Accessible by private boat or the electric ferry, Hontoon Island State Park offers a quiet retreat on the St. Johns River in Volusia County. This 1,650-acre park has pine flatwoods, palm and oak hammocks, bald cypress swamps and marshes. Hontoon Island is surrounded by the St. Johns River, the Hontoon Dead River, and Snake Creek.
Evidence shows that inhabitants have been living along the St. Johns River for over 12,000 years. Shell mounds and other artifacts found on Hontoon Island prove that many Native Americans called this place home. Although initially considered part of the Timucua cultural region, the people who lived along the river and on Hontoon Island were the Mayaca. They occupied an area in the upper St. Johns River valley just to the south of Lake George. According to Hernando de Escalante Fontaneda, the Mayaca language was related to that of the Ais, a tribe living along the Atlantic coast of Florida to the southeast of the Mayacas. They were hunter-fisher-gatherers, and were not known to practice agriculture to any significant extent, unlike their neighbors to the north, the Utina or Agua Dulce (Freshwater) Timucua. (In general, agriculture had not been adopted by tribes living south of the Timucua at the time of first contact with European people.) The Mayaca shared a ceramics tradition (the St. Johns culture) with the Freshwater Timucua, rather than the Ais (the Indian River culture).*
A tribe of hunter-fisher-gatherers, situating themselves along the river allowed them to have plentiful access to fish, freshwater snails that were a staple and other marine creatures as a source of food. Artifacts and remnants of the Mayaca can still be seen on the island. A large shell midden can be found along the shore, along with fragments of pottery and wood carvings. A shell midden is a mound of shells, bones and other debris discarded by the early inhabitants of the area. Created over time, a midden contains many layers of debris. This layered site is a preserved record of the people who once lived here.
page information credit: Florida State Parks, * Hann, John H. (2003). Indians of Central and South Florida: 1513-1763. University Press of Florida. ISBN 0-8130-2645-8, floridahistorynetwork.com
photos from the sources listed above, as well as publicly posted online sites with thanks to the contributors