The above relief map illustrates the scores of lakes, ponds and swamps in close proximity to Hutto Pond—including Sampala Lake and Hixtown Swamp—the largest body of water just to the west of the site.
Kim Gulledge, community ecologist for the Florida Natural Areas Inventory, informed us that within a three mile radius of the Hutto Pond site, wetland ecological communities such as clastic upland lakes (Hutto Pond itself), large basin swamps and basin marshes exist. These types of natural communities provided habitat for fishes, turtles, amphibians, birds and mammals. Specifically, such natural areas would have proffered the inhabitants in the Hutto Pond area with the opportunity to hunt and collect all sorts of freshwater fish and turtles as well as frogs, snakes, alligators, mollusks, waterfowl and wading birds. These same ecotones provided watering holes for mammals and birds. Native peoples likely used the margins of these wetlands to stalk and ambush prey.
While we were working at Hutto Pond, State Underwater Archaeologist Carl Clausen and Bob Vickery visited there in hopes of using SCUBA to explore the lake bottom. Unfortunately, visibility in the pond was so low and the bottom covered with so much deep muck that they were unable to provide us with any useful insights. The poor water quality in the pond most likely resulted from years of agricultural runoff—that contained not only sediments but fertilizers and insecticides–in this region.
Before the onset of large-scaled agriculture, Hutto Pond most likely would have had relatively-clear water body with a sandy bottom.
As for the upland natural communities within three miles of Hutto Pond, Ms. Gulledge went on to indicate that they would have been comprised of Upland Pine, Upland Hardwood Forest and Upland Mixed Woodlands before widespread agricultural and silvicultural disturbances forever changed the landscape. She stated, “There’s really only three hickories that would have been around that (Hutto Pond) site – pignut, mockernut and water. All of them have really thick shells, but mockernut is the largest. Water hickory is usually restricted to river floodplains. Pecans and hazelnuts do not naturally occur in Florida. The historic range of American chestnuts doesn’t really include Florida, but we do have the related chinquapin, which was definitely a Native American food plant.” This discussion is most noteworthy in that many of the test units at Hutto Pond contained charred nut shell fragments from hickories—presumably preserved because they all were from thick-shelled varieties of the tree.
Beyond hickories, more than a dozen species of oaks also occur within the Upland Hardwood Forest and Upland Mixed Woodlands. Just as with the hickories, each autumn these oaks would have produced acorns. Contrary to some popular lore, acorns are not poisonous to humans but those from various species of “red” oaks must be soaked in water to leach out tannins so that the meat is less bitter and more palatable to humans. Acorns also exhibit a higher meat-to-shell ratio and their hulls are thinner and break up more easily than those of most hickories. Timucuans reportedly made a dish something along the lines of an acorn cake. In general, though, hickories have produced the most abundant botanical remains in Southeastern archaeological sites during mid-Holocene times from 8,000 to 3,000 years ago.
Although Ms. Gulledge specifically stated that the native range of pecans was outside Florida, these trees are indigenous to parts lower than Mississippi Valley, especially Louisiana and eastern Texas. In order to make a legitimate comparison to Hutto Pond, it should be noted that pecans are a form of hickory. They fall under the same taxonomic genus known as “Carya,” which encompasses all species of hickories. Native Americans in Texas traveled as far as 75 miles to harvest natural pecan groves. The Caddo tribes of east Texas strung the meats from pecans on long cords and stored them in leather sacks so that they would have them available as high-protein snacks throughout the winter and spring.
Nuts (the technically correct term for them is drupes), which have an added benefit of minimal processing, could be harvested and stored for months. On the other hand, animal meat would have required smoking or drying—both time consuming endeavors–before it could have been kept for future use. Nuts still would need to have been cached where animals could not reach them in places such as earthen pits, rock shelters and caves. In the case of Hutto Pond, they most likely would have been kept in earthen pits (although we only uncovered one feature at the Hutto Pond site) because no (dry) caves or rock shelters exist anywhere near the site. Nuts can be stored for up to a year in dry cool places. Presuming the climate during the past 5,000 years in north Florida did resemble that of today, though, acorns, hickories and other varieties of nut trees probably would only have been available for native peoples to eat from late fall through early spring because the nuts would have spoiled during the hot, humid summers common to the region.