AstroArcheology & Caloosa Indians

This is a copy of an unpublished article I prepared back in 1983.

It should be noted that I confirmed the Cabbage Key, and the Tarpon Bay sites, which I had predicted, before I wrote the article, and I found pottery sherds at the predicted Lopez River site, and I confirmed a site I predicted off of Captiva Island, both after I finished the article.


(Theory on the Archaeoastronomical function and location of Caloosa Temple Mounds)


The Caloosa temple mound sites are being systematically destroyed by development in South Florida. It is hoped that the preservation of the remaining temple mounds can be assured through a better understanding of their true Historical Significance.

Many of the Indian groups who inhabited the Americas were studied astronomers. The available evidence suggests that the Caloosa Indians, were also astronomers. In fact, they were probably quite good, large-scale surveyors as well.

From all the evidence acquired to date we know that the Caloosa Indians occupied the west coast of Florida for a period of thousands of years until they disappeared without a trace in the 1700s. These aborigines had a sedentary but non-agricultural society, living primarily from fishing, hunting, and gathering. They used harpoons, fish hooks, and nets for fishing and were accomplished sailors. Spears with spear throwers (Atlatles) were used for hunting, but they did not employ bows and arrows until shortly before the arrival of the Spanish.

The Caloosa also made the famous wooden religuous objects unearthed at Key Marco in 1895 (Gushing 1896: pp 95-98 and Gilliland 1975: pp 75-135). However, these few facts along with other evidence of their Material Culture comprise our limited knowledge of the Ancient Caloosa. The only other certainty is that they were "Mound Builders" (Jennings 1979: pp 60-69).

The Caloosas built this series of mounds or middens along the gulf coast over a period of thousands of years. These mounds reach heights exceeding 30 feet. The function of these mounds has never been positively established.

Many functions for these mounds have been speculated.
1. The mounds may have been built solely as a place of refuge during periods of flood and hurricanes.
2. The mounds, as with the Anasazi Indian towers in the Chaco Canyon area, may have functioned as signal towers (Fires built on top of them at night would serve to "warn", etc.).
3. The mounds may be nothing more than elaborate trash heaps and may in fact, be simply the natural accumulation from centuries of habitation. 4. The mounds may have some religious significance.

Any of these is possible, but evidence from the sites, and the available literature on the subject tends to support all of the above theories to a matter of degree.

The signal tower concept appears to have particular merit. A detailed evaluation of the locations of the Temple Mounds, by the Author, indicates that the Mounds may have been a series of signal towers to summons the Gods in the heavens during religious ceremonies.

In fact, it can be argued that the Caloosa, in addition to signaling the heavens, were in fact endeavoring to duplicate it in the positions of their mounds. A comparison, for example, with the Constellation Cassiopeia, as it appears in the October Sky, shows that the mound sites form a mirror image of Cassiopeia (Figures 1-3, derived from Voegelin 1977: P 71).

The mounds were positioned to mirror the Constellations. Fires lit on top of the mounds at night would duplicate the heavens and could have been a means of communicating with the Gods or marking the passage of time.

Further support for this theory can be found in Figures 4-6 (Based on Voegelin 1977: p. 71). The Constellation Andromeda, as it appears in the night sky around mid-August, forms an excellant fit with the Temple Mound sites South of the Marco Island, Goodland area (Note 1).

It has not as yet been confirmed that the Lopez River site has any shell mound deposits, but it is noted as higher ground on an elevation map of the area. However, even if there is no shell deposit there, "The Fit" is so good that this could have been the chosen location of the additional site which was never built or was destroyed by hurricanes.

When the Sanibel, Pine Island, Mound Key, Ft. Meyers area is compared with a chart of the constellations, for March, a "Good Fit" can be found for part of Orion and the surrounding bright stars (Figures 7-9, Based on Voegelin 1977: pp 68-69).

Orion is the brightest of the constellations and this ties in with the fact that Mound Key and the surrounding area was the capital of the Caloosa nation (Note 2). In fact Mound Key (which is the purported capital) corresponds to Regulus which is a star of the first magnitude.

Again, a few points in Orion are missing. But the missing sites can again be explained by the possibility that they were never completed or destroyed by hurricanes. (Notes 3, 4, and 5).

"The tribal rulers, including the Shamans, kept the common people in ignorance of the real significance (if there was any) of their witchcraft and ceremony, as well as their belief in a Superior Being (Lewis 1978: p 36)."

If this is, in fact, the case, then it follows that, since the site selection and use was not reported by the Spaniards who lived with the Caloosa, the common people were ignorant of the religious significance of the sites. This coupled with the fact that many of the sites are ancient could suggest that the true significance was no longer even known to the Shamans at the time of the Spanish habitation.

