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The Riddle Effigy


Side view of the Riddle Effigy.
Courtesy HSPBC.

The unique wet environment of the Everglades created oxygen-free soil that acted as an excellent preservative for wood artifacts created by Florida’s early population. In 1928 engineer Karl Riddle discovered such an artifact, a small statue carved from cypress, while working on road construction near Pahokee, on the east side of Lake Okeechobee.

The human effigy is one of few found in south Florida, and is believed to represent a shaman, leader, or ancestor. The Calusa were expert woodworkers, who may have taught their craft to the people of the Belle Glade culture. Woodworking tools that may have been used to create the figure include those found at Belle Glade, made of shark teeth attached to a wood or bone handle. Early south Floridians also commonly used barracuda jaws and teeth, shells, and stingray spines. A woodcarving of a human figure recovered at Belle Glade, although in a standing position, has a hair knot at the back of the head similar to the Riddle effigy. 


A reproduction shark tooth tool. Courtesy

After Riddle died in 1985, his family donated the statue to the Historical Society of Palm Beach County. Although the Riddle family has written that the University of Florida dated the statue between AD 900 and 1200, the Historical Society of Palm Beach County has no direct documentation from the university and has not yet employed experts to test the artifact. The Riddle effigy is on display at the Richard and Pat Johnson Palm Beach County History Museum.

 © Historical Society of Palm Beach County.

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