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Naples at 100: Calusa Indians' imprint on Naples echoes through time

By the late 1700s, diseases like smallpox and measles, introduced by European explorers, caused the demise of the Calusa, wiping out entire villages.
Posted at 7:25 PM, Nov 30, 2023

NAPLES, FLA — As the city of Naples approaches its 100th year of incorporation, reflections on its deep-rooted history extend to the indigenous people who once thrived along its shores—the Calusa Indians.

In an interview with Fox 4, Charlie Strader from the Southwest Florida Archaeological Society shed light on the legacy of the Calusa as Naples marks this significant milestone.

The Calusa, a complex society, dominated most of the Southwest Florida region. Strader emphasizes their historical presence, stating, "We've had a tradition of Native Americans having settlements here well back to 6000 years ago."

Despite the disappearance of the Calusa by the late 1700s, the geographical landscape they experienced remains largely unchanged says Strader.

Skilled sailors, the Calusa navigated canoes through canals, showcasing advanced logistics. "They would literally dig canals for various uses, particularly logistics… It would save travel around the islands," Strader said.

Despite their intricate use of waterways, very little physical evidence remains of the Calusa today.

"By virtue of not having the continual existence of a strong Native American tribe to protect their sites and burial sites, the Europeans in modern development cared little," Strader stated.

Yet, the remnants of the Calusa endure in Collier County Museums, with artifacts like the famous Key Marco Cat, beads, and ornamental pendants.

Strader emphasizes that these artifacts represent more than relics. He says "these are living human beings with the joys and sadness and life and fun that we all deal with day to day."