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The Belle Glade Origins

First Floridians
Florida’s history began long before it was called Florida. At least 12,000 years ago, as the last Ice Age ended, the first people, called Paleo-Indians, began to arrive in Florida. These first Floridians were part of the human migration that took place as people from Siberia began moving over a land bridge, called Beringia and now covered by the Bering Sea, that had formed between the ice glaciers to North America and then into Central and South America. Much of the ocean’s water was locked in huge glaciers that covered the earth. Sea levels were about 160 to 350 feet lower than today.

Paleo-Indians were hunter-gatherers who moved from place to place searching for food and fresh water. The hunter-gatherers hunted small animals as well as the now-extinct large mammals such as the bison, mammoths, and mastodon, and gathered plant food. At that time, Florida was twice the size it is today, there was a cooler and drier climate, and there was little rainfall so fresh water was difficult to find. Since Florida’s land mass was larger than today, the shoreline extended from 75 to 100 miles farther into the Gulf of Mexico. Because of this, many Paleo-Indian sites are now under water. There are less than hundred Paleo-Indian sites in Florida.

Florida’s landscape was much different as well. The landscape 12,000-10,000 years ago included oak and hickory forests, with few inland rivers and scattered sinkholes as locations of fresh water. Most likely, the few fresh water locations are where Paleo-Indians lived: they would be close to fresh water, and animals looking for water would be close enough to hunt for food. The Florida landscape also included coastal salt marshes and sloughs and wide grasslands or savannahs. Animals such as the camel, bison, horse, mastodon and mammoth roamed the savannahs, while in the woods and marshes were tapirs and giant sloths. The dryer areas of Florida were home to giant armadillos and tortoises. These animals are now extinct.

A Paleo-Indian’s Tool Kit
The Paleo-Indian’s tools of survival included stone spear points, adzes, knife blades, scrappers, bone points, stone bolas, fossil shark teeth, bone needles, and other items. Stone spear points were made from chert, a type of stone that is very good for creating knife blades and other stone tools. Chert is found in central and north Florida and throughout the United States. The spear points were attached to wood or ivory foreshafts by pitch and sinew. The completed foreshaft was then inserted into the wood spear shaft. This allowed the hunter to quickly remove the spear shaft from a dead animal and insert a new foreshaft to continue the hunt. The foreshafts left in dead animals would later be removed when the animal was butchered. An unusual tool still used in some parts of the world today was the stone bola. Stones were shaped in egg forms or round, were attached to thongs and thrown to bring down animals and birds.

Paleo-Indian Sites in Florida
Thomas Creek Archaeological District containing Paleo-Indian sites, located in Santa Rosa County.

Page-Ladson site on the Aucilla River between Jefferson and Taylor Counties.

Butler site at the mouth of the Santa Fe River, in north Florida.

Silver Springs site in Marion County, Florida.

Guest Mammoth site in Marion County, Florida.

Bolen Bluff site in Paynes Prairie, Alachua County, Florida.

Harney Flats site in Hillsborough County, Florida.

Cutler Fossil site in Miami-Dade County.

Southeast Florida’s Cutler Fossil Site
Located on the Deering Estate in Miami, Florida, is the cave-like sinkhole Cutler Fossil site. The site has the fossilized remains of now extinct animals including mammoths, sloths, dire wolves, and saber-toothed cats. Fossilized remains of Paleo-Indians have also been found at the site and date to approximately 10,000 years ago. The Cutler Fossil site is one of the few in the United States where Paleo-Indian human remains have been excavated.

The surrounding environment may have included a forest, open savannah, marshes and wetlands, suggesting that southeast Florida had available water resources. The site was also occupied during the later Archaic Period (7500-5000 BC).

Artifacts recovered from the site are now with HistoryMiami and the Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville.

Cultural Periods
Archaeologists divide the different cultural periods of Florida’s prehistory. They do this because at different time periods there are cultural changes such as new weapons or changes in climate that cause people to adapt to their changing environment. For south Florida the three main cultural periods are:

Paleo-Indian Period (10000 to 7500 BC): The earliest people lived in a dry climate, when Florida’s land surface was twice as big as it is today. As the sea level rose, the coastline became submerged under the ocean; what is now coastline was then inland.

Archaic Period (7500 to 500 BC): The climate began to change, and by 3000 BC, the environment resembled modern conditions, with cypress swamps and hardwood forests. People adapted to increasingly productive coastal environments and were less nomadic, resulting in regionalized cultures.

Glades Period (500 BC to AD 1500): Advancements in technology were made, which allowed later identification of cultures and Glades periods I, II, and III by the types of pottery made and the tools used.

The Glades period was further defined into several different periods, including the Belle Glade period.

Belle Glade Culture Chronological Chart
Year                 Culture Period                   Temporal Marker
                         Belle Glade IIb                   Linear embankments, European materials

1000                Belle Glade IIa                   St. Johns Check, Stamped ceramics, Type B Circular-
                                                                       Linear earthworks, Belle Glade Plain ceramics dominant
                         Belle Glade Ib                    Belle Glade Plain ceramics. Type A Circular-Linear earthworks                            
A.D. 100

B.C. 100

500                  Belle Glade Ia                    Sand-tempered ceramics

1000                Transitional/                     Semi-fiber tempered ceramics. Circular earthworks
                         Belle Glade-

For more information:
Jerald T. Milanich. Archaeology of Precolumbian Florida. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1994.

Robin C. Brown. Florida’s First People: 12,000 Years of Human History. Sarasota: Pineapple Press, Inc., 1994.

Kevin M. McCarthy. Native Americans in Florida. Sarasota: Pineapple Press, Inc., 1999.

Web Sites
Florida Historical Context: The Paleoindian Period

Florida’s Indians from Ancient Times to the Present: Paleoindians

The Florida Paleoindians

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