Stories of a Airboat Guide
Hunting, Nutrition, and the Changing Population of Early Florida
By: Glenn Wilsey, Sr.
Im going to take you on a trip back in time, to just before 15,000 years ago. Early Florida looked a lot different than it looks today. Even the animals were different. Florida was just coming out of the last ice age. When the word ice age comes up, lots of people think of an earth completely covered in ice. Well that wasnt quite true. During the last ice age the earth was half covered in ice. The freeze and ice line drifted down to a little more than half of North America. The freeze line stopped at about the middle of the United States, about to Missouri. Florida looked a lot different because the water levels of that time were about 350 feet below what they are today. 15,000 years ago Florida was about the size of Texas. Florida looked a lot like the Great Plains of the mid west. Looking off the east coast of Florida was like looking off the side of a mountain, 350 feet down. Then looking to the west the landscape was flat and slowly dropped down to the Gulf of Mexico. Back then the Gulf of Mexico must have looked a lot like a bigger Lake Okeechobee. Florida was a mass of flowing grass with very small forests of trees. The animals were a lot different and much bigger. We had the woolly mammoth that stood 10 feet tall and weighed 10 tons; this was the Colombian type of mammoth. The mammoth liked to graze on grass, shrubs and small trees. The ground sloth was another animal that was very large and stood 12 feet tall. The ground sloth foraged on leaves of trees and would also graze on tall grasses. These big animals were no threat to early man, unless man posed a threat to them. Some of the large animals were a food source for man at that time. Hunting these big animals could get a man killed. You have to think about this, because back then man didnt have the sophisticated weapons of today. Just before 15,000 years ago man had spears, but they were nothing more that sharp sticks. The spears would be sharpened with flat but very rough rocks. These flat rocks were the first man made tools. Back then the men went out hunting in groups. It was impossible for one man to kill a woolly Mammoth on his own. The hunting group would all go looking for something to hunt for dinner. When they found something like a woolly mammoth grazing nearby on the prairie they would sneak up and start spearing the woolly mammoth. This was not an easy task. They all had to take turns. The spears they used were not heavy enough to throw and stick into the animal far enough to kill the animal. One person would run up to the mammoth and thrust the spear into it, then pull it out and run. Of course the woolly mammoth would turn and run after the little man that poked him with the sharp stick. At that moment another person would then run up and thrust another spear into the wounded animal and it would turn to run after that person. This would go on and on until the animal died. It would take 2 or 3 days for the bigger mammoths to bleed to death. Im sure that not all of the hunters got away from the woolly mammoth either. The woolly mammoths were big, but they were also fast, so the first few people to run up to the large animal may have gotten run down and stomped to death.
Once the woolly mammoth was killed, the whole tribe would pack up and move close the kill site. The people back then were nomadic and had to follow the kill. They would set up camp close to the downed woolly mammoth. Those who stayed with the fallen mammoth had to defend the kill from other predators. There were many other very large predator animals that wanted to eat the same mammoth that the hunting party just killed. These animals wanted the mammoth also and would kill and eat any human in the way. Humans were just part of the food chain. The Dog faced bear was about 12 feet tale when standing, just a little bigger than a modern day Polar bear. The Saber tooth tiger was another animal that would eat a human animal to get to the fallen mammoth. One other animal that was a danger to the human animal was the Dire wolf. The Dire wolf was about 2 times bigger than the wolves we have today. Some of the tribe members would cut up the woolly mammoth and take some back to the others in a make shift village. Mean while the hunters had to fend off the predators in the area. The spear could only be thrown a short distance and when a lot of predators started to close in, the hunters would abandon what was left of the mammoth to save their own lives. Some of the people of the tribe went hunting; the most dangerous job for anyone in the tribe. Some of the tribe members would go out looking for berries or fruits and others would find plants that could be eaten. Other tribe members stayed at the camp to keep the other tribe members safe and make tools and lodging. If I were a member of a hunting and gathering tribe back then I probably would have been a berry picker, because hunting woolly mammoths was way too dangerous. As time went on the weapons changed and were made better. This made things easier for the hunters. Man has now learned to sharpen flat stones and use them as tools. They could now use these sharpened stones to separate skin from the meet of an animal and cut meat into pieces. 