"Fort Walton Culture" is a term for a late prehistoric Native American people that flourished in southeastern North America from approximately 1200-1500 CE.
The Fort Walton Culture was named by archaeologist Gordon Willey, based on his work at the Fort Walton Mound site near the Indian Temple Museum in the 1930s. Archaeologists have now come to believe the Fort Walton site was actually built and used by people of the contemporaneous Pensacola Culture. The peoples of the Fort Walton Culture used mostly sand, grit, grog, or combinations of these materials as tempering agents in their pottery, whereas the Pensacola Culture peoples used the more typical Mississippian Culture shell tempering for their pottery.
From 1,000 to 1,200 CE, Weeden Island Culture people adopted maize agriculture, the building of platform mounds for ceremonial, political and religious purposes, and the making a new variety of ceramics. These cultural changes may have been influenced by contact with the Mississippian Culture centers to the north and west. This was the beginning of the Fort Walton Culture (1200 - 1500 CE). Fort Walton sites are similar to other Mississippian sites, with the exception of those in the Tallahassee Hills area, which because of the local geography, are located around lakes and swamps instead of along rivers. Settlement types include single family homesteads, multi family hamlets, small single-mound centers, and large multi-mound centers. The hierarchical settlement patterns suggests the area may have had one or more paramount chiefdoms.
By the Late Fort Walton period, increased contact with peoples from central Georgia saw another change in styles of decoration and manufacture of ceramics. This new phase is known as the Leon-Jefferson Culture. This period sees the collapse of the chiefdoms as aboriginal populations declined following contact with European explorers and colonizers. The Fort Walton and later Leon-Jefferson peoples are the direct ancestors of the Apalachee peoples, a tribe still in existence today.
Listed in the Florida Master Site File as Fort Walton Mound (8OK6), and also called "Indian Temple Mound", this archaeological site is located in present-day Fort Walton Beach, Florida. The large platform mound was built between 800-1400 CE by the Pensacola Culture, a localized form of the better known, Mississippian Period Culture. Because of its significance, the mound was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1964. This is one of three surviving mound complexes in the panhandle, the others being Letchworth-Love Mounds and Lake Jackson Mounds, both are Florida State Parks.
Despite the hundreds of years of erosion, the massive mound is still 12 feet high and 223 feet wide at the base. An estimated 200,000 basket loads of earth were used to create this earthen structure. 8OK6 is an example of a complex mound-building culture, engineered by a hierarchical society whose leaders planned and organized the labor of many workers for such construction. The mound likely served ceremonial, political and religious purposes. At the center of the village and its supporting agricultural lands, the mound also served as the platform for the temple and residence of the chief. Successive leaders were buried in the mound and additional layers were added over time. Archaeological evidence suggests that several buildings once stood on top of the mound, perhaps at different times throughout its use. These buildings were likely wooden plank, or wattle and daub construction, common among Southeastern Native American groups.
After the Fort Walton Culture abandoned it in the mid to late 1500s, the mound lay dormant. During the Civil War, in 1861, Confederate soldiers of the Walton Guard encamped on and around the mound to guard the waterway known as “The Narrows”. The soldiers displayed "curiosities" taken from the mound in a small museum tent. Unfortunately, the tent was burned down by enemy troops, destroying the artifacts. In 1883 the mound was examined by the Smithsonian Institution and has since been excavated nine times. Today's museum houses thousands of artifacts of stone, bone, clay and shell, as well as one of the finest collections of prehistoric ceramics in the Southeastern United States. A reproduction structure sits atop the mound which is accessible via a paved walkway and wooden boardwalk.
Heritage Park & Cultural Center includes the Indian Temple Mound Museum, Camp Walton Schoolhouse Museum, Garnier Post Office Museum, Fort Walton Temple Mound, and the Civil War Exhibit Building. It is an educational and cultural institution of long standing traditions, with a mission to preserve, interpret and present the prehistory and history of the Fort Walton Beach community and the Northwest Florida area from 14,000 B.C. through the 1950’s. Admission for all museums in the complex will be taken at the Indian Temple Mound Museum building. All other museums are located within a one minute walk around the base of the mound.
In 1962 the Indian Temple Mound Museum opened as the first municipally owned and operated museum in the State of Florida. The current museum building opened to the public in 1972 and is located on Highway 98 in the heart of historic downtown Fort Walton Beach, Florida. The museum houses interpretative exhibits depicting more than 12,000 years of Native American occupation. Thousands of artifacts of stone, bone, clay and shell are here, as well as one of the finest collections of prehistoric ceramics in the Southeastern United States. Exhibits also include artifacts from the European Explorers, local pirates, and early settlers.
