Research Guides

From Pre-Contact to Shatter Zone: Exploring Florida Cultural Legacies (Exhibition Guide)

Land Acknowledgement
The following program originates from the University of Miami . . . with locations in Coral Gables, Virginia Key, and the Health District in downtown Miami.  The University of Miami Libraries acknowledges that we stand on the ancestral territory of the Tequesta and that the Seminole Tribe of Florida, the Council of the Original Miccosukee and Simanolee Nation Aboriginal Peoples, and the Miccosukee Tribe of the Indians of Florida are now its Native American custodians. This acknowledgment is one of the ways in which we work to educate ourselves about this land, its history, and our relationships with each other. 
Hieroglyph from Tercero Cathecismo by Fr. Gregorio de Movilla, 1635 from the NY Historical Society interspersed with a map of La Florida from Theodor De Bry
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Arthur Dunkelman

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The Timucua People
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Pre-Contact Florida: Lake Jackson and Key Marco Sites
Sea-Turtle Figurehead

Sea-Turtle Carved figurehead, 1400CE. Dimensions:  Originally painted in black, white, blue, and red.

When the object was removed from the muck pond, the colors soon began to vanish. To preserve a record of designs and pigmentation, expedition artist and photographer Wells M. Sawyer painted on-site a series of watercolors of masks and figureheads before all colors and painted lines faded. This is the only extant visual documentary evidence of these aspects of the figure. 

Image courtesy of Penn Museum
Kneeling Key Marco Cat
Kneeling Key Marco Cat, 1400-1500 CE. 

Masterfully carved in dark-colored hardwood, the best-known figure of the Key Marco site and one of the finest pre-contact Native American ceremonial art objects in North America, is only six inches tall.  It has been pointed out that the statuette is carved in the likeness of Florida panthers and that in Native American Southeast cosmography, panthers were associated with the Piasa, power beings that ruled the watery Underworld (Karen K. Russell 2012, 112).  Because the artist of the statuette was most likely a Calusa, the association of this humanoid panther-god figure with the powers of coastal waters, is plausible.

Image courtesy of the National Museum of Natural History, Department of Anthropology
Ceremonial Tablet or Pendant

Ceremonial Tablet or Pendant, 1500-1763

The object is made of gold, a metal not found in Florida, as the Spaniards soon found out much to their chagrin.  The metal was possibly salvaged by Florida coastal indigenous peoples from Spanish shipwrecks and then reworked into native art and ceremonial forms by the indigenous artists. Some of the incised forms are variants of the quadrata and concentric circles, but their symbolism in the context of the tablets is unknown.  These pendants or ceremonial tablets are believed to have been worn by elites. There are nearly seventy medallions or ceremonial tablets found in archaeological sites in South Florida. 

Image courtesy of the National Museum of the American Indian
La Florida Missions
Mississippian Arts and Cultures
Whelk Gorget
Whelk Gorget, with engraved warrior holding a severed head and maze and wearing a pendant. 1250-1350 CE.  Provenance: Castalian Springs, TN. 10cm diameter. 

In the words of Tom Evans (Skidi Pawnee):  “This gorget depicts a young warrior dancing in imitation of the Morning Star. The severed head held in the dancer’s right hand is proof of that successful imitation….The eye pattern seen on the dancer’s face is thought to suggest the pattern found on the faces of certain hawks who symbolize swift pursuit and unerring aim in striking an enemy. 

Text and image courtesy of the National Museum of the American Indian
Ceramic Vessel
Nodena Red and White Human Head Ceramic Vessel, Provenance: Arkansas. 1350-1600 CE. Dimensions: 18.5 x 15.6 cm.

This is a fine example of a unique SECC ceramic tradition.  Believed to be a portraiture modality, head vessels represented lifeless warriors, venerated ancestors, or leaders.  The perforations in the ears suggest the possibility of adornment for ritual use. The tattoos on the face may also suggest ritual personification of a mythical being by the portrayed individual when he was alive. (Walker 2004, 227). 

Image courtesy of the National Museum of the American Indian
Whelk Gorget with Decorations
Whelk Gorget with Incised Decorations,1100-1350, CE.  Provenance: Castalian Springs, TN. 

This masterfully incised gorget is believed to be a cosmogram.  The cross has been interpreted to represent the four logs feeding the sacred fire,  the circle to refer to the sun in the Above World, the looped scrolls to stand for the four corners bounding the earth-disk of the Middle World, and the crested birds, other-than-human beings, are associated with weather powers and the four cardinal directions. (Lankford 2007). 

Image courtesy of the National Museum of the American Indian
UML Special Collections
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