The Caloosas may even have continued to build temple mounds long after the true reason for site selection and function were forgotten even by the Cacique and Shamans. Radio-carbon dating the constellation sites can confirm if they are all from the same period and if extraneous sites are from earlier or later periods.

The fact that the American Indians built Effigy Mounds such as the Serpent Mound located in Adams County, Ohio, lends additonal credance to this theory (Cowan 1975: pp 218-223). This mound group which is some 400 meters long, along with a mound group resembling a pawn print in Hamilton county, Ohio (with its largest mound rising some 8.23 meters) were also aligned to the stars.

Mr. Cowan presents other supporting evidence:

"The proposition that these effigies represent constellations is derived from two simple observations: First they face skyward making them difficult to recognize from the ground level. They were often constructed on hilltops and ridges, although they may have been placed there for more mundane and pragmatic reasons: valleys tend to flood during heavy rains. Secondly, they are large. (One bird effigy mesures 190 meters from wing tip to wing tip.) If an effigy mound was a copy of some constellation, then its size would be determined by the perceived size of that constellation. The Indian of course had no inkling of the great distances to the stars, and therefore imposed his own subjective distance measure. It would be reasonable to suppose that these subjective distances were some function of his perceived distance to the horizon which gave him some experiential standard for infinity.

Add to this, if you wish, that Pidgeon's De-coo-dah, the last of the mound builders (however, mythical he might be), told that his ancestors regarded the mounds as symbols of heavenly bodies (Silverberg 1968, p 252)."

The Effigy Mounds mentioned in this work present the same concept but the Effigy Mounds are laid out on a much smaller scale than the Caloosa Temple Mounds. In fact, Mr. Cowan's article does not attempt to tie the Ohio sites together.

The groups of mounds at some of the Caloosa sites may also represent constellations. This is in addition to the much larger scale representations which cover distancs of from 7 to 15 miles for the constellations, and even greater distances if the surrounding bright start are included.

Further investigation should help to confirm some of the missing sites and find "Good Fits" for some of the remaining temple mound sites.

It is not certain that the site orientations were chosen to correspond with the equinoxes, and or solstices, but this should also become clear with further investigation.

The Caloosa Temple Mounds may be as Archaeoastronomically significant as any ancient sites on the planet. Preservation of these sites is extremely important so that further study can be made.

Confirmation of this theory, regarding the Caloosa Indians' Astronomy and Surveying skills should result in a greater awareness of and appreciation for our heritage by the general populus.

The desired result is the preservation of the remaining historically significant mound sites through their being declared National Historical Monuments.


1. Voegalin's map was replotted because the relative locations of the mounds from the Everglades National Park to the Lopez River were not precise in Mr. Voegelin's sketch.

2. If any slight north to south misalignment is noted, it can be explained by the earth's precession.

3. The Cabbage Key area site was listed as "predicted" until the author recently discovered that it is an actual site of a large temple mound.

4. On Nautical Chart 11427 of "Fort Meyers to Charlotte Harbor and Wiggins Pass", several points marked as "RUINS" are noted in the shallow coastal waters. may or may not be former Caloosa sites. These If they are, they can then be used in future Caloosa site mapping.

5. Even the far distant and famous "Turtle Mound" of New Smyrna Beach on Florida's east coast could have represented ARCTURUS at the same time of year (a zero magnitude star), since it is reported by the Spanish that during the 1500's, the Caloosa sent Couriers to chief Oathkaqua who was chief Calos' (chief of the Caloosa at the time) faithful ally (Lewis 1978: p. 23).


Fritz, Florence Irene

1974 The Unknown Story of Sanibel & Captive, Parson: McGlain Print Co., p. 13.

Gowan, Thaddeus M.

1975 Effigy Mounds and Stellar Representation: A comparison of Old World and New World Alignment

Schemes. In Aveni, ed., Archaecostronomy in Pre-Columbian America, Texas: University of Texas Press, pp. 217-235.

Lewis, Clifford M.

1978 The Calusa. In Milanich and Proctor, eds., TACACHALE: Essays on The Indians of Florida and Southeastern Georgia during the Historic Period, Gainsville: the University Presses of Florida, p. 23 & 36.

Voegelin, Byron D.

1977 South Florida's Vanished People: Travel in the Homelandofthe Ancient Calusa, Fort Myers Beach: The Island Press, pp. 68-71.

Gushing, Frank H.

1896 Explorations of Ancient Key Dwellers on the Gulf Coast of Florida, Proceedings of The American Philosophical Society, 35 (153): pp. 95-98.

Gilliland, Marion S.

1975 The Material Culture of Key Marco Florida, Gainsville: The University Presses of Florida, pp. 75-135.

Jennings, Jesse D.

1979 Across an Arctic Bridge. In National Geographic Society, The World of The American Indian, Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Book Service, pp. 60-69.

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