Indian Temple Mound Essay, Research Paper
Dr. Julia Sublette
January 23, 2001
Indian Temple Mound
In the heart of downtown Fort Walton Beach, Florida lies a magnificent hill of earth
created by prehistoric Native Americans as a political and religious center. Built about 1,400
AD, this structure of earth is known today as The Indian Temple Mound. This temple mound
represents one of the most outstanding artifacts left by the early inhabitants of the area. Not only
is it thought to be the largest mound located on saltwater, but also it could possibly be one of the
largest prehistoric earthworks on the Gulf Coast. Many events that took place so long ago in the
past have been discovered due to the objects found in this mound. In 1961, The Indian Temple
Mound Museum was built. This museum was the first municipally owned museum in the State
of Florida. Today the museum has a two-dollar charge to enter, yet it has become one of leading
recreational factors in which draws people from around the world to the area of Fort Walton
Beach, Florida. The museum houses interpretive exhibits depicting 10,000 years of Native
American occupation. Over 6,000 artifacts of bone, stone, clay, and shell are found within this
museum, as well as the largest collection of Fort Walton Period ceramics in the Southeastern
United States. Although every artifact present in The Indian Temple Mound Museum offers
clear evidence of cultural sophistication and artistic skill, the more interesting artifacts I
encountered were the Ware Human Effigy Urn, the Buck Burial Mound Urn, and the Pump Drill.
In 1971, the Ware family found pieces of a clay vessel at a small mound, possibly a
domiciliary or a house mound, about four miles west of The Indian Temple Mound Museum.
The pieces were made of light brown to tan colored clay, coiled into a rough shape with features
molded on the outside. When the clay fragments were carefully placed together, an Effigy
(made to look like) of a human male was formed. Although it is unknown, the figure was
probably made to resemble a specific individual. Like a portrait, this figure shows details of
clothing and decoration. The hair is worn pulled back and a decorative band resembling a crown
surrounds the head. The eyes are closed, suggesting a man already dead. The ears contain a set
of decorative earrings that dangle. The body is naked, but bracelets can be seen on the wrists and
a lip ornament is worn in the pierced bottom lip. The use of this bowl is still unknown today. It
would seem to have been a jar for holding liquid in a ritual situation, yet the back has two
pierced holes as if the figure was made to be suspended. Perhaps it was secured to a support for
display. Maybe one day in the future, the mystery use of this item will be revealed.
The Buck Burial Mound Urn is one of the more unique artifacts made by the Prehistoric
People. Found at a cemetery mound of the Woodland Time Period, this urn is thought to have
held the cremated remains of an important individual. The urn is colored in black, white, and
red- colors of the earth and sacred to the Prehistoric People who made this vessel. Unlike many
other vessels, this was made from clay using two methods. The body was created using coils of
clay placed atop one another. The legs were made of slabs molded from the outside leaving the
center of the legs square. The head has a topknot hairstyle and ears which are pierced. The face
is blackened to resemble a ritual mask, while the body is covered by a red and white design
which is thought to resemble a feathered cape. The figure has clearly human hands and feet, but
it also has two projections much like stumps. These are thought to represent a two legged stool.
The coloring and style suggest a cultural contact with Central or South America, but this artifact
is most closely related to the Mississippi River Valley regions.
An ancient handy tool used for cutting holes into wood, stone, bone, leather, shell,
and clay is called the pump drill. This drill is not an Indian invention, however it was brought to
the Indians by the Spanish when they arrived in the New World. The pump drill is unique from
other drills in that it cuts with speed, not pressure. The pump drill is made from only three parts.
The first part is a drill shaft. This is a stick on which a string twists and is tipped with a drill bit.
The second part is a fly wheel. This provides momentum after each downward thrust. The last
part is a bow. This changes vertical action into rotary action. One advantage of the pump drill
over other drilling methods is that it could be operated with one hand. This allowed the other
hand to hold the material being drilled. Although the pump drill is an ancient handy tool, it is
still used today for jewelry making, boat building, and many other jobs. It is the only method of
drilling available in places where electricity is not common or reliable.
Visiting the Indian Temple Mound Museum was truly a great experience. Each exhibit
displayed artifacts which reflected the technological, spiritual, and artistic achievements of the
Native Indians. The Indian Temple Mound Museum not only educated me on the Prehistoric
People, but also created an awareness of a time that has gone by. The Ware Human Effigy Urn,
the Buck Burial Mound Urn, and the Pump Drill are only three of over 10,000 artifacts on
display at the museum, most of which were found within a 40-mile radius of the mound. This
museum houses one of the finest collections of Southeastern Ceremonial art made by prehistoric
people. I would recommend others to visit The Indian Temple Mound Museum. Because of its
collection, it can speak about people who can no longer speak for themselves.