Thanks to some amazing finds in Warm Mineral Springs, about 60 miles south of the Alafia River, archaeologists have pushed back their estimate of the earliest human occupation of southwest Florida to approximately 12,000 years ago.
The aboriginal Americans who roamed the peninsula during this period were hunters and gatherers, living on wildlife and wild plants.
The sea level was lower and the gulf coast shoreline was 40 to 70 miles further west. Peninsular Florida was almost twice its present size. Back then, Tampa Bay was a freshwater lake. As millennia passed and the earth warmed, rising sea levels breached the lake’s southwest boundary, forming an immense, shallow bayou we know today as the Tampa Bay estuary.
Aboriginal explorers found a land filled with game and large mammals including mastodons, mammoths, camels and giant sloths. Many of these “megafauna” became extinct in Florida during the Paleo-Indian Period. One exception: the mastodon, is thought to have survived until about 4,000 years ago before dying out, possibly from overhunting. The phosphate-rich lands of the Alafia River watershed have yielded a spectacular assortment of animal bones and teeth from this period, as well as older fossil material.