Tag Archives: The Boyer Survey: An Archaeological Investigation of Lake Okeechobee

Lake Shells Tell, the Eastern Beach of Lake O was Miraculous Indeed!


With time on my hands, I have started rereading “The Boyer Survey: An Archaeological Investigation of Lake Okeechobee” by Christian Davenport, Gregory Mount and George Boyer, Jr., written in 2011 and begun in 2006. I have written extensively on this publication  before and find it one of the best historical accounts of our Great Lake Okeechobee.

What got me thinking about it again was a recent visit with my husband and our dog Luna. While we were there, I saw the wide exposed eastern shoreline of Lake Okeechobee for the very first time. Due to a lake level of about 11.70 feet on April 5th, part of the shoreline was beach like and exposed. I felt compelled to walk on it, and dreamt of what the surrounding may have looked like hundreds of years ago. Of course a true ancient shoreline would have been located further east. Drainage, the Herbert Hoover Dike, and Conners Highway give the illusion that things “always looked this way.” 

I was struck by the multitude of small clams shells and snail shells covering the entire shoreline. Some appeared ancient and others not. In any case, I had never seen them before either. They were beautiful even though some were draped in blue-green algae. It was a rare experience. I even found a green piece of “sea-glass along the beach!”

So back to the Boyer Survey. Today for some insight on Lake O’s ancient beach, we will review the  Chapter 1, Introduction, of the Boyer Survey. The first paragraph reads: 

“The circumstances that led to the Boyer Survey of Lake Okeechobee began in the fall of 2006. South Florida water managers lowered the level of Lake Okeechobee behind the Herbert Hoover Dike in anticipation of a predicted severe hurricane season accompanied by a potentially unprecedented amount of rainfall. Neither the hurricanes not the rainfall materialized. In fact, a severe drought set in. This lowered water levels throughout south Florida and combined with the already lowered water levels of Lake Okeechobee, reduced the lake’s depth from a normal  5.49 to 6.10 m (18-20 feet) to a record low of 2.69m (8.8 feet). (Obviously this the ACOE was not following LORS 2008 at this time.)

A concerned citizen called Palm Beach County in February 2007 to report that ancient human remains and artifacts were exposed on the lakebed…

The Boyer Survey project area is situated in the southeast section of Lake Okeechobee encompassing about 42,092 square miles.  

…The lake is a low lying basin with unique features near its south end that helped shape and contain it. These include the Okeechobee Ridge, the Southern Ridge the Spillover Lands, and the fossilized coral ridge. 

The Okeechobee Ridge is a sand ridge that extends from the Martin County /Palm Beach county line to just north of Pahokee. This ridge is thought to represent an old shoreline of the lake. The only place there is a gap in the ridge is around the modern hamlet of Sand Cut. Smith (1848) stated only the eastern shore of Lake  Okeechobee was well defined by a hard sand shore….

A lower lake has positive and negative effects. Let’s look at one that is positive. While it has been documented by the ACOE and SFWMD that record amounts of submerged aquatic vegetation are growing in the north western and western areas of Lake Okeechobee, the eastern shoreline is ailing as the photos below document.

 I do hope that one day there will be more of an effort to create a modern eastern shoreline, an Okeechobee Ridge, that mimics the ancient lake okeechobee shoreline as referred to in the historic Lake Okeechobee account of the Boyer Survey. As the lake shells tell, the Okeechobee Ridge is there, somewhere. The eastern beach of Lake Okeechobee must have been miraculous indeed! 


Pahokee’s Once Prodigious Pelican Lake, Where Did it Go? SLR/IRL

Images from: The Boyer Survey: An Archaeological Investigation of Lake Okeechobee, 2011 by Christopher Davenport and others, PBC.

To archeologists Pelican Lake is regarded to have been the headwaters of what was once Pelican Bay and the Pelican River east of Lake Okeechobee. One of the first to write about this lake was Lawrence E. Will whose family was the first to grow sugarcane in the sawgrass areas rather than the custard apple region south of the lake. Will was an amazing documenter and the Museum of Glades in Belle Glade is named for him today. Although the Will’s have been remembered through the museum the remains of Pelican Lake, Pelican Bay, and the Pelican River are all but forgotten.

For purposes of time, we will first focus on Pelican Lake.

