This morning I attended the monthly meeting of the South East Florida Archaeological Society (SEFAS), of which I’ve been a member for the last few years.
It was really great to be back! Theresa Schober, President of the Florida Anthropological Society, gave a wonderful lecture about the Mount Elizabeth site in Jensen Beach. We were right down the street from the site, at the Martin County Environmental Center, where SEFAS meetings take place once a month.
I’ll share some interesting highlights from the lecture. Mount Elizabeth dates back to the Late Archaic period, which means the site is around 4,200 years old. In 1884, when Francis LaBaron visited the site and wrote about it, Mount Elizabeth was already shown on just about every map of Florida available at the time. Theresa and SEFAS were involved in digs on the site, and they were able to excavate every layer of the mound by digging outside the Leech Mansion as well as in the building’s basement.
Here are some facts I gathered from the lecture…
- Once, Florida was a dry plateau similar to the African Savannah. About 5 or 6,000 years ago, the water table rose and the environment began to change.
- The Late Archaic period began about 5,000 years ago.
- The Florida landscape we are now familiar with might be around 3,000 years old.
- The names of the Native Tribes (Mayaimi, Ais, Jeaga, and more) were recorded in the contact period, when conquistadors and others arrived in Florida. One wonders what they actually called themselves.
- The Mount Elizabeth site was probably created in a space of about 300 years, roughly 4,200 years ago.There were long periods of time after that, during which the place was probably abandoned.
- The Mount Elizabeth site was probably a gathering place for Late Archaic peoples, where they might have eaten together, for example.
- The Late Archaic period came first, then the East Okeechobee I and II periods. After that, outsiders made contact.
- At the Mount Elizabeth site, pottery was found from the Late Archaic period.
Lastly, as Theresa noted, it’s not correct to say that a mound was a “trash dump” for ancient peoples (which is what a lot of people tend to assume). While they might’ve left the shells and remains of their food behind, these places were also used for community gatherings, ceremonies, and more. Fascinating!
If someone you know scoffs at Florida history, share this information with them. And if you get a chance, click here to check out the website for the South East Florida Archaeological Society (SEFAS).