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History of Bay Pines
by I. Mac Perry
The first inhabitants of Florida arrived around 10,000 BC when the climate was drier and the state twice as wide as it is today. As the ice age glaciers melted, the Gulf of Mexico moved in. Tampa Bay and its western arm Boca Ciega Bay were formed. Around AD 500, a group of stocky, tattooed Indians set up a village on the north shore of Boca Ciega Bay where todayís VA Medical Center sits. They would later called Weeden Island People.
While these native people collected berries and roots and hunted deer and other mammals, 75% of their diet came from the fish and shellfish (mostly oysters) they gathered out of the shallow bay. They made tools out of the empty whelk and clam shells (hammers, adzes, cups, celts, and dippers), and they drank the black drink, a highly caffeinated tea made from holly leaves.
These Weeden Island People lived during the renaissance of pottery making in Florida. They didnít invent pottery but made the finest pottery ever to exist in the aboriginal eastern U.S. The surface of their beautiful pots were stamped with checks, incised with whorls, and punctuated with tiny holes. Many of their pots had animal effigies and were placed in the mounds of their dead.
Besides burial mounds, another type of mound existed at the Bay Pines village. It is called a shell midden and ran as a ridge along the shore. The midden was made of discarded empty shells that were cast upon the beach year after year. In time, the shell midden was covered with soil and plants grew on top. A remnant of the midden still exists on the Medical Center grounds. It stands about two feet high and runs the length of a football field along the shore.
In 1971, a team of archaeologists investigated this midden and adjacent burial mound. They found 68 pottery shards, 97 shell tools, 630 animal bones, and twenty human burials.
By A.D. 1000, the Weeden Island People had disappeared from Florida. They were replaced by a more advanced culture that had chiefs, temple mounds, and large towns. These people, the Safety Harbor People were the ones the Spanish Conquistadors met in the 1500s. There is no evidence that any Safety Harbor People ever lived at the Bay Pines Site.
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