Calusa: An Aquaculture Kingdom
A tribe we call the Calusa lived in southern Florida since at least 100 CE. They grew into a local power, getting tribute from nearby tribes and building monuments that remain today as testaments to their might.
- the Calusa depended on the sea, not agriculture, for its food surplus. They fished along the Gulf Coast estuaries and harvested rich shellfish beds.
- wide and well-tended waterways likely functioned much like streets in a modern town, only for canoes instead of cars
- “water courts” or large square pools on either side of the main canals, were kept filled with fish. It is believed the water courts were kept as food reserves to feed the city’s large population
- the Calusa believed each person had three souls—one was their shadow, a second was their reflection, and a third was in the pupils of their eyes
- the Calusa began expanding around the 1200s CE
- another neighboring coastal group, the Tocobaga, were also rising in power around this time, and perhaps the Calusa centralized to counter their growing might
- their capital city was a 51-hectare artificial island constructed almost entirely from oyster, clam, and other shells, called Mount Key
- the first smaller Spanish forces that landed during and after 1517 were easily chased away by the superior Calusa strength
- the next 200 years, an increasingly embattled Calusa fought off the Spanish and rival tribes’ attacks, who evened their odds with British firearms
The end came when British slavers in the region offered other native groups, such as the Creek and Yamasee people, a musket for every captive they brought in, they frequently turned up with Calusa men and women. The cities which had survived the past two centuries of intermittent warfare were wiped out within one or two generations.