15,000 years ago the first stone points were invented and attached to the end of the spears. These points (spear heads) were made from the rocks that were used to sharpen the spears. These new spears killed the woolly mammoth faster. Now the mammoth could be killed in 1 day instead of 3 or 4 days. The new points would penetrate the tough hide of the mammoth. Then push deeper into the body and hit vital organs and kill the mammoth faster. Killing the mammoth faster saved many lives and less tribe members got stomped to death. The new spearhead worked to good some times. The spear would go deeper but made it harder to pull out. There would be many times the spear head would break off inside of the mammoth. Now the hunter only had a big stick to defend himself. This only brought on a better idea, the detachable spearhead. This made it safer and easier for the hunter of this era. The hunter would attach a point to a short piece of spear shaft, then, hollow out the other end. Now the detachable spearhead could be set over the end of the spear shaft. The hunter would make a few of these detachable spearheads and put them in a pouch to take with him. When the hunter would trust his spear into a mammoth and pull back the spearhead would detach and stay in the mammoth. The hunter would reload another spearhead, run back to the mammoth and thrust another spearhead into the animal. This new spear was heavy and could be thrown at the predator animals. Because they could throw the spears farther, they could hold off the predators and keep them from taking over the kill site. The hunter could now take more of the meat with them to their campsite. Because they had these new weapons they could stay in 1 place longer. Now that the tribe could stay longer in one place, the population of the tribe grew bigger. Things went on like this for about the next 5,000 years and then another new weapon invented.
About 10,000 years ago things changed with invention of the atlatl. The atlatl changed the way man hunted and made hunting safer for the hunter. A hunter didnt have to run up and thrust a spear into a large animal. The hunters didnt have to throw the spear at close range to hit a predator that may be attacking them. Youre probably asking what is an atlatl? An atlatl is an extension of a humans arm and helps trust a dart forward though the air. The atlatl dart is a spear shaft about 5 or 6 feet long. The atlatl is made out of a short piece of a tree branch, about the length of your forearm. The front end is made to contour and fit your hand. The back end of the atlatl would have a small hole bored into the branch. Then a small spike or something like an alligator tooth can be inserted at an angle pointing forward. To load the dart on the atlatl, just insert the back end of the dart onto the spike. Lay the dart shaft down the length of the atlatl and hold it with your forefinger and thumb. Then thrust your arm forward and as you do, flick your wrist forward all at the same time. It sounds complicated but you have to see how it is done to get a better understanding of how it works. To see me demonstrate how to use an atlatl just go to this link, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6dwBGJFQlUk and watch the video. What the atlatl does is propel the dart forward 4 or 5 times faster than it can be thrown. The spear that could be thrown 50 yards can now be propelled 150 yards. It is said that the longest distance an atlatl dart has been thrown was just over 850 feet. The most accurate hits on a target are at a distance of about 40 to 50 yards. There have been many darts that have hit targets at 150 yards away with ease. The atlatl changed how people lived. Before the atlatl people couldnt stay in the area very long with the animal they killed. The hunters would kill a woolly mammoth and the smell would attract other animals. The people had to cut and run with as much food as they could. Think about it, people were not the only animals on the prairie that were hungry. There were many big animals that wanted to eat the easy meal that the humans had killed. The dog-faced bear the dyer wolf and the saber tooth cat, were always there to challenge the humans for the food. The humans could fend them off only for a short while with their spears. As the bigger predators showed up the people had to move on. Now that the humans had the atlatl they could launch spears and hit the large predators from a long distance. This gave the humans a lot more time to collect more of the animal they killed. With the atlatl for a weapon the humans were killing more of the large predators than ever. It is said that the atlatl is the tool that sent the dog-faced bear and the other large predators into extinction. It only took a short time before the big predators were no longer a threat to the humans. The humans no longer had to cut and run with their food. They could set up camps and stay in one area. As the tribe stayed in one area the population grew larger. People could now sit back and relax a little and have time for making the family larger. People were still gathering fruits and vegetables. Now that they were staying in one place they were stating to plant and grow their own fruits and vegetables. As time went on the ice caps were melting rapidly and changing the landscape. The tribes of people grew bigger and the rising water forced them to inland Florida. This change in the land went on for about the next 5,000 to 6,000 years. About 6,000 years ago the water leveled off to what the water levels are today. As the ocean water levels were rising up, fresh water springs formed. The fresh water spilled into low areas and made lakes and swamps. The lakes and swamps gave life to little plants and ferns. The high ground gave way to lush forests with tall trees. Because the Atlatl put the big animals into extinction, the little animals were now in a big abundance. Animals like raccoons, rabbits and deer were now everywhere. The swamps made for a great place for the wading birds to thrive. The high ground forest was great place for birds from around the world to come and winter here. With plenty of food the population of humans kept rising.
