Crystal River Archaeological State Park


Pre-contact residents of the Crystal River site threw away great quantities of "midden material". These give us clues as to the lifestyles and customs of the people who lived, visited and were buried in these mounds. 

Pottery is one of the most common and durable artifacts on archaeological sites throughout the world.

Pottery-making is highly patterned in time and space, reflecting technological, functional, and stylistic variation and change. These qualities make it especially useful as a tool to understand the lives of people in the past. Pottery not only provides a basis for dating but also helps archaeologists investigate diet, cuisine, technological change, social learning, social boundaries, kinship, trade and exchange, migration, demography, and many other topics. As such, the analysis of pottery forms a cornerstone of many archaeological research programs.

Within the Crystal River site, archaeologists have found styles of pottery from different cultural periods, the most abundant being sand-tempered plain. This name means that the clay was tempered with sand (sand was added for stability and durability) and it has no markings—it is plain. Some limestone tempered pottery was also found. Because of kinships and marriage between members of different communities, pottery was often moved around in Florida. Therefore, what may be typical of one area could be found in small quantities in another area.

From the middens, Sand and Grit tempered pottery types include; Franklin/Weeden Island Plain, Deptford Check Stamped, Wakulla Check Stamped, Swift Creek Complicated Stamped, Weeden Island Red, and Weeden Island Zoned Incised/Punctated. Limestone tempered and St. Johns styles include; Pasco Plain (predominantly found type), Pasco Check Stamped, Pasco Red, St. Johns Plain, St. Johns Check Stamped, St. Johns Incised, and St. Johns Scored. Pottery types in the burial mounds included these and other styles originating from a greater distance away, further validating the idea of the site's regional pilgrimage and ceremonial center status.

Weeden Island cultures are defined by ceramics, which fall into two categories, sometimes called secular and sacred. Sacred ceramics are found primarily in mounds, while secular ceramics are found primarily in middens and house sites. The two types of ceramics have separate histories, and the secular ceramics show considerable variation between regions. Due to the abundance of different types and periods of ceramics at Crystal River, one could compare to the Hopewell and Mississippian complexes, i.e., a ceremonial complex practiced by several cultures.

A small sampling of the artifacts of Crystal River

Hafted Whelk Shell tools were used for chopping, wood cutting, scooping, and as decorative items. Shell Dippers discovered in the mounds were Lightning Whelk shell with the opening and columella cut away. These would have been used for practical and ceremonial purposes. Ceremonial shell dippers were sacred objects to the Indians and sometimes placed in their graves.

Heavy stone tools were bit rare due to the lack of local hard stone, so most stone tools found at Crystal River came from present-day Georgia or further north, and had to be traded.

Bone points were hand crafted through carving to form the desired shape. The average bone point artifact was four inches in length. The tool was kept well polished. Points were often made from the leg bone of white-tailed deer.

Most of the stone projectile points found at Crystal River were used as either cutting/slicing/scraping tools or as the tips of atlatl darts. Atlatls were likely the weapon of choice at Crystal River, although the bow and arrow did make an appearance by around AD 200 or so. Stone Points were utilized not only in hunting for game but also as weaponry in conflicts with other tribes.

Other items found include; ornaments manufactured from conch shells, clay pipe parts, a drilled bear teeth, copper ear spool, copper pan pipe frame, and sheet of mica, galena lead globules, shell beads, and bone pins.

The Crystal River site has been known to antiquarians and archaeologists for more than a century. Clarence Bloomfield Moore (1852-1936) conducted the earliest investigations of the Crystal River site in early 20th century. Moore was a wealthy antiquarian from Philadelphia, who traveled throughout the Southeast excavating archaeological sites from his 85 ft long steamboat named the Gopher. Working from the steamboat gave him access to many archaeological sites that were otherwise difficult to reach by train or by road. He published illustrated reports of his excavations in the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia. Over the course of 20 years Moore excavated countless sites in Florida. In many instances, his work is the only information about sites that have since been destroyed.

Moore excavated at Crystal River in 1903, 1906, and 1917. He created the first map of the site but focused most of his attention on excavating the burial mound complex (Mounds C-F). In the early 20th century, archaeology was in its infancy, and many archaeologists did not employ modern techniques for excavating sites, nor did they always publish the results of their excavations. Clarence B. Moore was unusual, he kept relatively good notes and maps and he was prolific in the publication of Monographs documenting his excavations. Consequently, he documented far more information than many of his peers of the period. At Crystal River, Moore was primarily interested in the recovery of “exotic” and unusual artifacts that were associated with burial mound complex.

Another prominent Florida archaeologist that excavated the Crystal River site was Ripley P. Bullen, who began investigating the site in the early 1950s. Bullen was an archaeologist for the Florida Board of Park and Historic Memorials and later was the first archaeologist in the newly established Anthropology Department at the Florida Museum of Natural History. His excavations at Crystal River were the first scientifically documented excavations at the site. Later, Bullen was instrumental in the establishment of the Crystal River Archaeological State Park in 1962.

Today, University of South Florida and other major university archaeologists and students are continuing to investigate this amazing location. They are trying to understand how and why the Crystal River site became one of the first culturally complex societies to develop along Florida’s Gulf Coast.



All images of artifacts on this page (and throughout this site) are presented to the public at various interpretive centers, and are used here for educational purposes only.


Thomas J. Pluckhahn, Rachel E. Thompson & Kassie Kemp (2017) Constructing community at civic-ceremonial centers: pottery-making practices at Crystal River and Roberts Island, Southeastern Archaeology, 36:2, 110-121, DOI: 10.1080/0734578X.2016.1252190 Link to this article:

Special thanks to M. Fuller at St. Louis Community College for the excellent photos from the Crystal River Archaeological State Park museum.

The World Famous Crystal River Site (Part I) By Jason D. Moser and Richard Estabrook Florida Public Archaeology Blog

Ceramic Technology Lab, University of Florida Museum of Natural History