Evidence Of Native American King's House Last Seen By Spanish Conquistadors Found In Florida


The house was, by all means, an incredible construction, big enough to hold at least 2,000 people. Thompson et al. 2018

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.

The excavations revealed not only the size and location of the house, but also fishing tools, Spanish artifacts, and carvings. Victor Thompson

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.

The house sat atop 'Mound 1', looking down over the artificial canal. Thompson et al. 2018


Yet despite this, the Calusa developed an exceedingly complex society, with King Caalus presiding over a population of roughly 20,000 people, each of whom would pay him tribute in the form of food, gold, animal hides, feathers, and even captives from Spanish shipwrecks. There were dedicated priests, a military, and a network of canals along which the people would travel and trade.  


In fact, so successful were the Calusa that they resisted conquest by the Spanish, fighting them back and remaining free long after many other groups fell. In the end, it was not colonization that led to their demise, but the diseases brought over from Europe. All of this was an astonishing achievement for a society that was not based on agriculture.    

Archaeologists have now rediscovered the house of King Caalus, described in detail by the Spanish in 1566, on the island of Mound Key and suspect that this likely formed the capital of the Calusa. It rose above a town of around 4,000 people, and now excavations can confirm its exact location and size.

A carved bone found at the site of the house. Amanda Roberts Thompson

The huge building, slightly oval in shape, was almost 24 meters (80 feet) long and 20 meters (65 feet) wide and constructed from pine trees likely transported from the mainland. The construction is impressive for any society and would have taken a considerable amount of labor and resources to build. Dating suggests it was first built in 1000 CE, and then used continuously for at least 500 years.

The find cements the extraordinary nature of the Calusa culture, helping researchers to further understand just how this incredible society rose and flourished for hundreds of years. 

A limestone plummet and shell net weight, both of which would have been used in fishing. Amanda Roberts Thompson

[H/T: National Geographic]


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