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Archeological Sites and Shipwrecks in Biscayne National Park

The lands and submerged bottomlands of Biscayne National Park are rich with archeological remains that document the cultural history of southern Florida and the Florida Keys. Submerged archeological sites include an array of shipwrecks and other representations of maritime casualties, demonstrating the international maritime heritage encompassed in the waters of Biscayne National Park. The archeological remains of many shipwrecks have been found in our waters. The earliest identified shipwreck site is from the mid 18th century. Since historical records document that early European exploration of this region began in the early 16th century, it is possible that earlier remains are waiting to be found here.

Since the arrival of Europeans, the Florida Keys (including what is now Biscayne National Park) have been a converging point for maritime trade routes from Europe and the northeast American continent to the Caribbean, Central and South America, and the Gulf of Mexico. The geography and geology of Biscayne National Park present a series of natural factors — the Florida reef tract, the Gulf Stream, narrow shallow channels, and hurricanes — that have caused many ships to founder and wreck. These shipwrecks, as well as other material remains, are now submerged archeological sites within the park and some are listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

Many accounts of Miami, southeast Florida, and the Florida Keys tend to overlook the keys and area within Biscayne National Park. When the Florida Keys are discussed, they begin with Key Largo, located south of the Park. Because the Overseas Highway connects the Keys to the mainland at Key Largo, people tend to forget that there are forty keys located to the north. These forty keys, because they have not been developed, hold the archeological and historical evidence of what all the keys used to be like. Similarly, these keys protect examples of the development of resort tourism in and around Miami, as there has always been a linkage between Biscayne Bay and Miami.

Evidence of this area’s earliest inhabitants, mostly destroyed by the industrial sprawl and residential development on the mainland, can still be found in the keys and waters of Biscayne National Park. The earliest site found in the park, a midden (or shell mound) site on one of the off shore keys, indicates intensive settlement by 1000 A.D. Located only five miles north of the park, at the confluence of the Miami River and Biscayne Bay, was a major Tequesta village that was occupied approximately 2,000 years ago. The Tequesta archeological sites found within the park would have been the fishing and hunting camps used by the inhabitants of this village. In a sense, Biscayne Bay and the Miami River were their highways for trade, communication, and access to natural resources — not very different from today’s use of the area. (See also the Miami Circle.)

Immediately adjacent to the park on the mainland is the Cutler Fossil site (8000 B.C.) which suggests that the lands and waters of Biscayne National Park have the potential for even earlier archeological sites than presently found. This site also has evidence of having been used by the Tequesta approximately 2000 years ago. There is a relationship between all the Tequesta archeological sites that are found either within the park or nearby.

Boca Chita Key, recently listed on the National Register of Historic Places, consists of ten historic structures. These buildings represent typical resort architecture for the Miami area in the 1930s. Elliott Key includes an archeological district, the Sweeting Homestead, which includes the remains of the first pioneering homestead on these keys during the end of the 19th Century. Prehistoric and historic archeological sites and architectural ruins are present on other keys within the park as well.

information provided by National Park Service






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