…..or From Mounds to Middens
I was well prepared for my visit to Archaeological State Park back in early February, having become what I like to think of as a seasoned (and yes, seasonal) tourist. I had my comfortable walking shoes, my Tilley hat, my bug spray, a packed lunch, something to read while I ate said packed lunch, and some change for parking/entrance fee. Ha. Overkill as usual. The park is in itself 65 acres but the area in which I planned to explore had a sum total of .5 miles of a trail in a paved loop. I could have done it in spike heels!
In a nutshell, Archaeological State Park is a new park on a very old site. It is the place where precolumbian inhabitants came to bury their dead, and they did so for an estimated 1600 years. Experts estimated that it had up to 75oo annual visitors in its heyday but that was long ago and it was abandoned five or six hundred years ago. It didn’t become a park again until, I think, the late 1960s or early 1970s. Don’t quote me on this stuff. That was not long after after some dude thought it was a smart thing to dig a big hole in part of what was known as the old Indian mound to get landfill for the trailer park he was building next door. I’m not knocking trailer parks; if it weren’t for trailer parks I wouldn’t have discovered this area in the first place, but it would be nice if they were located a little further than spitting distance from sacred ground.
It’s not a bit like your modern graveyard. To me it was more like some old folk festival site. There was a ceremonial mound, a ‘midden’ which is a large C shaped mound, a cleared area for gatherings, and several burial mounds. The closest thing to a headstone you might see was this stele which is a limestone slab with an etching. Now I have been accused of having an overactive imagination more than once in my life. I can imagine I can see a face in anything from a wallpaper print to bathtub plumbing fixtures, but I was hard put to find the face that is purported to be etched into this particular slab. I’d be there yet looking if they hadn’t had a little diagram on a posted sign.
Its a lucky thing that back in the day someone noticed the artifacts before the whole kit and kaboodle got carted off to make flat lawns for manufactured homes.
This was a happening place once upon a time. The midden is quite large as well the ceremonial mound, which has been doctored up so that you can climb the 55 steps to the top to admire the view of the Crystal River estuary.
If you want to enjoy the view, don’t look this way, unless you’re really into Spanish moss.
No, best look this way
to see the river. If you go further upriver you will find 5 natural springs which attract manatee when the ocean waters cool in winter. Could be another reason why this was such a large gathering place; the pure clear water. Not sure if they ate manatee (aka sea cow). Be darned hard to eat something that looks like it wants to give you a big hug and then fall asleep on your shoulder but standards may have been a little different a thousand years ago.
The mound is not made of dirt or limestone, rather it is a mountain of oyster shell, old animal bones and other discarded stuff from the primitve household. Here’s a closer look:
That’s a heck of a lotta oyster shells!! Which is likely why folk gathered here in the first place; the abundance of fish, oysters and birds. After all, if you are going to host 7500 people in any given year you are going to need to shuck that many oysters times five. Or ten. I’d consult Julia Childs if I were back home with my cookbooks.
Thinking of oysters made me hungry so I sat on the concrete seawall and ate my lunch and pondered the meaning of it all. You’d think after sixteen hundred years of burials and religious ceremonies there’d be some residual energy floating around. Vapours, or chimeras but nope, nada. No spooks, time warps or in or out of body experiences. Just a soft warm breeze off the Gulf and a scattered Deet tolerant noseum. I decided I would come back and bike the little trail further inside the park. Stay tuned for part II.
© Judy Parsons 2017
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