USF Libraries | Special & Digital Collections | Exhibits

Florida Archaeology

Florida’s history is rich with years of discovery, expansion, and culture. Because of the state’s ever-changing landscape—from losing a quarter of its land due to the great ice melts of the past to the urban sprawl of modern times—Floridians have always been examples of the plasticity of humanity. In order to comprehend the depth of these changes in Florida, it is necessary to understand the vibrant history of the state, starting with the first Floridians—American Indians.

When the French arrived in Florida, they were looking for sources of gold and an abundance of food—they mistakenly thought corn would be growing rampant all over the land and that gold would be found in every river. The Native Indians showed them where gold and corn were but could not help them locate the mass reserves the French had hoped for. Below are illustrations from Jacques Le Moyne of what was seen by the French as they first arrived in Florida near the St. Johns River in present-day St. Augustine.

As the landscape and environment of Florida was altered through various ice melts and seasons, the culture of Native Floridians also changed. New ways to acquire food had to be found, leading to the accumulation of shell fish to supplement occasional meat, the development of knowledge about many plant species, and the various ways to supply their own food through farming and herding.

With each culture came a specific way of doing things—specific hunting and gathering methods, specific housing and travel routes, and specific wood tools, basketry, and pottery styles. Because of the variance in landscape across Florida, the clay of each particular area can be identified and is often found characterized by a certain type of temper material. For example, in the northwest region of Florida, the clay used in potshard artifacts has mica incorporated into it due to the abundant sources of mica found throughout the area. The St. John’s areas of the north and northeastern regions of Florida are known for pottery made of clay that contains sponge spicules without any tempering, due to proximity to the ocean. These and other various types of pottery have all been found in Florida through exploration and urban sprawl. Aside from pottery, there is an abundance of tools and vessels made from bones, stone, and shells in Florida.