THE SHELL HEAPS OF THE EAST COAST OF FLORIDA.
DEWITT WEBB, M. D.
(With Plntes iXXVTI-LXXxIV.)
There are many evidences that a portion of the east coast of Florida
was quite thickly settled in prehistoric times, and remains of this set-
tlement are found in refuse heaps of villages and single habitations.
These heaps are from a few square yards to many acres in extent, and
from 1 to 15 feet in depth. They must have been the abode of a race
for many generations. The remains indicate that the variety of food
obtained was great, and included all kinds of shellfish, from the
large Busycon perversum to the tiny Doina numerous kinds of fish
and a species of turtle, together with various birds and mammals which
now inhabit the peninsula. The skull of a whale has also been found.
In connection with these remains are found the various members of
the human skeleton in positions which would at least suggest canni-
balism. There are hearths with accumulations of ashes and shells
mingled with pottery (mostly in fragments) and implements and
weapons of shell. These implements and weapons tell us all we know
of the mode of life of the race which inhabited the region, and enable
us more or less correctly to reconstruct this early society. That the
people were hunters and fishers, the variety of animals, birds, and fish
which went to supply their larders abundantly testifies. The porpoise
seems to have been a favorite article of food, while the remains of the
manatee are found in the shell heaps farther north than the present
habitat of the animal. The whale, whose remains were found beneath
one of the large heaps, at least a quarter of a mile from the ocean,
may have been stranded on the beach; but all the other fish, birds,
and animals were doubtless captured by the wary and active savage.
It would seem as if many of the fish might have been taken with some
sort of a net, as they must have employed a twisted cord for many
purposes. There are marks on much of the pottery showing it to have
been molded in baskets made of cord. Sinkers of various shapes
The implements of shell were, for the most part, constructed from the
Busycon carica, and the St. Augustine collection shows all forms and
Proceedings National Museum, Vol. XVI-No. 966.
SHELL HEAPS OF EAST FLORIDA-WEBB.
stages of this construction. While the use to which the greater nuin-
ber of the implements of shell must have been put is obvious, there is
much uncertainty regarding others which are found in abundance.
One of these, known as the perforated shell, may have been used for
the dressing of skins, and the perforation which has provoked so much
speculation, made for the insertion of the finger to give more firmness
to the grasp.* (P1. LXXVIII.)
Another, found in abundance, is made usually from the smaller shells
of the Strombus, and is worked as near as possible to the form of a ball.
They may have been playthings of the children. The drinking shells
were prepared with great care, and seem also to have been used as
cooking utensils, some of them showing marks of exposure to fire. (PI.
LXXIX.) From the great number of perforated shells found on one small
heap I was led to conclude that it was in some sense a mauufactory of
these articles. Some of these scrapers or gouges show as sharp an
edge as it is possible for a shell to receive, while others are dull. Othel
utensils take the form of spoons. A granite or other pebble with an
end flattened and polished was probably used to put an edge on such
implements as required to be sharpened.
The pottery, though mostly in fragments, affords an interesting study
and shows great variety of design in its ornamentation. Some of the
vessels were made in baskets woven from cord, while others, from the
peculiar marking on their external surface, must have been made in an-
other way. The great smoothness and perfect regularity of the internal
surface of these vessels is remarkable. They vary much as to the char-
acter of the material of which they are made. Some are of pure clay;
and of these, some are thoroughly baked and hardened, while others
are slightly baked and therefore brittle. Others have an admixture,
to a greater or less degree, of sand, and are harder. In size they vary
from a bowl holding 1 or 2 quarts to vessels holding 5 gallons, and in
shape from a shallow pan-like dish to a pot or vessel resembling a jug.
(PIs. LXXX, LXXXI.) The ornamentation includes about one hundred
different designs, the principal of which are shown in P1. LXXXII. It
is easy to understand the origin of the fine cord-like markings which ap-
pear on the surface of those vessels which were molded in baskets.
Other vessels were apparently ornamented by using a pen-like instru-
ment made from a reed, while the clay was soft, and still others by rolling
portions of the soft clay and then putting them on as a housewife some-
times ornaments her pie crusts. In one specimen, the impress of the
fingers is plainly visible, showing even the texture of the skin. By far
the larger portion, however, appear to have been ornamented by the use
of a stamp, which left the surface arranged in squares, as shown in the
plate. Fully three-fourths of the pottery found is ornamented in this
These shells have been found with wooden handles inserted in the perforation
for use as hatchets or picks, and the U. S. National Museum possesses several speci-
1""8, ] PROCEEDINGS OF THE NATIONAL MUSEUM. 697
way. These vessels must have served for cooking, as well as tor holding
water, as many are blackened from exposure to the fire. While it is
probable that these people cooked the greater part of their food by roast-
ing over the fire, yet the tiny Dona.r shells at least, which are present
in immense numbers, must have been boiled in water to obtain a broth.
