Crystal River State Archaeological Site, Florida
The Crystal River Archaeological site is a pre-Colombian complex of six burial and temple mounds (and one midden) that surround a central plaza. Occupied continuously from around 200 BC, the site provides invaluable evidence from three distinct archaeological periods – the Swift Creek Deptford culture that was succeeded by the Weeden Island culture around 300 AD, and finally the Safety Harbor culture that began around 1300 AD. Beginning sometime after 200 BC the first burial mound was constructed and another mound formed from the disposal of trash (the midden). Over a thousand years later, late in the Weeden Island period, another mound referred to as the Temple Mound was constructed for ceremonial purposes, but it wasn’t until after 1300 AD during the Safety Harbor culture that the remaining mounds were constructed as well as the defined plaza used for congregating. Though the immediate area supported a large stationary population as well as provided temporary shelter for the thousands of annual visitors believed to have traveled there for religious and burial purposes, the mound complex itself was not lived in.
In addition to the site being invaluable for providing a comprehensive documentation of technological and cultural innovation due to its continual occupation, the complex is important for the records left of the extensive trading networks that existed in pre-Colombian times. Evidence of trading with the Hopewell culture of the Ohio Valley for example dates as far back as 250 BC; copper from the Lake Superior region – and specifically from Isle Royale – was commonly found in burials from this time. Other evidence includes pottery from the western United States and the gulf coast of Mexico as well as igneous rock (used in tool making) from various points north. Another unique feature at the Crystal River site is the presence of two steles, or upright rocks that serve as markers; both are located at the original locations of the ramps that led up to the two temple mounds.