April 17, 2005

Woodland Period – St. Johns Cultures – 500 BC to 1500 AD


By 500 BC, the St. Johns culture has become firmly established. A change in pottery-making methods marks this shift. Pots are made by coil construction rather than by simply forming pots from a slab, and the tempers have changed. Pelotes Island is affected by Georgia styles and Florida styles. Up in Georgia, sand was used as a temper to harden the clay. Sometimes pottery with both sand and fibers are found, demonstrating the slow shift to new technology. The Florida style required the potter to use clay from fresh water sources containing fresh-water sponges.


The sponges’ minute skeletons, called spicules, settle into the clay and provide a natural temper. Both of these tempering methods, along with the coil manufacture allows a much lighter container to be formed. The sand-tempered pottery is by nature gritty, whereas the sponge-spicule pottery is chalky and soft enough to scratch with your fingernail. 

In north Florida, both are found from this period right up into the European Contact Period (post 1500). On Pelotes and Pinders Islands, both are also found, but in much smaller quantities than the earlier fiber-tempered wares. This could indicate less extensive occupation in later times, or that the upper layers of the oyster middens were mined for road fill, or that the more recent artifacts have been collected by pot hunters because they are closer to the surface.

The tool kit of these later Indians was becoming complex. They utilized chert (poor quality local stone) to make projectile points that were generally smaller than those by earlier peoples. They had many specialized tools, like awls, drills, knives, dart and spear points, needles, etc. These tools could be made of chert, bone, antler, or shell. Shell became very important as a tool resource during the late Archaic, and the trend continued. Busycon (whelk) axes, bowls, columellae (central twirls) jewelry, etc. are often found in north Florida. Several modified whelk shells, including an ax head and a complete lightning whelk bowl have been found on Pinders Island.

In lifestyle, these Indians have become much more complex, living in larger groups, and probably living in one place most of the year. They may have been growing corn at this point, but there is little hard evidence to prove this. Intense collection of marine resources, wild plant materials, and land animals, especially deer, provided their economic base. The dead are buried in mounds made of sand and oyster shells. Grave goods have also been found in the mounds. 

Burials, and the addition of grave goods, suggest a belief in the afterlife and an increase in ceremonialism. A few burials were primary, buried immediately after death in a flexed or extended position. More often, the bodies were processed before burial in a charnel house. After the skeletons were mostly clean, the skull and long bones were interred in the mound in a bundle burial. 

Dent Mound, a burial mound located on Pelotes Island, has been dated to between 250 AD – 600 AD. A different kind of pottery, Swift Creek, is found in the mound. This pottery was popular to the west and north of our area, and is not found on Pelotes outside the mound contexts. It may have been used only in mortuary contexts. 

Approximately 100 people were buried in this mound. The association of grave goods with some may have pointed to higher status. This mound may have been used over an extended period by a single kin group or community. These peoples eventually evolve into the Timucua culture which inhabited the area during the Historic period.

Ancient native american civilizations in Mesoamerica
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