A Time Travel Through Florida - Part 1 of 5
Updated: Mar 26
From Prehistory to European Exploration
Florida—the Sunshine State—a little bit of paradise where you can vacation year-round thanks to its subtropical climate and astounding beaches! But, have you ever wondered what Florida looked like thousands of years ago? Let us travel back in time to the Pleistocene Epoch.
The Pleistocene started over 2 million years ago and lasted to about 11,500 years ago—a period commonly referred to as the most recent ice age. According to some studies, the ice caused water levels to drop as much as two hundred feet. As a result, the Florida peninsula was much larger than it is today—about twice the present landmass (See diagram).
The buildup of ice created a land bridge across the Bering Strait between Asia (Russia) and North America, allowing humans to migrate south. Modern-day research puts modern humans (Homo sapiens) in Florida as early as 14,000 years ago. Before this period, the Florida peninsula was populated by megafauna such as giant sloths, short-face bears standing up to 12 feet tall, dire wolves that were much larger and heavier than modern wolves, saber-tooth tigers, lions, giant condors, bison, oxen, llamas, horses, mastodons, giant armadillos, and giant tortoises among others.
The climate was quite similar to modern conditions but somewhat cooler. As temperatures fluctuated, so did the Florida climate. Plants such as cypress, arrowhead, black gum, sweetgum, and elm were common. Also present were pine trees and oak.
The people that settled throughout the Florida peninsula were hunters and gatherers. They lived off animal life and what food items they could gather. The men and boys did the hunting, and the women and young children did most of the gathering. These Paleoindians created spears and other tools made of stone, bone, and wood. The implementation of bows and arrows occurred during the Woodland period between 1,000 BCE (Before Current Era) and 1,000 CE (Current Era). Eventually, our first Native Americans incorporated agriculture, and some animals were domesticated, which led to permanent villages and a much more sophisticated culture. They settled along the seashores, rivers, and lakes since these locations provided extra food, water, and transportation with the invention of canoes around 7,000 years ago.
European exploration and subsequent conquest did not start until the year 1492 when Christopher Columbus discovered two of the Caribbean islands: the Bahamas and Cuba. The main thrust of exploration in Florida began near present-day St. Augustine and the Florida Keys around the year 1513. The European settlements eventually led to conflicts with Native Americans that proved to be devastating.
Next week we will travel through the 16th century into the early 19th century where you will meet some of Florida’s Native Indian Tribes, Europeans and Spanish conquistadores.