Historical Museum of Southern Florida
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A Changing Landscape
Late Paleo-Indian to Early Archaic Periods
10,000 B.C. - 5000 B.C.

In 1985 archaeologists uncovered a cave-like sinkhole in southern Dade County, containing the fossilized bones of animals (such as horse, peccary, dire wolf, and jaguar) that have been extinct for over 10,000 years. Now called the “Cutler Fossil Site,” this hole was once a home for southern Florida’s earliest inhabitants. Just above the layers of fossilized animal bones, archaeologists found a hearth, tools, and human remains. The site area was occupied over a period of many thousands of years: first by Paleo-Indians (10,000 - 7500 B.C.), who occasionally hunted large animals such as mastodon and mammoth, and later by Early Archaic Indians (7500 - 5000 B.C.), who relied on smaller animals and marine resources for food. These early peoples lived in small, dispersed groups. The only artifacts they left behind are stone tools, such as spear points, scrapers, and drills.

During the Late Paleo-Indian period, Southern Florida was cooler and drier than it is today, but was also subject to periods of extreme warming and cooling every few hundred years. Though the shoreline was farther east, the present-day limestone coastal ridge had formed and provided higher ground for human settlement. The southern Florida environment was changing, but it would be another 2000 years before the Everglades, Lake Okeechobee, and Biscayne Bay would form.

Archaeologist mapping artifacts inside the Cutler Fossil Site.

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