They are too small to have been cooked in any other way. The num-
ber and extent of the hearths and the amount of ashes proves that
the Indigenes usually cooked their food.
The form of the mounds and collections of shells is of interest, and
some of the larger ones may enable us to determine tl.e form of the pre-
historic habitation. When individual families dwelt by themselves
there would be one slowly growing heap for each, which after a time
might be abandoned. When a comparatively wide extent was occupied
the remains would take the form of what we now call Shell Fields-
places where the ground for many acres appears to be full of shells,
but without elevations rising above the general level. A form com-
mon among the heaps is that of a long bank or mound, from 2 to
10 or more feet in thickness, and covering from one to several acres,
always near the water and usually in proximity to an inlet of the sea.
Scattered through these leaps, from the surface of the soil beneath to
their summits, are found implements, utensils, and fragments, of pottery.
A hearth, with a foot or more of ashes and 6 feet or even more across,
may be found, with 5 or 6 feet of shells above it. This disposition of
remains gives a clew to the manner of formation of the mounds and is
well shown in the large mound below Matanzas Inlet, which covers more
than 30 acres (P1. LXXXIV). The side facing the ocean is from 10 to 12 feet
in depth, but has suffered from the encroachment of the sea to an ex-
tent which can not be determined (PIl. LXXXIi). The highest part of tle
mound covers about 2 acres, and back of this, extending to the Matanzas
River, lies the remainder, disposed in circles of greater or less extent
and covered with forest. These circles adjoin each other over a large
part of the territory. They are from 4 to 8 feet in depth and from 12
to 15 feet across at tile bottom. This was a dwelling place, and the
daily refuse was thrown out on all sides, and so the circles of shells,
bones, etc., gradually grew higher and higher, surrounding the rude
dwelling like a wall. This wall would also serve for protection from
the winds of winter and likewise as a pit for defense in case of attack.
When this hollow had become too deep, or the wall about it too high,
it would be abandoned, and the owner, pitching his tent on the top of
surrounding ridges, would use the hollow as a pit in which to throw
The mound of which I am now speaking would appear to have been in
some sort a center of population for many miles around. A spring of
water lies in the midst of it, and the waterway was kept open to the
river. Smaller mounds are found scattered up and down the river for
several miles in the vicinity. (ne of these, some 2 miles north and
698 SHELL HEAPS OF EAST FLORIDA-WEBB.
near the inlet at Matanza Bar, was perhaps used as a lookout and signal
station. A large part of this mound (P1. LXXXIV) was removed from the
northeast part and piled up on the remainder, forming a peak about 35
feet high. From this point a good view is obtained for several 'miles
along the level country, and an approaching enemy could be easily seen.
A covered way or ditch runs from the base to the summit, thus hiding
those who were passing from the sight of the enemy.
As to the age of these heaps all must be left to conjecture. Trees
hundreds of years old are scattered over them. All instruments and
implements of wood have long since perished, and not even a tradition
of them remains. The shell heaps appear to me older than the earth
mounds which some times adjoin them.
PERFORATED SHELLS FROM SHELL MOUNDS IN FLORIDA.
Used probably for dressing skin ; two are prepared for use as clubs.
DRINKING-SHELLS FROM MOUNDS IN FLORIDA.
POTTERY FROM SHELL MOUNDS IN FLORIDA.
1. From mound near Old Fort Matanza. 2. From Anastasia Island. 3. From Fitzpatrick's Mound.
PROCEEDINGS, VOL. XVI PL. LXXXI
POTTERY FROM SHELL MOUNDS IN FLORIDA.
A perfect vessel from Homosassa, holding five gallons.
U. S. NATIONAL MUSEUM
POTTERY FROM SHELL MOUNDS IN FLORIDA; SHOWING VARIETY OF DESIGN.
POTTERY FROM SHELL MOUNDS IN FLORIDA; SHOWING VARIETY OF DESIGN. X
SEA FACE OF SHELL MOUND IN FLORIDA, LOOKING EAST.
The sea has washed away a large part of the mound and appears to be making further encroachments every year.
SHELL MOUND IN FLORIDA.
Made much higher than the original elevation by carrying material from the northeast side and heaping on the summit. Used as a signal station.
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