UF’s Ran­dell Re­search Cen­ter

Ex­plore an an­cient cul­ture in your own back­yard

Cape Coral Living - - DEPARTMENTS -

Florida has an abun­dance of his­tory and all you need to do is look in your own back­yard. The Univer­sity of Florida’s Ran­dell Re­search Cen­ter is a spe­cial place—where I’ve en­joyed the soli­tude, his­tory, mosquitoes, ecol­ogy, heat, ar­chae­ol­ogy and sun­sets for more than two decades—on the north end of Pine Is­land at Pineland. Ran­dell Re­search Cen­ter is a 67-acre arche­o­log­i­cal site that is a pro­gram of the Florida Mu­seum of Nat­u­ral His­tory, which is lo­cated at the UF cam­pus in Gainesville. The cen­ter’s motto is “As We Learn, We Teach”—and teach it has, for more than 25 years. The site was once home to Na­tive Amer­i­cans known as the Calusa. These an­cient peo­ple first started liv­ing there 2,000 years ago and in­hab­ited the vil­lage for more than 1,500 years. The Calusa con­structed shell mounds more than 30 feet high, and also an amaz­ing canal cross­ing Pine Is­land. In 1895, well-known Smith­so­nian arche­ol­o­gist Frank Hamil­ton Cush­ing vis­ited the site and mea­sured the canal at 30 feet wide and 6 feet deep. The Calusa lived off the rich es­tu­ary of Pine Is­land Sound and their diet con­sisted pri­mar­ily of fish and shell­fish. My first ex­pe­ri­ence vis­it­ing the Pineland site was in 1996. The weeds were high and in some places they were over my head. Cat­tle roamed the acreage, which is now a part of the Ran­dell Re­search Cen­ter. There was a locked gate with a few pic­nic ta­bles be­hind it and some­times the key would find it­self some­where other than where it was sup­posed to be. On most Satur­days, the gate was open. There were talks and in­ter­pre­tive ed­u­ca­tional walks con­cern­ing the peo­ple who once fished, made art, carved ca­noes, buried their dead and lived on the an­cient mounds. To­day, there are an on-site class­room, re­strooms, well-groomed trails and a shop with ex­cel­lent books on the ar­chae­ol­ogy and re­search about the find­ings over the last 30 years at Pineland. A mile-long in­ter­pre­tive walk­ing trail tells the story of the Calusa. The path starts by lead­ing up to a large shell mound— where you can over­look the re­main­ing small por­tion of the Calusa-con­structed canal that was made cen­turies ago. Fol­low­ing the trail back down the mound, you make your way past gumbo limbo trees and over a small wooden bridge into an open ex­panse of soli­tude. The next stop leads atop my fa­vorite mound, known as the Ran­dell Mound. The view from this mound looks out

over Pine Is­land Sound, 5 miles to the west into the Gulf of Mex­ico. Next, the trail heads back east to an area just above sea level—where you can learn about some­thing that I find most in­trigu­ing: In a 1992 wet dig, arche­ol­o­gists dis­cov­ered a pa­paya seed dat­ing to A.D. 50. It’s the only pa­paya seed recorded from that time pe­riod in North Amer­ica. They also found a chili pep­per seed from A.D. 50, which is the only chili pep­per seed found east of the Mis­sis­sippi River from that era. The fur­thest part of the walk­ing trail leads to the back of the acreage to the largest burial mound in South­west Florida. At one time, this mound was 30 feet high and 300 feet long and had a moat around it. A part of the mote can be seen to­day. Re­cent stud­ies of the plant life on the burial mound doc­u­ment a saw pal­metto (Serenoa repens) to be 500 years old. Nowa­days the weeds are not as high as they were in 1996 and the gate is open seven days a week, from sunup to sun­down. The pic­nic ta­bles re­main—and the learn­ing and teach­ing flour­ish, be­cause Ran­dell Re­search Cen­ter’s motto is as strong as ever. To find out more in­for­ma­tion, visit flori­damu­seum.ufl.edu/rrc.

Capt. Brian Ho­l­away is a Florida master naturalist and has been a South­west Florida shelling and eco-tour guide since 1995. His boat char­ters visit the is­lands of Pine Is­land Sound, in­clud­ing Cayo Costa State Park, Cab­bage Key, Pine Is­land and North Cap­tiva.

Ran­dell Mound of­fers a lovely view of Pine Is­land Sound west into the Gulf of Mex­ico.

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