A Museum Store offers visitors unique objects for purchase including museum quality replicas of artifacts on display. Items are of good quality and reflect the craft, culture and history of Native Americans and the museum industry. Many of these items are purchased from North, South and Central America. Items for sale include: Pottery, Beadwork, Shell Carvings, Jewelry, Baskets, Gourd Work, T-Shirts, Finely Woven Textiles, Heartwood Creations Secret Boxes, DVDs and CDs, Books, Handcrafted Native American Art, Jewelry, Children’s Toys, and much more. Every purchase supports the museum and its educational programs.
Dr. Nancy White talks about the Fort Walton Culture and Indian Temple Mound
Shell tempered pottery vessels of the Mississippian household were much more efficient containers for cooking, particularly the increasing amounts of maize being grown, and thus sustaining larger and healthier populations. Around 800 CE, shell tempered pottery spread widely and rapidly from the middle Mississippi River valley to become an integral part of the expanding Mississippian culture.
CERAMICS AND POTTERY
The ceramic tradition of the Mississippian Culture, (800 to 1600 CE) is often characterized by the adoption and use of riverine (or more rarely marine) shell-tempering agents in the clay paste. Shell tempering is one of the hallmarks of Mississippian cultural practices. Designs probably had meanings related to events or beliefs. Burial vessels had depictions of skeletons, which over the years became stylized bones. Each culture had their own designs, which identify the tribe and the region they came from. Local differences in materials, techniques, forms, and designs are some of the major ways archaeologists understand lifeways, religious practices, trade, and interaction among Mississippian peoples like those of the Fort Walton Culture.
Many Mississippian ceramics are decorated by incising or engraving. Implements such as sticks, reeds, or bone fragments, were dragged through wet clay to incise it, or they were scratched into the surface of the dried but as yet unfired pieces to engrave. Sharpened reeds or fingernails were also used to punch small marks. Ornate designs and motifs are common decorative elements, which archaeologists use to track the spread of influences from one culture onto another culture. Many of the designs have symbolic meanings, usually associated with aspects of the Southeastern Ceremonial Complex.
Indian Temple Mound Museum features one of the largest collections of southeastern ancient ceramics in the United States.
CLAY TETRAPOD VESSEL (tetra=four pod=feet)
This vessel is one of the oldest found in Northwest Florida. It has been dated to the Deptford Culture, approximately 1170 BCE. The rim decoration was impressed into the clay using a knotted cord of fabric. Some Mississippian Culture pottery was decorated with textile imprints on them. Vegetal cordage or netting was impressed either over the entire external surface of a vessel, or just around the top rim area. Some archaeologists theorize that the textiles used for the imprints were older fabrics that were past their use as garments. Corncobs were also used to create texture on pots.
Although the vast majority of Mississippian pottery was produced for daily utilitarian uses, the finer varieties seem to have been made specifically for trade or for ritual use. Chronologies based on pottery have been essential for dating Mississippian cultures. Studies of southeastern pottery has provided one of the best insights into the culture. Because pottery is durable and often survives long after artifacts made from less durable materials have decayed past recognition, ceramics and stone tools are often the only objects that survive in great enough quantities to establish such insights. Combined with other evidence, the study of pottery artifacts is helpful in the development of theories on organisation, economic conditions and cultural development. This has allowed inferences to be drawn about the daily life, religion, social relationships, and trade with other groups.
WARE HUMAN EFFIGY VESSEL
In 1971, the Ware family found pieces of a clay vessel at a small mound, possibly a domiciliary or a house mound, about four miles west of The Indian Temple Mound Museum. The pieces were made of light brown to tan colored clay, coiled into a rough shape with features molded on the outside. When the clay fragments were carefully placed together, an Effigy (made to look like) of a human male was formed. Although it is unknown, the figure was probably made to resemble a specific individual. Like a portrait, this figure shows details of clothing and decoration. The hair is worn pulled back and a decorative band resembling a crown surrounds the head. The eyes are closed, suggesting a man already dead. The ears contain a set of decorative earrings that dangle. The body is naked, but bracelets can be seen on the wrists and a lip ornament is worn in the pierced bottom lip.
