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The last prehistoric society
in the Tampa Bay area
before the Spanish came
were called the Tocobaga. Archaeologists call these people
Harbor culture, and refer to the period of time in which these people
lived as the
Safety Harbor phase.
This phase began about A.D. 900
and lasted until about 1567. It ended with the arrival of the
Spanish explorer Pedro Menendez de Aviles in Tampa Bay.
The Tocobaga also had a
special class the Europeans called Berdache. These hermaphrodite
men sliced off their sexual organs, strapped on mini skirts of moss, and
wore their hair down their backs like women. They did menial labor such as
tending the sick, carting the wounded off the battlefield, and performing
other favors to worthy warriors.
They also assisted the
shaman in the preparation of dead bodies. One Tocobaga practice was to
boil the bodies, pick off the meat, break the bones at the joints, bundle
them in deerskin and place them on a platform. One platform in south
Florida was found to have held over 300 bundle burials.
burial practices included: Burials covered with oyster shells, a dog
burial, cremation, bones placed in an urn, flexed (bent into the fetal
position) burials, full-length-flat-on-your-back burials, effigy sacrifice
(artifacts laid out in the shape of a body), and bones scattered in a
mound. Most burials had thousands of broken pottery shards tossed
throughout the mound, presumably to release the spirit of the pots to
accompany the soul of the deceased to wherever it was going.
The Teacher Resource
Link for the Tocobaga
Tocobaga Indians of
The Tocobago Indians
were a group of prehistoric and historic Native Americans living near
Tampa Bay, Florida up until roughly 1760. The archaeological name for this
and adjacent groups in late prehistoric (pre-European) times is the Safety
Harbor culture. Just in case you're ever on Jeopardy: In the Tampa Bay
area, Pinellas Plain is the usual pottery style. These artifacts may have
had handles, as well as incising around the rims, but no complex designs
(unless found in burial mounds.) Spanish records often refer to villages,
chiefs, and chiefdoms (groups of subservient villages) with the same name.
So, Tocobago, may refer to one man, a single village, or an extended
alliance of villages, based on the context of the sentence.
They were almost exclusively fishermen who
fished the Gulf for the big ones and harvested tons of oysters and clams
out of the bay.
Where and How They
The Tocobaga Indians
lived in small villages at the northern end of Tampa Bay from 900 to the
1500s. Each village was situated around a public area that was used as a
meeting place. The houses were generally round and built with wooden poles
holding up a roof of palm thatches.
The Tocobaga Indians
built mounds within their villages. A mound is a large pile of earth,
shells, or stones. Their world was surrounded
by long shell middens
made from years of discarded shells. From the thick shells they made
hammers, dugout chopping tools, net weights, gorgets, plummets, and beads.
They lived on top of shells, slept with shells, ate with shell plates and
spoons, traded shells, and were buried with shells. Chief Tocobaga lived
on top of a twenty-foot tall temple mound overlooking Old Tampa Bay in
today's Safety Harbor. The chief's home and the tribe's temple were each built
on a mound. The Tocobaga also built burial mounds outside the main village
area as a place for burying the dead.
Tocobaga villages were socially structured with a chief, nobles who met
with the chief every morning at the temple for a sip of Black Drink and a
few puffs on the old pipe, commoners who fished and crabbed and doubled as
warriors, and slaves (captured Calusa warriors.)
The women of the
Tocobaga tribes had a garbage heap called a midden, which was located next
to their kitchen. Middens were created by the Tocoboga's use of shellfish
for food. The midden consisted of a mound of shells that had grown and
packed together throughout the years as shells were discarded after every
right is a poster put into circulation by a Tampa Bay Museum.
What They Ate
Because of their
proximity to both the bay and freshwater streams, the Tocobaga fished and
gathered shellfish as their primary source of food. They also ate
manatees, which were abundant in the nearby waters.
During this time,
the Tampa Bay area was rich with animals such as deer, rabbits, armadillo,
and squirrels. As a result, the Tocobaga became great hunters. They also
gathered a variety of berries, nuts, and fruit to supplement their diet.
Interestingly, the Tocobaga Indians had corn, an unusual find in the Tampa
Bay area. It is not clear how they got the corn, but it is speculated that
they may have traded with a northern tribe for it.
The Tools They Made
The Tocobaga developed many
tools for hunting, cooking, and eating. One such tool was the adz. The adz
was made of a shell or pointed stone tied to the end of a curved branch.
It was used for digging.
The Tocobaga also
constructed a tool by placing a living tree branch through a shell with a
hole in it. Over a period of time the branch would grow into the shell.
The branch would then be cut off the tree. This produced a sturdy tool
used for digging clams.
For hunting, the
Tocobaga Indians used a throwing stick called an atlatl. It looked and
functioned much like a spear. It was used to kill animals for food and
clothing. While hunting, the Tocobaga would wear deerskin, or sometimes
deer heads over themselves, to get close enough to the animals to kill
What Happened to
1528, PŠnfilo de NarvŠez, a Spanish explorer, arrived in the Tampa Bay
area. He and his men found the Tocobaga and brought disease and violence
to the tribe's peaceful existence. As a result, the Tocobaga Indians
became extinct within the next 100 years.
in the Safety Harbor area of Florida have uncovered many artifacts, or
man-made objects from the Tocobaga. Items such as plates and pots have
been found indicating that the Tocobaga Indians were expert potters.