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Jeaga-Tribe-Alligator-Clan-Chief-by-Theodore-Morris
Jeaga Tribe Alligator-Clan Chief by Theodore-Morris

Florida has a long strange history, with many of it’s deep secrets hidden in the Everglades, and some hidden right along the shores. This impossibly beautiful state with clear, confident light and varied landscapes that border on the cosmic has a lot to offer about the people who settled it and who live here now, including the Seminoles, Miccosukee and long extinct Jeaga tribe.

Another issue is that so much of the state is at sea level, and thousands of year ago there was much more land, so a lot of its history is buried underwater. Archeologist Chris Davenport is a one-man band as he is Palm Beach County’s only historic preservation officer and archaeologist with wide-ranging responsibilities for preserving the county’s heritage and identifying historic resources.

As part of his history sharing job he gives talks such as to the members of the Palm Beach Sail Club, where he gave an informative talk and slide show about the areas history as he knows and sees it. It’s clear his heart is in identifying significant county archaeological finds and overseeing digs where he and his team of volunteers can unearth exciting bits and pieces of the areas past, which may sound exciting but is decidedly hard, dirty, tedious work.

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The DuBois mound in Jupiter is one of these special places. It is one of the last remaining large shell mounds in South Florida, and one of its most important prehistoric Native American sites. It stands right near the Jupiter Lighthouse, and there is another current controversy about the Suni Sands trailer park on the site that the residents claim can’t be sold or torn down due to its historical significance.

“From a handful of artifacts (prehistoric pottery) found on the site, it is known that people have been living in Jupiter since 6,000 years ago,” Davenport told the Sail Club group. In fact, he said “People have been living in Jupiter longer than even the great Pyramids of Egypt have stood. The Pyramids in Egypt have only stood for about 4,000 years. So people have been living in what today is known as Jupiter for 2,000 years longer.”

The oyster shells at this location were “miserable to dig through. Digging through this was like digging through concrete. But in all the muck there are gems.” In DuBois mound, there were some exciting finds. The most exciting, he said, were little multi-colored European beads spanning from the 1500s to the 1900s.

“These beads were traded to the Native Americans by sailors and explorers for water, food and information. In 1513, it is believed that Juan Ponce de Leon visited the Jupiter Inlet,” he said. “As some of the beads from the recent excavations date to the time of Ponce de Leon. These tiny beads provide insights of when the Old World was meeting the New World for the first time.”

Jeaga-Tribal-woman
Jeaga Tribal woman

He knows that Floridians sometimes don’t value the history of the county since it seems so much newer to many than their home states. “Here, we don’t have hundreds of years of history like the major cities of the North. This doesn’t mean our history is any less important. It means there is just less of it.” And what they do have is fascinating but brutal.

The Jeaga tribe who lived along the shore were systematically wiped out and sold into slavery by Spanish invaders. They lived off the enormous amount of seafood and wildlife in the area – deer, bears, turtles, alligators and birds. Images show a people deeply connected with the land, adorning themselves with skins, shells, teeth and bones.

The Jeaga of South Florida were all hunter-gatherers. Food was so abundant that it made farming any kind of plant or crop unnecessary. Middens (Refuse mounds), consisting mostly of oyster, clam and conch shells, also contain clues to the Jaega cultures history. Their diet consisted mainly of fish, shellfish, sea turtles, deer and raccoon, as well as wild plants including coco palms, sea grapes, palmetto berries and underground tubers. Bits of broken pots and scraps of grass skirts show that they made crafts including pottery and weaving and jewelry.

Although there are no deposits of flint rock in South Florida, flint dart points have been found at Jaega sites, indicating trade with northern tribes. The people used wood pieces, bone shards and shells from turtle and oysters to craft tools and weapons. Spanish reports describe elaborate ceremonies involving an elite class of priests, hundreds of singers and dancers, and complex ritual practice. The earliest maps from Spanish explorers date from around 1600. The Spanish helped exterminate the tribe through disease and trading them as slaves.

The Seminole and Miccosukee retreated into the swampy Everglades and managed to survive into the present day, ushering in the 20th Century with museums and festivals that celebrate and remember their history.  Palm Beach’s Norton Museum show “Imaging Eden: Photographers Discover the Everglades” which is on view through July 12th has images of some early century Seminoles. It’s fascinating stuff, to sit at Dune Dog on US 1 and imagine Alligator Clan Chiefs and seashell festooned maidens roaming these very shores.

New Local Natives

Palm Beach Photographic Centre downtown has announced their newest exhibit Picture My World, featuring 50 photographs taken by teenagers, who came to the United States last year as part of a flood of unaccompanied minors from Central America. The exhibit opens June 26 and runs through August 15.

The images selected from hundreds collected over an 8-month period where the teens explored their new home in Lake Worth. The photographs will be accompanied by journal entries made by other participating teens, including several that provide insight into the children’s perilous journey across the borders to be reunited with family members here.
“The words and images of these children are universal and cross many borders,” says photojournalist Cindy Karp who, along with Poli and Juan Mendez of the Guatemalan Maya Center in Lake Worth, served as mentors for the teens. “This is an extremely powerful story being told for the first from the kids’ point of view. These are beautiful pictures that tell the story of Lake Worth from the eyes of children new to this country,” Karp said. “They’ll make you smile, they’ll touch your heart, and you’ll be astounded by these young people’s insights into life. The photos are a reflection of Lake Worth as a warm and welcoming place.”

To create the collection, the Palm Beach Photographic Centre and the mentors arranged for the teens to take photographs at a free Thanksgiving Day dinner at a local restaurant, the Veteran’s Day and St. Patrick’s Day parades, and Christmas morning on the beach.

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Palm Beach Photographic Centre is located at 415 Clematis Street, West Palm Beach, FL 33401. More information about events here, visit: www.workshop.org

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Sandra-Schulman Sandra Schulman is an arts writer, music and film producer. Born in Miami, her work has appeared in Billboard, Variety, Rolling Stone, Ocean Drive, Country Music Magazine, The New York Daily News, News From Indian Country, and Entertainment Weekly. She was an entertainment columnist for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel for 8 years. She has authored three books on pop culture. She currently lives in West Palm Beach with her blue eyed whippet. Sandra Schulman’s column appears weekly. Contact her at sandraslink@gmail.com.

Secrets of The Local Tribes are Depicted at the Norton’s Museum of Art show “Imaging Eden: Photographers Discover the Everglades” on view through July 12th.