Native Americans

Limestone Carving Dates To Days Of The Timucuans

Limestone rock showing native American glyphs. Photographed at Sea Market Restaurant by Terry Kline.

This article appeared in the Tampa Tribune on June 5, 2002.


NEW PORT RICHEY - The large limestone blends in the landscaping of the popular seafood restaurant along busy U.S. 19. Most who come to Johnny Leverock’s Seafood House pass by without noticing the crude faces carved into the rock.

The 8-by-4-foot rock dates back more than 1,500 years, to when aboriginal people occupied these lands.

The rock is thought to have been carved by Timucuans between 1 and 400 AD, according to Joe Fulghum, general manager of Leverock’s. Fulghum discovered some information about the rock in the files when he first came to the restaurant two years ago.

According to that history, the rock, which has two faces carved into it, is an effigy to local priest chiefs, perhaps sun and rain gods given human faces. A cavity indicates the rock was used for religious ceremonies at which food and other precious items were placed as offerings.

The rock was discovered in 1981 during construction of the Seamarket Restaurant. A miniature golf course had been located there before that. The restaurant was sold to the Leverock’s chain in 1991. It has been left untouched since that day - not cleaned or otherwise altered, Fulghum said.

It originally was thought the rock was in its original location. However, Fulghum said he had a visit from someone who grew up in the area. The resident, who wasn't named, related how a boating channel was dredged and rocks were lifted out with a crane and piled on the adjacent land.

The theory is now that the large rock was excavated during dredging of the channel.

But most likely the carvings on the rock were the handiwork of the Timucuans, one of the groups of natives at the time of Florida’s discovery by Europeans and the beginning of recorded history. Prior to that time is called prehistory.

The Greater Tampa Bay area was within the jurisdiction of the Timucuans, in the subdivision of Tocobago, according to a 1996 research paper by Charles Arnade of San Antonio, a history professor at the University of South Florida.

Tocobago was the name of a Timucuan village or chief or both, located at Tampa Bay, Arnade’s research states. It was possibly the largest village, with the most important chief, in a cluster of villages.

The Tocobago Timucuans lived a more sedentary life than their predecessors, building semi-permanent structures in small villages with a midden paralleling the shore. A midden is a pile of shellfish refuse that forms a mound.

Those aboriginal peoples also had temple and burial mounds that formed a sort of central plaza that was clean of refuse and which was next to a ceremonial mound that was flat-topped. The headman or chief lived on the plaza and presided over the village of as little as 10 and usually not more than 20 dwellings.

The Timucuans also had burial mounds in which they placed their finest pottery. By this time they had perfected the art of molding clay into useful objects, plus ceremonial pieces.

They lived near water, gathering shellfish for food. They also hunted for meat. Other foods were grown, including roots, vegetables and fruits. But the cultivation here was not as much as that in northwest Florida by the time the Europeans discovered Florida in the 16th century.

The largest, and probably main village where Chief Tocobago lived, was discovered where Safety Harbor is now. Archaeologists call the Timucuan subdivision period between 1350 and 1513 the Safety Harbor Culture, which has been found over a 12-county area that includes Pasco.

The Calusas are often also said to have been in this area. But that information is now considered false, according to Arnade.

The mistake probably goes back to 1575, when Hernando de Escalante Fontaneda in his memoirs gave the possible Calusa word “Tanpa” to what is now Tampa Bay. Tanpa - not Tampa - was probably a Calusa village in another area.

From that it was probably assumed that Tampa was Calusa territory, Arnade states. However, archaeological findings place the border between the Timucuan and Calusa people as Charlotte Harbor rather than Tampa Bay.

There was very little difference between the two cultures, except linguistically. Both were part of the Woodland period of prehistory, dating from 1000 BC to 800 A.D.

The first human inhabitants of what is now Florida came probably in the Pleistocene period when Florida was shaped, Arnade’s research shows.

Florida was first covered by water during the Paleozoic period, 100 million years ago. It surfaced as a land mass much larger than today, only to practically submerge again. Sections of it emerged again to give it today’s shape. This left a large continental shelf, narrow on the east coast and wide on the west coast.

The first people of Florida, now called the Paleo-Indians, lived in small groups between an estimated 10,000 to 6500 BC. Most prehistoric people are not referred to as Indians.

Christopher Columbus, thinking he had landed in the West Indies, mislabeled these people he encountered in 1492 when discovering America.

Florida was recovering from the Ice Age during this period and the Paleo-Indians were nomadic, gathering plants, roots, berries and nuts to eat. They also would hunt enormous beasts like the mammoth and mastodon.

Near the end of this 3,500-year period in Florida, rainfall increased and large land animals died out, probably because of climate changes.

The next period, Archaic, was about 6500 BC to 1000 BC. As ice melted across North America, the seas rose and rainfall increased. There was more fresh water and more variety of plants. But the largest animal these prehistoric people encountered was the white-tailed deer.

The Archaic people built shelters and semi-permanent villages along the coast and riverbanks. They had midden mounds composed of shells, animal bones and broken pottery. They began making clay containers, plus fishnets, and dug canoes from tree trunks.

The Mississippian, from 800 to 1500 AD, is the last time period of Florida’s prehistoric people. Their villages were larger. They built flat-topped pyramid mounds for burial and ceremonial use. The Mississippians also developed a government, with rulers and political leaders. Their pottery was decorated with designs.

When Europeans showed up in the early 1500s, the lives of these native Floridians ended. Many died of new illnesses that Europeans carried with them to the New World.

Continuous recorded history began in Florida when Juan Ponce de Leon came in 1513. The Spanish recorded about 25,000 aborigines in Florida then. The population of what became the Tampa Bay area was between 1,000 and 2,000, Arnade estimates.

front page