A New World: A Vignette of Guale Society

The Earliest Inhabitants


In present-day Florida and Georgia – La Florida of the sixteenth century – there are several prehistoric sites which lead scientists to affirm that as long ago as four thousand years there were human beings living along the Savannah River and on some of the islands on the Georgia coast.


Some authorities even go so far as to claim that the period of human existence in the area is closer to ten thousand years.

On Stallings Island in the Savannah River, about ten feet deep in a shell midden there have been found decorative pins and pendants made of bone, which scientific examination has determined date from at least two thousand years before Christ. Pottery which is believed to date from the same period has also been found along the lower Savannah River and on some of the Golden Isles off the Georgia coast. In the not distant St. Johns River area, archaeologists have found fragments of pottery vessels dating from 2000 B.C. These shards are of clay bowls, with distinctive surface markings caused by grass, roots, or Spanish moss mixed in with the clay before it was fired. The particularly elaborate effect thus created gives every indication that the vessel was the product of a people with a highly developed artistic sense.

The interesting aspect of these ancient artifacts is that they are not merely utilitarian, but also aesthetic. They were produced by a people with an understanding of beauty, people who were not struggling simply to stay alive. These people must have been not only inventive but also artistic. They had a sense of beauty, a feeling for order, a desire to find qualities that give pleasure, even in objects intended for such routine needs as feeding oneself. These precious artifacts give us some idea of the civilization of the early inhabitants of the Southeastern area which we now know as Florida and Georgia.

In that era of their development, the native people found in their natural element an abundance of food. Fresh-water mussels, seeds and nuts, and the many animals of their woods were easily gotten, and served to give them strength for their way of life.

By the year 700 of the Christian era a new trend was developing among the inhabitants of the Southeast area of North America. New cultural ideas and traits that are more distinctly proper to the Southeastern region began to appear. At this juncture of their history the native people began to live a less mobile style of life; they began to settle in certain specific areas which they had cultivated and considered more habitable. Settlements became more formal, more planned, more permanent. While indeed with the change of seasons in pursuit of some particular animal or some fruit which was seasonal the people would move, there was a definite place which was recognized as their headquarters. Agriculture became at this juncture more important, exceeding the former prominence of hunting and gathering.

Because of a more marked permanency, this was also the period in which burial rites assumed a greater importance. The definitive establishing of burial-sites became common, and almost the norm. In Georgia there are some such sites near the Ocmulgee River, for instance, the Rocky Eagle Mound, where rocks were so placed as to give the impression of a bird, a bird strikingly like an eagle. Whether it was a funeral site or merely an artistic creation to attract and puzzle the viewer is not known, but it undeniably proves the genius of the inhabitants of central Georgia in the period almost a thousand years before the arrival of the Europeans in the early sixteenth century after Christ.

CREDIT: REPORTATIO SUPER MARTYRIO SERVORUM DEi PETRI DE CORPA ET SOCIORUM EJUS ANNO DOMINI 1597 IN FLORIDA OCCISORUM (Editio Tertia "Positionis", 7 Maii 2002)
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REPORTATIO SUPER MARTYRIO SERVORUM DEi PETRI DE CORPA ET SOCIORUM EJUS ANNO DOMINI 1597 IN FLORIDA OCCISORUM (Editio Tertia "Positionis", 7 Maii 2002)
The First Georgia Missions: Our Southern Catholic Heritage, Dr. Paul Thigpen and Katherine Ragan. Illustrations by Pamela Gardner, based on the retablo by Dan Nichols. This retablo is part of the parish patrimony of Our Lady of the Mountains Catholic Church in Jasper, Georgia

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