Prehistory

A Window to the Past is uniquely located within a prehistoric shell midden, this special exhibition uses glass walls and a multimedia presentation to educate visitors about the features of a midden, the objects found within its layers and the importance of middens to the prehistoric people who created them. Don't miss this one-of-a-kind experience! This is the only exhibition in the world where you can be surrounded by a prehistoric shell mound.

Historic Spanish Point’s Prehistory

With an archaeological record that encompasses approximately 5,000 years of Florida prehistory, this National Register of Historic Places museum is referred to as one of the largest intact actively preserved archaeological sites of the prehistoric period on the gulf coast of Florida. Habitation of the site (known as the Palmer site 8s02) spans the Late Archaic period [5,900-3,200 years ago] through to the Manasota and Late Woodland periods [3,200-1,000 years ago.]

Prehistoric people living on our bay’s shore saw the introduction of ceramics and the transition from nomadic hunters and gatherers to settled subsistence societies.They capitalized on the abundant resources provided by the gulf, marsh, woodland and bay ecosystems and utilized growing specialized tool technology to further establish the permanent and seasonal settlements.

Archaic period sites are not as prevalent on the gulf coast and are often not as well-preserved as Historic Spanish Point’s Hill Cottage Midden. Archaeological excavations and examinations of data place this midden clearly in the Archaic formative time. Given its age and the potential for further study, Hill Cottage Midden is among the most important sites in Florida, and may be one of the oldest and largest ceremonial shell ring middens in the southeastern United States.

A midden is a dump for domestic waste. The word is used by archaeologists worldwide to describe any kind of feature containing waste products relating to day-to-day human life. Middens may be convenient, single-use pits created by nomadic groups or long-term, designated dumps used by sedentary communities that accumulate over several generations. In the latter case, a midden’s stratigraphy can become apparent. Midden deposits can contain a variety of archaeological material, including animal bone, shell, botanical material, potsherds, debitage (the left over pieces from making stone flake points) and other artifacts associated with past human occupation.

These features provide a useful resource for archaeologists who wish to study the diet and habits of past societies. Middens with damp, anaerobic [low to no oxygen] conditions can even preserve organic remains which can then be analyzed to obtain information regarding climate and seasonal use.

The two large shell middens forming the Late Woodland and Manasota [3,200-1,000 years ago] context of the Palmer Site 8So2 offer a substantial glimpse at those populations, along with the Burial Mound, which is considered one of the largest systematically excavated mortuary sites in the southeastern United States. The excavation in 1959-1962 by Ripley P. Bullen created one of the biggest osteological collections housed at the University of Florida’s Museum of Natural History, allowing for comprehensive study.

People living here 1000-2000 years ago were relatively healthy with an average age between 25-50 years. Bullen excavated over 429 individuals along with 4 dogs and a Florida Alligator. The Alligator was ceremonially interred with grave goods and appears to be the last burial in the mound. Bullen found no other disturbances after or above the level of the full Alligator skeleton.

Though limited, grave goods and ceremonial elements were included with both the human and the animal burials in the mound. Items like pottery, lithics, shell, and faunal material were part of the grave goods and/or burial inclusions. The styles and cultural affiliations of these were common to the regional culture of the time period leading us to propose the people here were not of their own subculture.

Prehistoric people disappear from the archaeological record of the Palmer site 8s02 sometime prior to AD 1100. To date no evidence of European contact has been found indicating under current knowledge that the site was abandoned until the Webb family arrived in 1867. Due to the concerted efforts of the Webbs, the Palmers, and Gulf Coast Heritage Association, Inc., this significant archaeological site has been preserved in a relatively pristine state, again making 8So2 one of the key sites in Florida.