Why ArtCalusa in Belle Glade?
ARTCALUSA is a group exhibition featuring Florida's leading historical artists, each of whom produces works of art based on scholarly research findings and experimental approaches in archaeology and history. The exhibit has traveled to Florida’s communities since late 2013.
ArtCalusa’s final showing was planned for the heart of the Belle Glade people’s region to introduce the present people of the Glades to their prehistoric neighbors. The depictions of the Calusa people in ArtCalusa are similar to what would be seen in a possible ArtBelleGlade exhibition in body form, clothing, shaman and cacique accoutrements, and lifestyles.
Although the two people's human activities and appearance would be similar, the Calusa's estuary settlements were unique to that geography. The Belle Glade settlements would be along inland rivers (Fort Centers at Fisheating Creek), Lake Okeechobee (Belle Glade mound at Democrat River near the lake), or waterways (Wedgworth tree island in Palm Beach County or Blueberry site in Highlands County).
The Belle Glade people were an integral part of the prehistoric Florida landscape. Over the centuries, they occupied the interior of the southern two-thirds of the peninsula, fortunate in that their food supply was plentiful and dependable.
They achieved a level of organization that produced a skilled labor force to build and maintain large earthwork complexes for their communities. These complexes included structures for residential, infrastructure, ceremonial, and burial use.
Their canals and engineered waterways criss-crossed the 10,000-square-mile watershed, controlling the vital checkpoints. The Belle Glade people served as middlemen between the east and west coastal people, intermarrying to create political and social alliances. They managed extensive cross-peninsular trade and controlled the trade of prized bird feathers from the Everglades to the peoples of the north and midwest.
To the west, their neighbors, the Calusa, lived along the Gulf Coast and its rivers, estuaries, and islands. Since there was no natural waterflow from Lake Okeechobee to the Gulf Coast, the Belle Glade people engineered the Ortona Canal to foster commerce. The Ortona Canal, longest prehistoric canal in what is now the United States, connected the southwest corner of the lake at Ortona with the upper reaches of the Calusahatchee River.
The precise power relations between the Calusa and the Belle Glade people is a matter of scholarly debate and undoubtedly often changed over centuries. We do know that they dealt with each other in a variety of ways.
Calusa and Belle Glade families intermarried; Calusa and Belle Glade shamans practiced similar ceremonies and exercised similar powers. Each people may have hunted the same mammoth herds. They partnered in trading networks that reached as far as Canada and the Great Plains, providing desirable sharks-teeth (for saws) and feathers (for status ornamentation) and receiving flint and suitable wood not found in Florida (for tools) in return.
After Calusa contact with Europeans, European goods (and diseases!) found their way quickly to the Belle Glade people through these established trade networks. Majolica pots and Spanish olive oil jars were found in the Belle Glade mound, even though the Spanish did not occupy the interior.