About 5,000 years ago there was another jump in the population. This was due to pottery. How pottery could change the population you ask? By this time period people were staying in big villages. There were farmers that grew crops. There were hunters that brought meat into the village. Just like in any town, city or village there were many different jobs to be done. In the village there were people that made clothes, tools, structures to live and work in so the people were out of the weather, and there were people who would cook. The food that was brought into the village had to be cooked immediately. There were no refrigerators and food had to be eaten within a day or so, or it would spoil. Some meat would be smoked, so it would last a little longer. Once pottery was made, food would last longer and more could be made. Lets just say a hunter were to bring in a rabbit. That rabbit may feed 2 people. Take the rabbit and put it in a pot over a fire add water and vegetables, now you have a meal that can feed 8. Keep a low heat on the stew in the pot and it would last much longer. With more food to eat the population exploded once again.
The bow and arrows
About 4,000 years ago the bow and arrow was invented. There are a few theories on how the bow and arrow was invented. I would have to think "this" theory is easiest to go with. Back then to make a fire people would use a small bow and a straight stick. Wrap the bowstring around the stick, place the stick on a small block of wood, then push and pull the bow back and forth to spin the stick. The friction caused from the stick spinning against the block of wood would get so hot it would make a small ember. Drop some dry grass on the ember and blow. The ember will get hotter as you blow and the grass will catch on fire. People have asked what does this have to do with the bow and arrow. I would have to figure that people also had a lot of time on their hands. Maybe the guy making the fire was board and placed the stick on the bow string pulled back and let it go. The stick would have shot a few feet from the hand that launched it. Im sure it didnt take long for the fire maker to get together with hunters and show them what he did. The hunter soon learned how to make and perfect the bow and arrow into a hunting weapon. The bow and arrow made the Atlatl almost obsolete. Now the hunters had a weapon that was fast and accurate. In the dense forest the hunter could let an animal get close and shoot a very precise shot with less effort. The arrowhead had to be made very small so the arrow could shoot fast, straight and far. The arrowhead was small and light weight. Most arrowheads were only the size of dime. The small arrow shaft and arrowhead were perfect for speed and accuracy. The spearhead, by comparison would have to be big and heavy about 5 to 8 inches long, even longer. The spear would be thrown or thrust into an animal, so the heavy spearhead was necessary. The atlatls spearhead had to be smaller and not as heavy, 3 or 4 inches long was just fine. It had to be propelled through the air with the extra help of the atlatl.
Arrowheads and spearheads were made by an action called percussion flaking and pressure flaking. Both percussion flaking, and pressure flaking, started with a big piece of flint rock, curt (volcanic rock), or coral in one hand, and a percussion tool in the other hand. The percussion tool could be the blunt end of any kind of antler or bone, or any other rock or stone, as long as it was harder than the flint. A person would take a look at the piece in his hand and figure where to hit the rock so the percussion hit would break the rock off in a slice. He would keep this up until he had what was called a blank. A blank is a crudely formed arrowhead. This was called percussion flaking. Then the blank would be buried in the earth about 4 to 6 inches under the ground. Then a small fire would be built over the blanks that were under ground. The fire would be left alone until it was completely cooled by maybe a day later. The heat would temper the blank so it would be easy to pressure flake. Pressure flaking would be done with the pointed end of the antler. Set the pointed end of the antler on the edge of the blank and press down hard until a small flake pops off. Then flip the blank and pop off another piece, as you do this the blank starts to take form and look like an arrowhead as we know them. The bow and arrow brought more food into the village and the tribe once again grew bigger. By this time period the villages were growing fast and farming became more of a way of life and brought more food into the village. More food meant more people and the population was once again growing. Once the bow and arrow were perfected life was easy. It wasnt long before the next big change would come.
