When the Spanish rounded the Florida Keys in the 16th century, they found a complex indigenous society based around chiefdoms and tributes. The European explorers greeted the King of the Calusa people at his magnificent house constructed atop an artificial island off the Floridian coast.
Now, archaeologists think they have rediscovered this house – until now only known from the Spanish texts – and it seems it was incredibly impressive. The remains of the house now reside on the island known as Mound Key, and excavations show it would have been an incredible structure sitting atop 150 posts on the island's highest peak, and big enough to house 2,000 people. The paper describing the find has been published in the Journal of Anthropological Archaeology.
The Calusa have long fascinated archaeologists because they were the only society in the New World not based on agriculture. Normally, complex societies need farming to produce enough surplus food to support large numbers of people, allowing some to then diversify what they do for a living.
But the Calusa managed to create a society based primarily on fishing, exploiting the rich waters surrounding the southern portion of Florida and its Keys. They feasted on sharks, turtles, fish, and oysters, while catching deer and birds inland. This was supplemented with foraged wild plants, although many also kept small forest gardens in which they grew chili peppers, squash, papaya, and gourds.