When I was a teenager, one time my mother, a historian, pulled the car over on the side of the road near “Old Fort Park” in Ft. Pierce. She said,” Let’s get out of the car, we are going to look for Indian shards.” “Cool,” I thought, but how could that be? We were driving right along Indian River Drive in a residential area just outside of downtown Ft. Pierce. I’d been here a thousand times….
So anyway, she parked the car and we actually walked across the street, closer to the river, and right there lying on top of the pushed up earth, were discarded oyster and clam shells and splinters of pottery that my mother explained belonged to an ancient mound building culture. I was amazed. Later, we walked up the remains of the forty foot midden, turned around and looked out over the beautiful Indian River, through gigantic gnarled oak trees. I imagined I was an Ais Indian, looking out for the British or Spanish and their Indian collaborators who one day would destroy me and the Indian River too.
According to the Florida Anthropologist 2002, Volume 55 3-4, a total of 49 shell middens, circles or graves have been found in Martin County and were determined to be in much better condition than the ones that had been plowed down in neighboring and over developed Palm Beach County. These Indian mounds were determined to be anywhere from 3000-4000 years old, possibly older, and belonged to various Florida mound building tribes. In Martin County they were named the Ays or Ais. (http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00027829/00090/1j)
The “Old Fort Park” is in St Lucie County, but Martin County’s most well known Indian midden is known today as “Tuckahoe.” The mound was once 60 feet high and overlooks the Indian River as well. I learned that many of the Indian mounds, even parts of Tuckahoe, were all or partially bulldozed and the shells used to pave the early streets of the area.
How resourceful? How horrendous and completely unthoughtful.
This partial map below shows where some of the major coastal and interior mounds in Martin County are located: Mount Elizabeth or Tuckahoe; Hutchinson Island; House of Refuge; Rocky Point; St Lucie Inlet; Joseph Reed Shell Ring; Peck ‘s Lake Complex; Banner Lake Complex; Hobe Sound Complex; Jupiter Sound Complex; Jupiter Inlet Complex; Indiantown and Barley Barber.
-Image courtesy of the “Florida Anthropologist,” ufl.edu link above.
A few years ago after a big storm, the Indian Mound on Hutchinson Island was opened up by the sea. Bones and artifacts were found, studied and reburied because today we have a deeper respect for these grave sites, these sites of culture that many of our ancestors, like mine, destroyed.
Perhaps the spirt of the Ais Indians broke forth that day, and in the rolling waves was brought back to the shoreline. Maybe they are somehow helping us who care and empathise save what’s left of their Eden – the beautiful, the sacred, the Indian River Lagoon.