Everglades Timeline

South Florida before Columbus (Pre-1492)

everglades timeline

Ten thousand years ago it was all under water. What emerged through the centuries gradually took on the characteristics of tidal marsh, mangrove swamp, fen, lake and finally scattered uplands with hardwood trees. The early life of the water, of the land and of the sky must have made the region an incredible semi-tropical Eden. The Everglades muckland -- the largest single body of highly productive organic soil in the world--was fashioned through the centuries by decayed animal and vegetable substance and fertilized by vast hordes and varieties of wildlife. The numerous "kitchen middens" left by the Pre-Columbian humans establish that--second only to what is now known as southern France--southern Florida was the most populated area on earth.

William Roy Shelton,
Land of the Everglades, 1957

10000 BC

Human settlement began in south Florida with the end of glacial era conditions. The Paleo-Indian likely lived with mammoths, bison, and other types of megafauna in an arid environment. With the extinction of these animals, the Paleo-Indian adapted to the changing climate and emerging wetlands and began to establish patterns of subsistence (deer and rabbit hunting, as well as marine life gathering).

5000 BC to 700 BC

During the Post Glacial period, the sea level rose and diminished Florida's land base, and the climate began to change. By 5000 years ago, cypress swamps and hardwood forests characteristic of subtropical terrain began to develop. The people of this period increasingly relied on shellfish and other coastal resources, as well as hunting, fishing, and plant gathering. Among the foods eaten were shell-fish and fish, game such as deer and bear, and plants such as seagrape and prickly pear.

700 BC to AD 500

Sea levels had risen to a level that resulted in highly productive coastal environments, encouraging an increasing reliance on seafood and the exploitation of aquatic plants. South Florida became distinguished from the rest of the peninsula on the basis of this tropical maritime adaptation. The wide range of seafoods included whales, star fish, sharks, crabs, rays, crayfish, and even sailfish and marlin. Secondarily, deer, raccoon, reptiles and birds were hunted to supplement the diet, wild plant foods were gathered seasonally, and tubers imported. The coontie plant was used by the Tequesta Indians as a source of ground flour, and was later used in making hardtack biscuits for sailors.

AD 500 to ca. 1500

Indian cultures thrived across the southern end of the Florida peninsula. The Caloosahatchee culture was centered along the southwest coast, west of Lake Okeechobee, near what is now Port Charlotte and Fort Myers. To its east was the Belle Glade culture area around Lake Okeechobee. South of these two culture areas was a larger area roughly encompassing the Everglades, in which prevailed the Circum-Glades culture. This was the culture area of the Tequesta. Among the three tribes, the Calusa were the most powerful in south Florida, exercising limited political dominance over the other tribal leaders and exacting tribute from them.

This site is designed and maintained by the Digital Collections Center -
Everglades Information Network & Digital Library at Florida International University Libraries
Copyright © Florida International University Libraries. All rights reserved.