Thursday, March 29, 2012

Port Charlotte Homeschooling Science Fair

I heard about a science fair at the Port Charlotte Library organized by the Suncoast Home- schoolers. I thought that I had never participated in an actual science fair and that I would like to teach others about my fun experiences, so I decided to give it a try. I made a poster about the Calusa Indians who used to live in this area. Many people think that the Seminoles originally lived in this area, but they were actually pushed down from the north by the Americans. Anyway, I learned a lot while making this poster which examined everything about the Calusa's daily life from their tools to their art.

Part of my project was to make some reproductions of Calusa artifacts. I made a whelk shell hammer/axe which was a day to day tool of the Calusa. When it was worn out and chipped down from use, they would repurpose this tool as a drill. The whelk shell is unusual because it spirals in the opposite direction of other sea shells. Whelk was also used in spiritual ceremonies where a shell would be made into a drinking vessel for a special tea made from the Yaupon Holly which was very high in caffeine. Afterwards, the Calusa would punch a hole in the ceremonial vessel so that it would never be used again. They also used whelk horns for making loud sounds. Whelk vessels were also used for washing, storage, water collecting and soup drinking. There are probably many more used for the whelk than we know about, but these are a just couple of uses that are known to archaeologists.

I found a photograph of a beautiful pottery bowl while reading a book about Calusa artifacts. So I thought that I could make one just like theirs out of ceramic. I decided that a raku clay firing was the best technique possible. I doubt they had metal trash cans like the one that we used for the fire. I actually think the Calusa used open fire pits instead of kilns. My friends at The Open Studio helped me with my pottery work. I also made a shark’s tooth drill out of a fossilized sharks tooth, but the Calusa would have used a fresh tooth since it would be much less brittle. I made a Sabal palm fiber cord to secure the tooth in place. At science fair, I passed around all these objects for show and tell. I finished my presentation by giving the audience a lecture and it was a lot of fun! I also had a lot of fun looking at the others kids work as well. That’s it for now from the Nudibranch Network.

PS: Nudibranchs are beautiful marine molluscs that are related to land slugs, octopi and oysters. Await futher blogging on this subject….

A Day in the Life of the Calusa

By Sophie Barimo


I have always been interested in archeology and history especially the people who lived before the Europeans came to the Americas. I wanted to know what it would be like to help dig on at an archeological site. I volunteered to the University of Florida dig on Pine Island in Lee County and learned a lot about the Calusa People.


We took scoops of unsifted dirt and poured them onto the sifting table. Since the sifters had a mesh bottom, all the dirt fell out leaving chunks of cracked shells, pottery shards, bones and many other Calusa artifacts. When we shook the tables, a mushroom cloud of dust rose into the air and made everybody run away or get dusted out.

• PROJECTILE POINTS: Stingray spines, horseshoe crab tails, catfish spines, shark teeth, deer anther, bone point and chert
• FISH NETS: sabal palm leaf cord, with arc shell weights and cypress sap wood floats
• FISH TRAPS: sabal palm root
• FISH HOOKS: bone
• HAMMERS, DIPPERS, AND AWLS: lighting whelk
• CELT AND ADZ: lightning whelk and queen conch
• ROPE AND WEAVING: sabal palm, century plant, mulberry, Spanish moss, cypress bark, green corn husk, bear grass
• CANOES: yellow pine and cypress tree trunks

• Paint made from strangler fig latex mixed with crushed shells (white), charcoal (black), clay for yellow and brown, and marlberry made purple or blue depending on the pH
• Carved on shell
• Clay pipes, figurines, and decorative and ceremonial pottery
• Jewelry made from olive shells, clay beads and shark teeth
• Cooper, gold and silver ceremonial ornaments

• FOUND IN CALUSA MIDDEN PILES (LANDFILL): Fish (drum, mullet and catfish other fish), crab claws, clams, mussels, conch, whelk, loggerhead turtle, ducks, land animals, squash, pumpkin, charred corn cobs, carbonized seeds, acorns and hickory nuts, coontie and cattail roots for starch, papaya, wild grapes, pine nuts, sea grape, prickly pear, sabal palm and palmetto palm hearts and berries.
• KITCHEN TOOLS: Mortar and pestle (wood), whelk ladles, and pottery vessels, pottery trays and pottery cooking pots


Dr. Karen Walker and the staff of the Randell Research Center. Pat and David Townsend of the Randell who were very nice and trained me at the dig. My Dad, Dr. John Barimo and my Mom, Susan Barimo who helped me a lot. Thanks to Steve Schoff and Elizabeth G. for the photographs. And to Robin Brown who wrote the book Florida’s First People. Finally, thank you Suncoast Homeschoolers for organizing this event.

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