Amazing Finds Tell Us More About How The Ancient Calusa Fed Themselves

Rare 1,000-year-old Calusa Indian artifacts, including pieces of wood, rope, and fishing net, were retrieved from a waterlogged midden located along the ancient shoreline in Florida in spring 2017. The Calusa are known to have been a complex culture, relying on shallow-water fishing in elaborate “farms” rather than agriculture or hunting. The fishing net found recently was most likely made of cabbage palm fiber, formed into ropes and tied into a pattern. Some of the knots even survive! They allowed researchers to deduce that the net was originally a grid, with squares about an inch wide. And some tied-on clamshell weights, for making the net heavy in the water, were amazingly still attached.

The midden also contained the uncooked seeds of gourd-like squash which has not been identfied. Researchers speculate could be the remains of gourds used to help the fishing net float?

Unfortunately, modern archaeologists are having to unearth (pun!) everything about the Calusa, right down to the gourds they might have grown, because no Calusa remain to tell us about themselves. They had largely disappeared by the mid-1700s, ravaged by European diseases and slaving raids by tribes who were allied to the English province of Carolina. The few remaining were evacuated to Cuba in 1763, when Spain ceded Florida to Great Britain.

Constantinople, Not Byzantium

The term “Byzantine Empire” came into common use during the 1700s and 1800s. It would never have been heard, let alone embraced, by the people who once lived in it. To them, Byzantium was still the Roman Empire, which had merely moved its seat of power from Rome to a new eastern capital in Constantinople. Though largely Greek-speaking and Christian, the Byzantines called themselves “Romaioi,” or Romans. They used Roman law, played Roman games like chariot racing, and enjoyed Roman festivals. While Byzantium evolved a distinctive, Greek-influenced identity as the centuries passed, the Romaioi continued to cherish their Roman roots until the end. When he conquered Constantinople in 1453, the Turkish leader Mehmed II even took the emperor's title as “Caesar of Rome.”

While in China, Marco Polo labeled Japan the island of Chipangu in a book, rather than Nihon or Nippon, which is what the Japanese call themselves. It seems Chipangu was an early Mandarin word for Japan, and in modern Shanghainese the word for Japan is still Zeppen. But most of the world, and indeed most of China, calls the country a version of "Nipon." The Western World is the odd one out, still calling the island "Japan!"

This odd-looking item is a nose ring! The nose ring was uncovered at a grave near the border with Costa Rica in 1909. Times being what they were, the artifact was then sold to Tiffany & Co. in New York City. Eventually it ended up in the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, where it resides today.     Because it was unearthed by non-archaeologists, and immediately sold abroad, not much is known about how it was made or who once wore it. It was crafted in Panama by a Native American out of gold alloy, sometime between 800 CE and 1521 CE. Based on eyewitness accounts by early conquistadors and the archaeological evidence, we can also say that gold nose rings were a popular form of body ornament and sign of rank, for both men and women, in ancient Central America.

Birds of a Feather

A new study, looking at macaw skeletons found at three prehistoric pueblo sites in New Mexico, USA, suggests that Native Americans in this arid area imported the birds from less-arid places. The bird remains which were examined date from between 300 CE and 1450 CE. The majority were tropical macaws -- definitely not native to New Mexico! There is also no evidence of macaw breeding save at one site. Put together, the evidence points to importing the birds.

In addition, there was widespread scarring along the surface of their bones, showing that humans removed their feathers. And many of the macaws' skeletons showed malnourishment, likely from being kept inside and fed a largely corn diet. Which, counter-intuitively, suggests the Pueblans were caring for them extremely well, for their society. Basically? The macaws were being imported, kept in captivity, and systematically harvested for their bright and colorful feathers.

Why You Should Care About Ain-Jalut

In 1206, with Ghenghis Khan's emergence as the unified leader of the Mongols, a new era began. They took ever-more territory, including all of China. In 1258, they sacked Baghdad, bringing down the 500-year-old Abbasid Caliphate. In 1260, they inflicted similar devastation on Saladin's caliphate and his successors in Damascus.  They were poised to keep going, taking northern Africa and perhaps re-creating a Mediterranean empire. Then in 1260 the Mongols were defeated by the rulers of Cairo at Ain-Jalut.

From this one conflict came many consequences. The resurgent Egyptian power continued to grow, and within thirty years had swept away what remained of the crusader states. The Mongol empire, both because of its inability to keep moving west in Africa and conflict over inheritances, declined into civil war. The southern and eastern Mediterranean -- northern Africa and the Middle East -- developed as an Arabic-speaking enclave, in conflict with the Christian regions in northern and western Mediterranean -- "Europe" today. Rome's former empire was permanently separated, the "Roman Lake" of the Medieterranean never reunited again. All of us should care about Ain-Jalut because we are still living with its consequences today.

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    HISTORICAL NON-FICTION

    By Lillian Audette

    This blog is a collection of the interesting, the weird, and sometimes the need-to-know about history, culled from around the internet. It has pictures, it has quotes, it occasionally has my own opinions on things. If you want to know more about anything posted, follow the link at the "source" on the bottom of each post. And if you really like my work, buy me a coffee or become a patron!

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