According to the Boyer Survey, other than Will, very few facts were written about Pelican Lake ~named so, obviously, for being the home once to many pelicans. Today, by working backwards, archeologist are finding out more facts, through the study of historic photographs, aerial vegetation and soil patterns, and the use of Google Earth. With these tools, similar to what my brother uses in his Time Capsule Flights (https://jacquithurlowlippisch.com/todd-thurlows-time-capsule-flights/) the ancient river beds are being revealed. Archeologists study such to find the villages of ancient people who lived along these lakes and these so-called “dead rivers,” that were anything but dead. The data revealed about the dead lakes and rivers, “refutes the South Florida Water Management District’s findings suggesting these rivers were “very short.” (Solar et. al 2001:2-19). They were not short; some were miles long! In the case of the Pelican River, it has revealed itself to be 16.3 miles long,  its waters beginning in Pelican Lake. (Boyer Survey  p. 246)

So poor Pelican Lake. If you view the images from the Boyer Survey below you can see how in the early 1900s the lake was drained for development as reclaimed land.

The Boyer Survey: An Archaeological Investigation of Lake Okeechobee, 2011

The Boyer Survey: An Archaeological Investigation of Lake Okeechobee, 2011

The Boyer Survey: An Archaeological Investigation of Lake Okeechobee, 2011

Google Earth 2018. Larrimore Road is the middle of what once was Pelican Lake in Pahokee.

Ancient river beds, lake and bay revealed: The Boyer Survey: An Archaeological Investigation of Lake Okeechobee, 2011

In 1918 famed Botanist John Kunkle Small wrote that Pelican Lake was “the most beautiful lake during the day or night” and was disheartened upon returning to the area seeing that the beautiful lake had been drained and reduced to either “weeds or agricultural fields.” SEE HIS INCREDIBLE PHOTOS HERE:


The Boyer Survey notes that Pelican Lake is just one example of how much and how fast the area around  Lake Okeechobee changed as drainage effort progressed. The last major changes occurred when the Herbert Hoover Dike was completed in the 1930s and vast expanses of lakebed were “permanently” made into sugarcane fields.

This is why the lake is smaller by about 30% today and cannot hold as much water. A lot of that water is discharged today destroying the St Lucie and Calloosahatchee Rivers. It is important for us to know our history so we can fix the mess we are in today. There were no dead rivers or lakes. The only dead ones are the ones we killed. The southern edge of Lake Okeechobee was flowing with rivers and life. Life, that we have conveniently forgotten.

The False Edge of Lake Okeechobee, SFWMD

The Boyer Survey: http://www.flarchcouncil.org/reports/BoyerSurveyLakeO.pdf

Lawrence E. Will Museum of the Glades: https://www.museumoftheglades.org

Botanist John Kunzel Small:http://sciweb.nybg.org/science2/libr/finding_guide/small.asp


Lake Okeechobee Region, What’s Under It? SLR/IRL

Lake Okeechobee Region, What’s Under It?

My grandfather, J.R. Henderson, was a well-known soil-scientist back in the 1930s for the University of Florida.

I remember him telling me things about cows, plants, and the lands under them when we were driving on the “Sunshine State Parkway,” from Gainesville to Stuart.  I think of my grandfather more these days and believe the study of geology and soils are in my blood although I know almost nothing about them.

My mother’s dad, my grandfather, J.R. Henderson, author of Soils of Florida, 1939:(https://library.wur.nl/WebQuery/file/isric/fulltext/isricu_i16740_001.pdf)

So to educate ourselves and the those young people of the future  we continue our study of  the Boyer Survey of Lake Okeechobee, by Christopher Davenport and others–and today we will look at the section entitled Region Geology.

The authors mention a book by Petuch and Roberts (http://wzanews.com/IMG2/book/general%20geology/everglad%20geology.pdf) and note two formations: The Lake Flirt below and Pamlico above.

So South Florida in a nutshell….

The Lake Flirt Formation is noted to consist of three thin limestone layers the uppermost being caprock. This is often used by landscape companies to beautify our yards. I don’t understand how it is mined without jeopardizing  the aquifer, but that’s another blog…

On top of the capstone and limestone layers are sands from the Pamlico Formation. These sands were blown across the state from east to west forming dunes over thousands of years. There is also clay that “resulted from deposit under Holocene ponds and marshlands.”

Source: Florida’s Fossils: Guide to Location, Identification, and Enjoyment
By Robin C. Brown

That’s just a quick review. But might get you interested again.