The next big change was the arrival of the Europeans here in North America.
When the Europeans landed on the shores of North America they met the Native American tribes. The Europeans brought many new things and traded with the Indians. They brought Horses, pigs, fruits, vegetables and spices from around the world. The Europeans brought something else the Native Americans had never seen and that was iron. Iron was something new to the North Americans. The arrowheads on the tips of the arrows that the Europeans had were made of iron. They were also fascinated because if you were to strike the flint arrowhead against the iron arrowhead, a flash and spark would be seen. The Native Americans now had a new way of making fire and it was faster than the bow and stick. The Europeans had been making fire with flint and iron for hundreds of years before coming to North America. Even the Europeans used antlers to make arrowheads in the beginning. Sometime after iron was discovered someone must have hit a piece of flint with the iron and saw the spark. I would have to figure that the guy making arrowheads had a piece of flint in one hand and a piece of iron in the other. He probably thought, "Wow, this iron is harder than the antler, maybe if I were to hit the flint with the iron, it would flake off easier." When he struck the two together a spark flashed in his hand. He probably ran all over the village showing people how it made sparks. Maybe a spark landed on his clothing. The spark then started an ember on a piece of ripped clothing. The Native Americans could now make fires fast and easy without the small bow, string and wooden shaft. The Native Americans also gave many new things to the Europeans. They gave the Europeans new fruits and vegetables to take back with them. Pumpkins, strawberries, watermelons, many varieties of nuts, most of the varieties of potatoes, and beans also came from North America. The most important thing the Native Americans gave the Europeans was corn. With the introduction of corn to Europe and the rest of the world, once again we had a population explosion that is still going on to this day. The Europeans didnt like corn all that much but it was a good grain with a lot of nutrients. This made a good food for their animals back in Europe. They would feed the corn to their cattle, pigs and chickens. The pigs grew bigger, which made more meat from the pigs. There was more meat and milk from cows. The chickens grew faster, bigger and there were more eggs to eat. All of their animals got bigger much faster. With bigger and more livestock, there was much more food for the people. With more food the population grew much faster than it ever had. The Native Americans also had to teach the Europeans how to grow corn. Corn does grow in the wild, but wild corn will not yield much in the way of edible food. Bees and insects are not the prime pollinators of corn. Corn is a plant that cross-pollinates and doesnt need the insects to help with pollination. There are different types of corn, but there are basic rules for growing corn, the seeds should be planted at a depth of a � inch to 1 inch deep in the soil. The seeds should be spaced out at 4 to 6 inches apart. The rows should be about 3 feet apart. As the corn grows tall the plants are close together. When the corn starts to bloom, the wind blows the tops back and forth. As the tops bang into each other it shakes the pollen loose and the wind helps spread the pollen from plant to plant. Corn has been a paradox for over 6,000 years. Without humans to cultivate it, corn would not survive. Because of corn our world population has grown to epic proportions. In the year 1800, there were 1 billion people on earth. Then around 1930 there were 2 billion people on earth. By 1997 there were 3 times that many people on earth, about 6 billion. By 2025 that figure will jump to about 8 billion. Corn byproducts are found all most all processed foods found on the market. Look at the ingredients in most of the food you buy and you will find corn syrup, corn starch and many other corn byproducts. Corn yields the most kernels of any other grain grown on a stalk. By comparison, wheat averages, 200 kernels, rice averages a little over 100 kernels. Corn averages 800 kernels with 16 rows on 1 ear of corn. Corn puts out 4 times more than any other grain plant in the world. If corn were to just up and disappear off the face of the earth, about 2/3 of the population would starve to death within a very few years.
I do hope that you have enjoyed my story this month. I know there was a long time since I wrote a new story for you. We apologize for making you all wait so long, but as much as we love bringing you this great website, real life sometimes happens. I will do my best to write new stories on a regular basis like I used to, as much as possible, and any story suggestions are greatly appreciated.
Glenn W. Wilsey
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