Florida’s Earliest Inhabitants
“It’s good to see everyone again at the Mound House,” said Steve Koski, the Sarasota County Archaeologist for Libraries & Historical Resources, at the beginning of his Friends of the Mound House Lecture, “Evidence of Florida’s Earliest Inhabitants: Warm Mineral Springs & Little Salt Spring, Sarasota County,” to the sold-out audience on Tuesday evening, November 12. “I worked on the excavation of the former Mound House swimming pool that is now your underground exhibit and it looks great! That is not easy to maintain, as it is a living exhibit, so congratulations to Mound House Director Alison Giesen and her staff on a tremendous job.”
Koski informed the crowd, “Tonight we will discuss Warm Mineral Springs and Little Salt Spring, both near the burgeoning city of North Port! Warm Mineral Springs developed as a community health spa in the late 1950s, and during the first month alone, over 10,000 people visited, as they marketed it particularly to Eastern Europeans as the place where Ponce de Leon battled the savages to find ‘The Fountain of Youth’ – it was unbelievable how many people believed this baloney! It is one of the few geothermal springs in Florida, with a water temperature from 84 to 87 degrees that originates from a boulder room 3,000 feet underground.”
In their underwater archaeological diving expeditions, Koski explained, “we uncovered evidence of human occupation as far back as 12,000 years. The noted scientist Bill Royal started diving here in 1958 and found a ledge that was formerly dry, with artifacts and human remains, including a skull that still had the brain inside. These were huge artifacts to find, because up until then, no one believed mankind existed in The New World that far back – this was mind-blowing!”
Motel 6 of Early Florida
Underwater exploration of Little Salt Spring began in 1959, with Koski participating from 1986 to 2004. “We found artifacts dating back 10,000 years, including a Native American mortuary pond from 8,000 to 6,000 years ago, though these are protected sites so we do not work them. It is tough to move anywhere at Little Salt Spring without finding evidence of numerous activities, making it the ‘Motel 6’ of early Florida! I joined the team in 1986 and ended up in ‘People Magazine’ in 1988, with Darryl Hannah on the cover!”
Among the artifacts were sloth bones “that were huge,” Koski related. “They had 8-inch-long claws and dwarfed early humans, so even though they were herbivores, you didn’t want to harass one! We found 10,000-year-old wooden sticks with decorated motifs as identity markers. My favorite artifact, I had the pleasure of identifying and excavating and photographing and carbon-dating and sending it off for conservation. I knew this wooden handle was down there a long time and it ended up being close to 10,000 years old. All artifacts show us glimpses of life that became encapsulated, only to be discovered later, though we have only explored 3% of Little Salt Springs so far. People always ask what it looks like down there and I say it is like working on the dark side of the moon; if you swim five feet from the light, you are done, as you can’t see anything!”
The next Mound House lecture is Tuesday, December 10, featuring Dr. Roger Hammer, who is a Naturalist, prolific author of books on Florida wildflowers and Everglades exploration and the Survivalist Instructor for the Discovery Channel’s reality television show, “Naked & Afraid.” His topic is “Journey Through the Everglades – A Program for Hikers, Bikers, Paddlers and Wildflower Enthusiasts.” The Mound House Museum Store offers a number of Dr. Hammer’s books for sale, so he will conduct a book signing following his lecture.
Tonya Wiley on January 14 offers “Florida Sawfish: A Past, Present, & Future Look.” February 11 is David Scheidecker, Research Coordinator of the Tribal Historic Preservation Office for the Seminole Tribe of Florida, with “Seminoles of Florida.” March 10 is Stephen Brown, the UF/IFAS Horticulture Agent for Lee County, with “Landscaping with Florida Native Plants.” Dr. Michael Parsons, Professor of Marine Science for Florida Gulf Coast University, presents “Red Tide, Blue-Green Algae, & Water Quality” on April 14. Dr. April Watson of Florida Atlantic University concludes the series on May 12 with “Sifting for Sustainability: An Archaeological Case Study from Boca Raton, Florida” that highlights sea-level rise.
NRHP & 4th Anniversary Commemoration
The Mound House recently became a National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) site, along with marking its 4th anniversary of opening to the public on November 14, 2015. To celebrate these twin achievements, the Mound House offers free admission on Saturday, November 16, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. In addition to free admission, it hosts a series of free educational programs throughout the day, with the full schedule at www.moundhouse.org. There will be garden tours, mask-making, spear-throwing, along with programs on bees, pottery and archaeology offered Saturday.
Mound House Lectures are held the second Tuesday of each month through May, with Social Time at 5:30 p.m. and Lectures at 6. In addition to the presentations, there is fruit, gourmet cheese, beverages and wine. Advance reservations required at 239-765-0865, as the Mound House accommodates just 45 people. Cash-only admission at the door is $5 for Mound House members and $10 non-members.
The Mound House, at 451 Connecticut Street, is the oldest standing structure on Estero Island, with overflow parking at 216 Connecticut. The Town of Fort Myers Beach operates the Mound House as a museum complex that offers numerous educational programs each month, including guided tours to explore the 2,000-year-old Calusa Indian Shell Mound, beach walks, and kayak eco-tours. Admission is $10 for ages 13 & up, $8 for students with IDs, $5 ages 6 to 12, and 5 & under free, with Town residents receiving a 50% discount. It is open Tuesdays, Wednesdays & Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Beginning January 1, the Mound House will be open Tuesday through Saturday. For information & programs, call 239-765-0865 or see www.moundhouse.org.