New Histories of Pre-Columbian Florida

By Neill J. Wallis; Asa R. Randall | Go to book overview

2
Deconstructing and Reconstructing
Caloosahatchee Shell Mound Building

THERESA SCHOBER

Remnants of elevated mounds and ridges, sculpted canals, and watercourts are a visible yet subtle reminder of the once-thriving Calusa chiefdom in today’s southwest Florida landscape. The Calusa heartland was centered on the Greater Charlotte Harbor watershed from the Peace River to the north and the Cocohatchee River to the south, encompassing the large estuaries of Charlotte Harbor proper, Pine Island Sound, and San Carlos and Estero Bays while spreading inland along the Caloosahatchee River (figure 2.1). The Calusa and their predecessors exploited and intensified the natural abundance of coastal and estuarine systems to establish a highly stratified, politically complex tributary chiefdom. Its sphere of influence and alliances incorporated the southern third of the Florida peninsula by the sixteenth century (Fontaneda 1944; Laudonnière 1975; Solís de Merás 1923; Zubillaga 1946; Goggin and Sturtevant 1964; Hann 1991, 2003; Marquardt 1988; Milanich and Fairbanks 1980).

Models devised to explain the characteristics of maritime hunting and gathering societies repeatedly acknowledge that marine environments provide an abundant and stable resource base (Murdock 1968; Yesner 1980) and that subsistence stress in such societies is buffered by resource scheduling (Arnold 1992) and food storage (Schalk 1981; Testart 1982). Where documentation exists, both ethnohistoric and archaeological data demonstrate that these societies are represented to greater or lesser degrees by the presence of semi-sedentary to sedentary village sites, high population densities, social and political hierarchies, hereditary chiefs, exchange networks between villages, occupational specialization, and warfare (Fiedel 1992). Not surprisingly then, interpretations of the Calusa archaeological record and discussions of the development of social formations are heavily interwoven with an understanding of resource availability and stability across time and space.

This partiality to environmental explanations of social change is reinforced by the

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