Shell cities of the Gulf

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By Pam Darty
Refuge Ranger
Colorful flyers seen all over town brought a record crowd to the Cedar Key Library for the third presentation by Dr. Kenneth Sassaman.
The University of Florida archaeologist has been working on the 30 coastal miles of the Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge and the thirteen islands of the Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuge for the past three years, so nearly half of the standing-room-only audience had returned for the most recent findings.
More evidence of modified shell rings, ridges and mounds was found over the last year.  This leads the scientists to conclude that these shell mounds, ridges and rings were not built by chance; they were specifically constructed to protect against storms from the Gulf and to provide altitude as a landmark. From all evidence, there was a core population of 500 – 1000 with camps on Cat, Richards, Bradford, Deer, Raleigh, and other islands.  
Most of the pottery recovered has been from the Deptford Period, with the incredible Weeden Period pottery being the pieces that were taken from grave sites by pot hunters and “hobbyists” in the last century. Several of these incredibly artistic pieces can be seen at the South Florida Museum, in Bradenton, three hours south of Levy County or on film (by appointment) at the Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge office.    
Four thousand years ago, during times when the shoreline of the Gulf was farther out and the immediate area was freshwater, the Carolina marsh clam was harvested and enjoyed by inhabitants. These same clams are no longer in the area these millennia later as the Gulf waters returned and the freshwater clam couldn’t thrive.  Ruins of villages and mounds established during this time are still evident when diving out in the Gulf.
The next area to be researched is the Shell Mound. The Refuge will again host Sassaman for next year’s Archaeology Month so that he might unravel the many mysteries of the monumental mound for us.