Chronology at Hutto Pond in the North Florida Culture Area

The state has been subdivided into nine culture areas, which refer to a sequence of distinct indigenous people specific to a defined geographic area. These nine areas in Florida are known as northwest, north, north-central, east and central, north peninsular Gulf coast, central peninsular Gulf coast, Caloosahatchee, Okeechobee Basin and Glades. The North Florida culture area falls between the Aucilla River to the west and almost to the St. Johns River basin to the east. The Hutto Pond site lies within the North Florida culture area that is one of the last to have been defined and remains poorly known archaeologically. This area holds rivers such as the Suwannee, Santa Fe, Ichetucknee and Withlacoochee. All but the latter river have produced a plethora of Paleo-Indian projectile points. While the Paleo-Indian and Archaic peoples that lived there were hunters and gatherers, later Indians gradually became agriculturists who grew corn, beans, squash and other cultigens. They continued, nonetheless, to rely heavily on wild foods such as nuts, berries and mollusks, as well as other edibles that they could collect. The Paleo-Indians arrived in Florida at least 12,000 years ago and persisted over a span of about 2,000 years. During that time, what eventually became Florida manifested strikingly different ecosystems and climatic conditions than those present today. Vast grasslands dotted with tree islands covered most of the land. Summers were cooler and drier, whereas warm winters prevailed with few, if any, freezing temperatures. Mammoths, mastodons, camels, saber cats, dire wolves, giant sloths and short-faced bears roamed about in search of water, food and mates. Most of these large creatures, however, died off sometime before the end of the last Ice Age about 10,000 years ago. When Paleo-Indians inhabited Florida, its land mass covered about twice the area than it now covers. Sea levels ranged from 115 feet (12,000 years ago) to 40 feet (8,000 years ago) lower than today. Much less rain at that time resulted in a scarcity of freshwater. This meant Paleo-Indians had fewer places where they could live, albeit they had a much smaller population, due to the lack of water. On the other hand, some areas now inundated provided them with additional areas to live and exploit. Due to the state’s excessive humidity and acidic soils, organic matter in archaeological sites decays very quickly. Lacking organic materials such as bone or wood, most sites cannot be radiocarbon dated. On the other hand, they can be dated relatively using artifacts such as projectile points or ceramics. These kinds of remains often allow us a way to bracket a site’s age within a fixed time frame. For example, Suwannee and Simpson points—lance-shaped implements—used for tipping spears were made exclusively during the Paleo-Indian period. Archaic cultures followed the Paleo-Indian and are divided into Early (10,000-7000 B.P.), Middle (7.000- 5.000 B.P.) and Late periods (5,000-2,500 B.P.). Conditions during that time gradually became wetter as glaciers melted and sea level began rising. This occurred quickly at first and then more gradually. By about 5,000 years ago, water tables and ecosystems more or less resembled those of today. Groups of native “Floridians” became less mobile as they began effectively exploiting smaller territories. The tools used to identify these cultures included various forms of triangular-shaped projectile point/knives. The earliest ones manifested notched bases, such as on Bolens—named for Bolen’s Bluff on the rim of Paynes Prairie—for attaching the points to shafts. Early Archaic peoples had switched from hand held spears used by Paleo-Indians to atlatls or spear throwers. This allowed them to more effectively bring down game since those devices extended the range and increased the velocity of their weapons. The animals that they hunted resembled modern fauna. Beginning with the Middle Archaic, stemmed bases such as on Newnan points had replaced the notched bases. Pottery first appeared in North America along the southeast Georgia coast about 4,000 years ago and signaled the beginning of the end of the Archaic period. The first potters either used Spanish moss or strands from palmettos to temper their clay forms and pottery became yet another way to discover when a site had been occupied. In the panhandle and big bend of Florida, archaeologists call the people that made the first vessels the Norwood culture. The body of Norwood pots often display stick impressions. Some of these ceramics, however, appeared to have had similar decorations to those found on Orange pottery to the east. The Deptford culture (500 B.C.—A.D. 100) marked the first expression of the so-called Woodland tradition in Florida. From that time onward, regional culture throughout the Southeast became much more distinct. It was at this juncture when the term culture area truly became a useful concept to archaeologists. Although primarily a coastal occupation, some Deptford natives lived in the interior valleys and other inland locales such as Hutto Pond. While they primarily lived along coastal maritime hammocks, they made frequent forays inland to harvest nuts, berries, etc. Inland sites were small and often masked by layers of soils from later period sites. Deptford bands decorated their wares by stamping vessel surfaces with carved wooden paddles before firing them. This left distinctive grooved-or checked-stamped impressions on their pots. They had stopped tempering their pottery with fibers but instead used only sands mixed with clays. Deptford peoples also probably were the first people in the southeastern coastal plain to use the bow and arrow. Check out next Friday’s paper to read on about the chronology at Hutto Pond.

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