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Shell Middens

Shell middens, or shell mounds, are small hills, usually in coastal locations, composed of shells (clams, oysters, mussels) discarded by generations of Native Americans. They are found throughout the world, on coastlines, near lagoons, and along major rivers, wherever some variety of shellfish is found. Shell middens are scattered along the coast throughout Florida and the coastlines of the southern United States. These ancient shell mounds provide valuable insights into the lives of early Native Americans.

Shell midden at Fort George Island Cultural State Park; photo by Florida State Parks

The middens in northeast Florida date back to approximately 5,000 years ago. Archaeological evidence indicates they were occupied at the time Europeans first landed in Florida. Timucua Indians would migrate to the cooler seashores during the hot summers and settle on the western side of barrier islands in shady maritime hammock forests close to the salt marsh’s abundant food source. Here they would fish and collect oysters and shellfish.

The refuse heaps of cast-off shells, representing immeasurable ancient meals, built up over time and became mounds. Thousands of years of midden deposits created a unique calcified soil type, often supporting an assemblage of calciphilic plant species (plants that thrive in lime rich soil). Many shell mounds were destroyed by early settlers who used the shell mounds to build roads.

North Peninsula State Park has a long, rich history dating back to the prehistoric Native Americans occupation. Ancient shell middens can be found within the park. These archeological sites, or cultural resources, are among other areas in North Peninsula that have been designated as protected zones and safeguarded from disturbance or development. The stated goal of the park’s management plan is to protect, preserve and maintain the cultural resources in the park in perpetuity. These treasured remnants from the past are yet another reason why your support for our parks is so vitally important.

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