Oysters Were a Staple Food in the Timucuas Diet


Timucuan Lady

A Timucuan lady covered from head to toes with tattoos. (picture source: Florida State Archives)

Written by: Kacie Couch

 

The Christmas trees are on display at Wal-Mart and that can only mean one thing:  The Holidays are here!  While we celebrated Thanksgiving and gave thanks for the success of the pilgrims and their friendship (albeit short lived) with the Indians, let us celebrate and give thanks for our own history with Native Americans here on Amelia Island.

Just as there were Native Americans around Plymouth Rock, there were certainly Native Americans here on Amelia Island and all throughout northeast Florida and southeast Georgia. There were three main tribes in our area including the Yamasee and Guale, but Amelia Island (as well as the majority of northern and central Florida at the time) was home to one tribe in particular: the Timucua. Not only could the Timucuas outnumber all the other tribes in the area (they were not a group to mess with), but they certainly looked very fearsome individually as well. The average Timucuan Indian stood over six feet high and greased their hair up on end to make them seem even taller. Tattoos and piercings adorned the bodies of both the men and women of the tribe and when the first Europeans (the French) arrived, I expect they received quite a shock upon seeing the natives for the first time.

Luckily for the Frenchmen, the Timucuas believed that their Gods lived where the sky met the sea. Low and behold, the French sailed in from the horizon and upon docking their ship found themselves treated as Gods by the natives. And while there was no thanksgiving turkey to celebrate the blossoming friendship between the French and the Indians, there were plenty of oysters to go around.

Old Town Fernandina

Oyster shell middens in front of Old-Town.

Oysters were a staple food in the Timucuas diet and evidence of this can still be seen along our river shores today, especially on the banks of the part of Amelia Island known as “Old Town.” During their time there was no way to preserve or refrigerate food and therefore the easiest (and tastiest) solution was to eat the available food as fresh as it comes: straight out of the water. The natives would harvest some of the abundant oysters in our area, pop a squat on the beach and eat their meal right then and there. After enjoying an oyster they would simply throw the oyster shells in a pile and leave them there to bleach in the sun. Today the white piles of oyster shells you see along our river beaches are actually one thousand year old trash dumps called shell middens; a remainder of those delicious oyster meals enjoyed long ago by the Timucuas, and perhaps the Frenchmen alike.

Across North America many trials and tribulations arose between the Europeans and the Native Americans over the years and again, Amelia Island was no exception. By the time the French, Spanish and finally General Oglethorpe among others arrived fighting had broken out between nations and tribes on multiple occasions. Today, little evidence on Amelia Island remains apart from the shell middens and occasional arrowhead to remind us of our early inhabitants.

Regardless, let us give thanks for what we know of them and their peaceful contact with the first Europeans and be grateful for the long rich history of Amelia Island given to us by these two groups of people.

Be sure to join us on Amelia River Cruise’s special Holiday Cruises! You’ll be sure to see some shell middens up close and learn much more about Amelia Island’s long and beautiful history.

See you on the boat everyone!

 

 

 

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