Five thousand years of history were discovered in Miami, Fla., when archaeologists unearthed a Native American site once occupied by the Tequesta Indians in 3,000 BC.
The Miami-DadePark and Recreation Department named the newly developed 2.5-acre site ChittohatcheePark at Honey Hill. “Chittohatchee” is the translation of the Muskogee language phrase, “Cetto Hvcce,” which means “Snake Creek.” During the naming process, the Seminole Tribe of Florida–whose history includes a settlement on the site–was consulted, and tribe members approved the name. The park’s opening ceremony included a Native American blessing of the land.
“The site is one of the most important sites in Miami-DadeCounty,” says Jeff Ransom, county archaeologist. “It’s the first of its kind.”
Construction To Conservation
Discovered in 1975 during a survey conducted by the State of Florida Department of Archives, History and Records Management, the site was slated to become a stadium parking lot for the Miami Dolphins. In 1982, the Miami-Dade County Historic Preservation Board designated Honey Hill as a historic site to provide preservation, protection and recognition.
During the construction of the stadium in the 1980s, archaeologists discovered artifacts that provided material evidence of prehistoric technology and subsistence patterns typical of the prehistoric Tequesta that inhabited the eastern Everglades. The Tequesta and their ancestors traveled these waters as early as 5,000 years ago.
“We know that the site was used by the Tequesta for about 2,000 years,” says Ransom. “The Tequesta tribe controlled all of southeast Florida until the arrival of the Spanish in the 16th century.”
Archaeologists also uncovered artifacts from the Second Seminole War (1836-1842) and the first preserved charred corncobs from a Seminole hearth (cooking pit) ever found in South Florida.
The Seminoles and Creek Indians lived along the Snake Creek in the early 1820s. The first known leader of the settlements was Snake Warrior (Chitto Tustenugee), whose principal village was located several miles to the north in BrowardCounty. According to historic documents, the U.S. Army briefly occupied the island during the Third Seminole War (1855-1858), but eventually the Seminoles returned to live and farm on the parcel through the late 1880s. By roughly 1910, all the Snake Creek camps were abandoned, and white settlers laid claim to the land.
Honey Hill is located in a transitional zone between the Everglades to the west and the Atlantic Coastal Ridge to the east at the convergence of the headwaters of the Snake Creek to the north and headwaters of Arch Creek to the south. It was the last island before heading into the Everglades. It also had the highest elevations in the area.
Prior to the drainage of the Everglades, the Snake Creek ran its natural course into Biscayne Bay by way of the OletaRiver, and was a major waterway used by prehistoric cultures and later by the Seminole. The Honey Hill site and others in the Everglades and along the coast were connected by canoe trails. According to mid-19th century land surveyors, the Snake Creek was the only navigable waterway during the dry season. By the 1930s, drainage projects had significantly altered the landscape, and today the Snake Creek slough is hardly recognizable.
There are signs along the site that describe the history to any visitors. The city also offers tours by appointment only to anyone interested in viewing the site.
The project was funded by $918,000 from a capital-outlay reserve fund. The scope of the project included:
· Removing exotic vegetation
· Planting native vegetation
· Installing furniture, grading and a metal picket fence
· Constructing a walkway and three informational kiosks with interpretive signs containing color photographs, educational text and maps
· Installing a rain shelter with four picnic tables, benches and landscaping.
Because of its historic designation, two Certificates to Dig were obtained from the Office of Historic and Archaeological resources. Conditions of approval included capping the entire site with 2 to 3 feet of construction fill. The fill, made of crushed limestone rock, serves as a buffer to protect the subsurface of the archaeological site. Planting, grading and construction occurred within the layer of fill, and all work required monitoring by the county archaeologist.
“The site provides a good way for people to learn about Tequesta and Seminole Indians who inhabited the site,” says Ransom. “People love to learn and hear about what happened back in the day. This provides an opportunity for city residents to learn about the geology of the site.”
Heather Reichle is a freelance writer living in Columbus, Ohio. She can be reached via e-mail at HReichle28@yahoo.com.