Early Years

The members of the Seminole Tribe of Florida are a central part of Florida's diverse culture and extensive history. Today's Florida Seminoles are the descendents of the mound-building chiefdoms that once prospered throughout the Southeast for over a thousand years in the EARLY YEARS of Florida's human past. It was these societies that first encountered the European explorers in the 1500s and 1600s. Ancestors of modern Seminoles adapted to the new social and biological challenges those Europeans brought, and, in the process, transformed into the historical Seminoles many are familiar with today.

Pre-Columbian figurine found in the Wacissa River (1936)

Pre-Columbian figurine found in the Wacissa River (1936)

Image Number: GE1761b

Such figurines, as well as shell carvings and earthen structures, represented the religious and political power exerted throughout the Southeast.

Many such artifacts found in Florida originated thousands of miles away, indicators of the extensive communication, cultural, and trade routes that existed centuries before the arrival of Europeans.

Modern reconstruction of an Apalachee council house at the San Luis Mission site: Tallahassee, Florida (2007)

Modern reconstruction of an Apalachee council house at the San Luis Mission site: Tallahassee, Florida (2007)

Image Number: PR30139

Such structures, none of which survive today, give an indication of the power and size of Pre-Columbian cultures in the Southeast. The Apalachees were a powerful agricultural chiefdom that lived in the Big Bend area.

Turtle Mound near New Smyrna Beach, Florida (1930s)

Turtle Mound near New Smyrna Beach, Florida (1930s)

Image Number: RC11673

Earthen and shell mounds such as this one on the East Coast once covered the southeast.

Symbols of both political and religious authority, each mound took thousands of hours to build and maintain and today are almost all that is left of the once powerful chiefdoms that thrived throughout the state.

Pre-Columbian shell mound in St. Petersburg, Florida (c. 1900)

Pre-Columbian shell mound in St. Petersburg, Florida (c. 1900)

Image Number: PC4008

Earthen mound in Salt Lake, Florida (1900s)

Earthen mound in Salt Lake, Florida (1900s)

Image Number: N040229

Mound near Lake Jackson in Tallahassee, Florida (1980s)

Mound near Lake Jackson in Tallahassee, Florida (1980s)

Image Number: PR10603

Carved owl figurine discovered in the St. Johns River (1955)

Carved owl figurine discovered in the St. Johns River (1955)

Image Number: RC11260

Carved out of pine sometime in the 1300s by the St. Johns culture, this figurine was discovered in the St. Johns River in Deland, Florida in 1955 by Victor Roepke.

Today, it is housed at the Fort Caroline National Monument in Jacksonville, Florida.

Pre-Columbian figurine on display at the Fort Walton Indian Temple Mound Museum (1974)

Pre-Columbian figurine on display at the Fort Walton Indian Temple Mound Museum (1974)

Image Number: C681993

This was thought to have been a vessel to hold the cremated remains of a political or religious leader in Pre-Columbian Florida.

In some communities, leaders were often thought to be deities. Some of the largest earthen mounds were essentially burial sites for such leaders.

Pre-Columbian shell mound on the East Coast (c. 1900)

Pre-Columbian shell mound on the East Coast (c. 1900)

Image Number: RC00297

Many of Florida's shell mounds were excavated for both the valuable antiquities as well as for building materials for roads and buildings in the early 20th century. Much Pre-Columbian history was lost as a result.

Limestone stele at Crystal River State Park (1960s)

Limestone stele at Crystal River State Park (1960s)

Image Number: FPS00137

In 1964, Florida archaeologist Ripley Bullen discovered this limestone ceremonial stone (stele). While not all agree with his interpretation, Bullen believed this was purposely erected for ceremonial and celestial purposes

Located 75 yards east of the main burial complex, it dates to 440 A.D. A drawing of what Bullen believed was a human can be seen in this image.

Decorative net weights excavated in Hillsborough County (1937)

Decorative net weights excavated in Hillsborough County (1937)

Image Number: GE1439

Reconstruction of Apalachee sleeping area at the San Luis Mission site: Tallahassee, Florida (2005)

Reconstruction of Apalachee sleeping area at the San Luis Mission site: Tallahassee, Florida (2005)

Image Number: PR20398

Archaeologist excavating Spanish explorer's 1539 winter encampment in Tallahassee (1987)

Archaeologist excavating Spanish explorer's 1539 winter encampment in Tallahassee (1987)

Image Number: RC13728

To date, this was the only verified site for the entire DeSoto expedition.

His expedition, along with other expeditions and settlements forever changed the Southeast by introducing new religions, forms of government, material culture, and most devastatingly new diseases.

Ancestors to modern-day Seminoles were forced to change and adapt to these new circumstances.