups would have been fairly common, assisted by the use of dugout canoes. There was little territoriality, but groups were burying their dead in either ponds or burial mounds. This may have given them a stronger sense of place. A home site may have been surrounded by special use camps (fishing, deer hunting, acorn gathering spots, etc.) There is evidence up in Georgia of a homicide during this time period; however, battle was not a common occurrence.

This Late Archaic occupation of Pelotes and Pinders Islands reflects a culture largely based on the gathering of marsh resources. The middens extend over half the island, silent evidence of a long oyster-gathering history. This culture would later evolve into the local St. Johns cultures.

Ancient native american civilizations in Mesoamerica
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