Prehistoric Artifacts

Human remains were discovered 7 inches below the surface of a sand burial mound on Lignumvitae Key that measures 50-feet in diameter and stands 3-4 feet high. A stone mound discovered on Key Largo, thought to have been used for ceremonial purposes, was but one of several mounds in the area indicating the presence of a prehistoric Indian village.

Most mounds discovered on the islands served as refuse piles built from the accumulation of the day to day detritus required to sustain groups of aboriginal people. Over the course of hundreds of years, these mounds and shell middens would become piled with more, more bones, more shells, and more of the island’s natural humus. Because some of these mounds were essentially compost piles that had been sitting for as many as 1,000 years, they became a source of a rare Keys commodity, fertile soil. Early pioneers needing to supplement food resources by planting crops often reclaimed this soil from the mounds.
Mounds would contain the remnants of natural food resources like conch, turtle, and fish, but also the remnants of pottery fragments and tools. Pottery fragments, called sherds, are identified by the particular way in which they have been marked, or incised. Several examples of regional pottery sherds have been placed on exhibit.

Without stone to create tools and weapons, the aboriginal people used readily available implements and techniques to create tools and weapons. The adze, a woodworking tool used to carve bowls, ceremonial masks, and dugout canoes, as well as shell picks and hammers, were created from the shells of whelk and conch. These worked pieces of shell could be attached to wood handles with animal sinew or plant fibers for better effectiveness. A shell hammer, often fashioned from a whelk, could be used to pound and shape shell and other hard surfaces, but also to tenderize proteins like conch and turtle. Several of these shell tools are on exhibit. For projectile points to arm arrows and spears, bone, shark teeth, and stingray barbs were often used.