Sacred Lands, Anderson/Narvaez Mound, Pinellas County, FL 2010

Prehistoric shells on the mound


The lightning whelk, native to Florida coasts, is a huge snail. Its shell, up to a foot long, opens to the left, a rarity.

When the Tocobaga and Manasota of Tampa Bay ran a stick handle through it, the wide end of this tapered cone became a powerful hammer. The pointed end was a pick, used to dig canoes out of charred trees. Just a quarter-inch thick, the once-living matter gave but didn’t shatter. Whelks were traded as far away as Michigan and Oklahoma, exchanged for copper.

Hefting a replica hammer and chopping in a short arc, I feel a surging centrifugal pull, and a gorgeous menace.

Next: Crystal River Archaeological State Park, Citrus County, FL 2009