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Paleo-Indian Period (ca. 10,000 to 7,500 B.C.)

Humans first arrived in Florida around 12,000 years ago. Known as Paleo-Indians these people arrived near the end of the Pleistocene, a period of polar glacial advance. At times the northern glaciers advanced as far south as Kansas and, in places, were over a mile thick. So much of Earth’s water was tied up in the glacial ice that sea level was some 280 feet (85 meters) lower than it is today. The Gulf of Mexico would have been much smaller, and the shoreline would have been situated some 100 miles west of its current location. At this time, Florida was a cool and dry place with large animals such as mastadons and giant sloth roaming the grassy interior of the state.

The Paleo-Indian people organized in small family bands and hunted the big game, but more commonly depended on plants and small animals such as rabbit, raccoon, and others for their subsistence. They lived a highly mobile life following game and used tools of stone, bone, ivory, and wood to hunt, fish, make clothes, and build small temporary shelters. Due to a lack of surface water in interior regions, Paleo-Indian people and animals clustered around sinkhole oases that provided access to the depressed water table.

By 9,500 years ago (7,500 B.C.), the Earth began to warm, glacial ice sheets melted, and sea level began to rise. All coastal Paleo-Indian sites in Florida have been inundated by sea-level rise and we do not know what they might have looked like, but we expect that coastal habitation sites would likely have been larger than their dry, interior counterparts. Rising sea-level pushed freshwater to the surface in once dry interior regions. Grasslands gave way to forests. Loss of the grasslands and, in part over-hunting, led to the extinction of many animals including the mega fauna, the horse, camelids, and others. Environmental changes and new cultural adaptations were transforming the landscape.