It is extremely humbling to refresh one’s memory on all this stuff we learned in grade school, as we are living in “the top layer” of millenniums. We in time, will just be another layer of an ancient coral formation we live upon, Florida. Nonetheless, it is important to know what is around us, above us, and under us. 🙂

From my grandfather’s book: Florida Geological Survey 18th Annual Report, 1927. The map show the various shorelines of Florida as sea levels have risen and fallen.

Satellite map of South Florida, public image ca 2005.

The mole knows what under – he lives there! 🙂

FIS Overview of Florida:

Click to access 00_overview_s_fl_gly-1.pdf

Nation Academy of Science, A Brief History of the Everglades: https://www.nap.edu/read/10758/chapter/11

The Boyer Survey: http://www.flarchcouncil.org/reports/BoyerSurveyLakeO.pdf

Caprock for landscaping: http://www.larryscaprockandstone.com/products_cap_rock.asp

Physiographic Regions of Lake Okeechobee, What’s That? SLR/IRL

Water skiing in the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon at Michele White’s house with great friend Kevin Wilkinson, 1980.

The Boyer Survey: An Archaeological Investigation of Lake Okeechobee, 2011, Christopher Davenport and others

SFWMD before and after satellite image effect

As I got to “Physiographic Regions,” when reading the Boyer Archaeological Survey, I had to look up the definition of physiographic. My mind kept wandering to Physical Graffiti, the title of an album by Led Zeppelin, and the fun days of Martin County High School skiing the in St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon with my best friends.

In retrospect, Lake Okeechobee and the St Lucie River were already dying by the time I was in high school. Today, I wish I had learned more about our ailing ecosystem when I was younger, and not finally caught on when I was 40 over ten years ago. “Catching-on,” this is my hope for the next generation as there are serious impacts we won’t be able to ignore, happening, and on the way. Knowing what “physiographic regions” means will help us understand what we can do.

Physiographic is defined simply as “the branch of geography dealing with natural features and processes.” So the Figure 5. map above shows what the surrounding ecological communities were before they became developed as today’s counties. These areas are labeled as the Eastern Flatlands; the Everglades; the Western Flatlands; Big Cypress Swamp; and the Mangrove and Coastal Marsh.

As we know the Everglades is one of the largest freshwater marshes in the North America and the world. It starts trickling up in the Kissimmee River Basin above Lake Okeechobee. Unfortunately, this area of the map is always cut off so we think in terms of south.

Basin Management Action Plans,. The Kissimmee River is north of Lake O. Florida. TCRPC doc. 2015.

The open marshes of Lake Okeechobee extended from the southern rim of Lake O and the Loxahatchee Slough south to the mouth of the Shark River Slough at Florida Bay and the former Miami River. Florida Bay is presently, and has been, experiencing extensive algae blooms due to lack of fresh water and the once beautiful Miami River, attached by canal (since 1911) to Lake O? “Dead.”

The Boyer Survey image once again for comparison.

Map of Canals 1924 Florida Archives.

The eastern and western flatlands to the east and west of Lake Okeechobee (Stuart/Ft Meyers ) were similar in vegetation types and animals. The Boyer Survey notes “both can be described as mosaic landscapes consisting of wet prairie, palmetto and dry prairies, pine forest or flatwoods, cypress forests, mixed swamp forests as well as ponds and sloughs; these areas were low, sandy, and poorly drained.” The Loxahatchee River drained the eastern flatlands into the Atlantic, and the Caloosahatchee River drained the western flatlands into the Gulf of Mexico. Today these waters flow by way of the ACOE/SFWMD Central & Southern Florida  project’s water control structures slowly making everything as “dead” as the Miami River.

Until we treat waterway funding like roads, (FDOT:http://www.fdot.gov/transit/functionsgrantsadministration.shtm) Mother Nature’s water highways will become even more of a backed-up, misdirected, putrid mess. We must stop trying to direct her like a God, and let more of her natural features return. After all, Nature is a House of the Holy and we never know when the Rain Song will begin…

The Rain Song, Led Zeppelin, Houses of the Holy, Album Physical Graffiti link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TRt4hQs3nH0

1986 NYT article on first signs of algae in Lake Okeechobee: https://www.nytimes.com/1986/08/23/us/florida-fears-that-lake-okeechobee-is-dying.html