This vessel may have been shattered atop a burial mound as part of a ritual conducted 1300 years ago. Similar vessels are known to have served as status symbols, family heirlooms, burial urns, or statements of political and religious control. The Ware Human Effigy Vessel dates back to the Weeden Island Culture (600-900 CE) known for beautifully crafted ceramic works; however items such as this vessel are very rare. Effigy pots were a mainstay of many Mississippian peoples, although they come in many different varieties. Some come in anthropomorphic shapes, some zoomorphic shapes and others in the shape of mythological creatures associated with the Southeastern Ceremonial Complex.
THE BUCK-LONG EFFIGY URN
This artifact was found in 1961 at the Fort Walton Mound and reconstructed from over 100 shattered fragments. In 1966, the face and topknot were located down the slope on the mound, indicating that it was purposefully shattered on the slope of the mound. This vessel resembles a human with four legs. The two forward legs are clearly human while the two following legs are stumps, presumably reflecting a stool. It is known that the burial practices of the Woodland Time Period sometimes took the form of cremations, especially for important persons. Evidence suggests that the ashes of an important leader may have been retained in this effigy urn.
The vessel is 15 inches tall, made of red paste clay decorated with incised designs. A red and white cloak covers the body and attaches at the human wrists with white bands. The ears are pierced and the face-blackened to resemble a mask, which may represent a masked and costumed figure from a ritual event. The use of this vessel is difficult to determine. Such exotic wares are thought to have been status symbols, family heirlooms, or statements of political and religious control. They might have been cult objects or guardian figures.
Two methods were used to create this vessel. The legs were shaped from slabs and are hollow. The coil method was used to make the face and body. The firing of the vessel was at low heat resulting in a brittle finish. It has been called the "finest ceramic vessel in the Southeast" and only a few vessels with similar paste and shape have been found. The styling of the hands and general appearance suggest cultural contact with Central America, but in actuality this artifact is most closely related to the Mississippian Cultures.
SIX SIDED PLATES OR SALT PANS
Six sided plates are unique to the Fort Walton culture. In the five major Fort Walton Sites in the Florida panhandle, more than 350 bowls have been found. Over 50 of these are six sided plates. They may have been used as salt drying pans evaporating pans for drying salt, or a passing plate for ceremonies or a representation of the tribal community house. Large salt pans were common in Mississippian regions, but are usually ovular or even rectangular. These could hold from 10 to 26 liters of liquid. A heavy slip made them more waterproof. They were most likely formed from a mold, possibly a basket. They were lined with grass or textiles to keep from sticking to each other or the mold before firing.
Globular containers, resembling gourds, with a rounded base and a smaller "head", may have been used to carry and store liquids. One side of the head was shaped like an animal or human face, while the other side was a black, hollow opening. They were slipped on their exterior surface to make them smoother and water-resistant. Another theory is that these were used to store seed grain, and unfired clay plugs sealed the opening. Owls and opossums are often featured on hooded vessels.
Maize cob fragments were found in the middens near Fort Walton. By the fourteenth century the Fort Walton site housed a large agricultural village. The land was fertile and rich, as it lay in a floodplain, however, fishing and seafood utilization continued to play a major role in the economy.
YAUPON HOLLY (Ilex vomitoria) Indians throughout prehistoric Florida made a drink by boiling the leaves of the Yaupon Holly. Among the purposes of consuming the "black drink", was to empty the contents of the stomach in preparation for the consumption of the green corn. The principal active ingredient of Ilex vomitoria is caffeine. Vomiting was not caused by the drink, but is connected to the ceremonial expelling, and was a learned behavior. Large drinking vessels made from shells, often with incising, have been found throughout the state. Special pottery cups, some in effigy forms, may also be associated with the "black drink" and "green corn" ceremonies.
HICKORY (genus Carya) Hickory nuts were found in the Fort Walton Mound. They would have been gathered from the ground in the fall. The nut of the hickory tree has nutritious meat, and the flexible wood of the hickory tree was favored for the making of bows. There are nine varieties of hickory found in North America, with almost half available throughout Florida. Hickory nuts were a staple food for prehistoric Floridians.
PLAN YOUR VISIT
139 Miracle Strip Parkway SE
Fort Walton Beach, Florida 32548
PHONE: (850) 833-9595
HOURS: Indian Temple Mound Museum
Monday-Friday: 12:00pm -4:30pm
page information credit: City of Fort Walton Beach Heritage Park & Cultural Center, Indian Temple Mound Museum, Wikipedia, Dr. Rochelle A. Marrinan, Dr. Nancy Marie White, Gordon Willey, and previous Trail web content
photos from the sources listed above, as well as publicly posted online sites with thanks to the contributors