Before it was known for its theme parks and beach destinations, Florida was home to different groups of native peoples living along its waterways. Some were drawn to the food supply and abundant resources available along the Crystal River, just like many of the local folks who fish those same waters today.
Florida’s first people were nomadic groups who came to the area around 12,000 B.C. By approximately 500 A.D., the Woodland Culture had emerged, which marked the beginning of settlements, localized hunting (instead of following herds), and farming. It was during this time that Paleo Indians occupied the land now known as Crystal River. Around 1200 A.D., archaeologists noted a shift to the Mississippian Culture, where Paleo Indians used large earthen mounds and engaged in widespread trade.
We went to explore an ancient villages at the Crystal River Archaeological State Park, where the Florida Department of Environmental Protection overseas the preservation of one of these sites.
When we entered the museum, a state park employee gave us a map of the mounds and told us where we could find everything.
In the early 1900s, a man by the name of Clarence B. Moore was travelling in a houseboat along the Gulf Coast, looking for Indian sites when he found this one along the Crystal River. When he spotted the large mound on the otherwise flat terrain along the river, he stopped to research the area. Moore labeled the mounds by assigning each one a letter. Then he excavated several of the mounds. You can see some of the artifacts he found in the museum.
He returned in 1906 and 1917 to conduct further excavations at the site. Archaeologists still use Moore’s original maps today. They are integral in helping them understand this over 1,000-year-old village.
After we left the air-conditioned museum, we went outside to view the mounds. It’s difficult to capture the beauty of this area with words, so I hope a few pictures will suffice.
Moss-covered oaks provided a canopy near several of the mounds, while tall spindly pines marked the area between the oaks and the grassy marsh that butts up against the river. For the best view of the both the river and the rest of the village, you can climb the fifty-one-step staircase to the top of the largest mound, Mound A.
Mound A is a midden mound, composed of artifacts of the Paleo Indians’ daily lives. According to park information, midden mounds “are often made up of artifacts such as food remains like: oyster shells, animal bones, broken pieces of pottery or charcoal.”
Though archaeologists haven’t determined the purpose of Mound A, they know natives built it between 400 A.D. and 600 A.D.
View from the top of Mound A
Unfortunately, local landowners removed two-thirds of Mound A to use as land filling material before the state protected the land in 1962. The remaining mound is still an imposing sight along the river.
This is the only mound that visitors may climb. We took the staircase to the top, sat in the shade on one of the two benches provided, and enjoyed the amazing views.
Researchers believe that Mounds C-F are a potential burial complex because of their resemblance to similar sites in the Ohio River Valley.
Know Before You Go
The Crystal River Archaeological State Park is open every day from 8 a.m. to sundown. However, the museum is open from Thursday to Monday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The museum and restrooms (on the left side of the building) are wheelchair accessible and the land around the mounds is flat. Paved paths weave their way around the mounds. During our visit, these paths needed repair, and contained a lot of potholes and divots.
This park took us about an hour to visit. There are picnic tables available, if you’d like to bring a lunch. Visitors can fish in the river, provided they meet local and state regulations.
Though the museum is air-conditioned, you’ll spend most of your time outdoors here. Large oak trees shade some areas, but other spots are exposed to the sun. Check the weather, and bring water, sunscreen, and bug repellent, if necessary.
Well-behaved dogs are permitted on the outside grounds on a six-foot leash.
Parking & Fees
The cost to visit is $3 per vehicle for up to 8 people, using cash at the honor box at the park’s entrance. This fee covers the museum and the grounds.
Broaden Your Horizons
Have you visited the Crystal River Archaeological State Park? Do you have a similar site you've visited that you want to recommend? Leave a comment below. We'd love to hear from you 😊