By Susan Gillis
BOCA RATON’S FIRST INHABITANTS
South Florida’s archaeological record dates back to the Pleistocene, approximately 13,000 years ago. Archaeologists use the terms Paleo-Indian, South Florida Archaic, and Glades Period to distinguish chronological eras in our pre-Columbian history. The first known settlers in the Boca Raton area are identified as people of the Glades period. Most of the archaeological evidence for these inhabitants in Boca Raton show they lived primarily by the ocean.
BC 500-AD 1763
During the Glades Period interior of South Florida was becoming wetter and wetter and the people of South Florida had to adapt to the new climate conditions by taking up residence in places that were dry, very often in coastal and hammock environments. They continued to practice hunting and gathering as a subsistence strategy with a strong reliance on marine and estuarine resources. During the Glades Period, populations began to increase and there were large permanent settlements along the coast. Pre-historic Boca Raton was settled by Native Americans around 500 BC. The evidence for this early occupation is found at Gumbo Limbo archaeological site. Around 750 AD the population of the Boca Raton coastline increased continuing throughout the Glades Period, which ended in 1763 AD, when the last of the indigenous people of South Florida were removed by the Spanish.
Pre-Columbian Boca Raton
Coastal Boca Raton is home to two pre-Columbian archaeological complexes, the Spanish River Complex (AD 1200-1763) and the Boca Raton Inlet Complex (Glades II 750-1200 AD and Glades III 1200-1763 AD.) By definition, an archaeological complex includes a burial mound or cemetery and a habitation area, usually a midden. A midden is an area where people have disposed of food and other remains like pottery, shell, stone, and bone tools.
Boca Raton Inlet Complex
The Boca Raton Inlet Complex consists of 3 black earth middens and a sand burial mound. This site includes evidence of the first visitors to Boca who established small camp sites along the barrier island as early as 500 BC. Much of the Boca Raton Inlet Complex has been destroyed by the modern development of the area.
Spanish River Complex
The Spanish River Complex is one of the largest archaeological sites in Florida. It includes 4 middens as well as the Highland Beach and Barnhill burial mounds. The latter was used as the main feature in Boca’s old “Ancient America” attraction. Faunal remains of the Great Auk in the Boca Raton Inlet Complex suggest that Boca Raton was cooler in the past than it is today.