Belle Glade culture
The Belle Glade culture, or Okeechobee culture, is an archaeological culture that existed from as early as 1000 BCE until about 1700 in the area surrounding Lake Okeechobee and in the Kissimmee River valley in the U.S. state of Florida.
Major archaeological sites of the Belle Glade culture include Belle Glade Mound, Big Mound City, the Boynton Mound complex, Fort Center, Ortona Mound and Tony's Mound. The Belle Glade site, 1.5 miles (2.4 km) west of the city of Belle Glade, which gave its name to the culture, and Big Mound City, 15 miles (24 km) south of Belle Glade, were partially excavated in 1933 and 1934 by a Civil Works Administration project supervised by Matthew Stirling. A report and analysis of the two sites was published by Gordon Willey in 1948. The best known site, Fort Center, was the subject of major excavations under the direction of William Sears during the 1970s. Other sites are known from test excavations and/or aerial surveys.
The cultural area is defined on the basis of a unique combination of mounds, earthworks and pottery, which have been found around Lake Okeechobee and as far north as Lake Kissimmee. The area has poor, sandy soils, low elevation with low relief (with some higher relief along the western and northern edges of the Kissimmee Valley), and many bodies of water and wetlands. The area consists of pine and palmetto flatlands, wet prairies, hammocks of live oak and cabbage palm, and cypress swamps. The pine and palmetto flatwoods of eastern Martin and Palm Beach counties, sometimes called the East Okeechobee area, and the Kissimmee Valley north of Lake Kissimmee to Lake Tohopekaliga may have also been part of the Belle Glade culture, based on the presence of high numbers of Belle Glade type pottery, and in the northern Kissimmee Valley, similar mounds and earthworks.
Humans apparently first entered the Lake Okeechobee basin and Kissimmee River valley late in the Archaic period (although there are hints of an earlier, even Paleo-Indian presence). The Belle Glade culture is defined as beginning about 1000 BCE. The older Willey/Bullen chronology divided the Belle Glade culture into three periods; Transitional (1000 - 500 BCE), Belle Glade I (500 BCE - 1000 CE) and Belle Glade II (1000 - 1700). The more recent Sears chronology divides the Belle Glade culture into four periods; I (1000 BCE - 200 CE), II (200 - c. 700), III (c. 700 - c. 1300) and IV (c. 1300 - 1700). During the period of European contact, the Mayaimi lived around Lake Okeechobee, and the Jaega lived in the East Okeechobee area. Almost nothing is known of the inhabitants of the Kissimmee Valley during the historic period.
Artifacts and mounds
Most of the pottery found at Belle Glade culture sites is undecorated (Belle Glade Plain and Glades Plain styles). Wood, bone, shell and shark tooth artifacts have been found at a few Belle Glade sites, but are too few to be used in defining the culture.
Earthworks are diagnostic of the Belle Glade culture. Circular ditches appeared early in the Belle Glade culture, by 500 BCE. Habitation mounds and burials in mounds also date to the earliest period. Mounds were also built in Sears' periods II and IV, with mound burials again in period IV. In period IV complexes of mounds and linear embankments were common. Habitation mounds served as dry refuges from flooding during the wet season. Middens are found in oak hammocks near open water.
The people of the Belle Glade culture subsisted on hunting and gathering. Animals in the diet included deer, turtle, snake, fish and fresh water mollusks. While maize may have been cultivated, it was no more than a minor component of the diet.
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