Long Ago, Native People Built Seashell Islands Off Florida

Artificial islands may seem like a modern oddity, devised by China to claim territory or by Dubai to lure tourists. But people have been building them for centuries, using a mix of rocks and other materials to make new land rise from the sea.

One interesting example lies off southwest Florida, where the Calusa — a Native American people who once dominated the area — used hundreds of millions of seashells to create an island city near today’s Fort Myers Beach. It was one of many fishing villages the Calusa built, but it grew into a major political hub, spanning 125 acres, rising 30 feet high and housing an estimated 1,000 people. And as a new study shows, this island evolved along with the complex society that made it.

Now known as Mound Key, it served as capital of the Calusa kingdom when Spanish explorers first arrived in 1513. Calusa warriors eventually chased off the invaders, but conquistadors had already introduced diseases for which the native people had no immunity. Their society eventually came to an end around 1750, and Mound Key was later “frequented by pirates and fishermen,” according to Florida State Parks, before homesteaders took over and sold it to a utopian cult in 1905. Finally, in the 1960s most of Mound Key was protected as a state park.

Hoping to unearth secrets about Mound Key and the Calusa, a research team led by University of Georgia archaeologist Victor Thompson decided to dig a little deeper with core samples, excavations and intensive radiocarbon dating. Their work, published April 28 in the journal PLOS One, reveals how the makeup of Mound Key changed over the centuries in response to both social and environmental shifts.

“This study shows peoples’ adaptation to the coastal waters of Florida, that they were able to do it in such a way that supported a large population,” Thompson says in a statement. “The Calusa were an incredibly complex group of fisher-gatherer-hunters who had an ability to engineer landscapes. Basically, they were terraforming.”

Walking on seashells

Mound Key was created mostly from piles of seashells, bones and other discarded objects — collectively known as “midden” in archaeological parlance. It likely began as a flat, mangrove-lined oyster bar that didn’t quite poke above the shallow waters of Estero Bay, according to Florida State Parks, but the Calusa transformed it by using seashells like bricks and muddy clay as mortar.

Normally, midden piles are like vertical timelines, with newer materials covering progressively older stuff underneath. On Mound Key, however, Thompson and his colleagues found many older shells and charcoal fragments above younger ones. That suggests the Calusa were reworking their midden deposits to make landforms, the researchers say, and kept shaping them for various reasons over time.

“If you look at the island, there’s symmetry to it, with the tallest mounds being almost 10 meters (32 feet) high above modern sea level,” Thompson says. “You’re talking hundreds of millions of shells. … Once they’ve amassed a significant amount of deposits, then they rework them. They reshape them.”

Thompson suspects the Calusa abandoned Mound Key during times of low sea levels and scarce fish, then returned when climatic conditions and fishing became favorable again. Their large-scale labor projects gave the island its final shape during a second major occupation, and seem to have been supported mainly by fishing. They might have even stored live surplus fish at Mound Key, Thompson adds.

Conch kingdom

The Calusa controlled most of South Florida in the 16th century, and aside from being fierce fighters, they were also expert anglers. Many native people in Florida farmed, but the Calusa typically only grew small garden plots. Men and boys made palm-tree nets to catch fish, spears to catch turtles and fish-bone arrowheads to hunt deer, while women and younger children caught conchs, crabs, clams, lobsters and oysters.

This lifestyle was surprising to the Spanish, Thompson explains, whose agricultural society almost immediately clashed with the “fisher kings” of Mound Key.

“They had a fundamentally different outlook on life because they were fisher folk rather than agriculturalists, which ultimately was one of the great tensions between them and the Spanish,” Thompson says. “If you think about the way in which you interact with people, it is dependent on your history, and it’s the same with any society. So the Calusa’s long-term history really structured the way those interactions with the Spanish went.”

Based on what they’ve learned through excavations and core samples, Thompson and his colleagues have begun to rethink many previous ideas about how this society emerged and evolved. Researchers who study the Calusa should pay more attention to the context of environmental change, they say, something they’ve already been studying at another important Calusa site known as Pineland.

“Pineland was the second largest of the Calusa towns when the Spaniards arrived,” says study co-author William Marquardt, of the Florida Museum of Natural History. “Our research there over more than 25 years has provided an understanding of how the Calusa responded to environmental changes such as sea-level rises. They lived on top of high midden-mounds, engineered canals and water storage facilities, and traded widely while developing a complex and artistic society. It takes a team of scientists with different skills working together to discover how all this worked.”

It also takes more than one study. Thompson, Marquardt and the rest of the team are returning to Mound Key this month for phase two of their research. Although the Spanish described the Calusa as warlike, closer study is revealing an astute society that had sophisticated ways to deal with shifting sea levels and food availability.

“There’s a whole story that goes along with this site,” Thompson says. “It’s a laboratory that allows us to explore many different things, some of which are important to the present and the future and some of which are important to understanding the past.”

Starbucks or Dunkin’ Donuts? This Map Shows Where Americans Get Their Coffee Fix

Think Starbucks has a stranglehold on the American coffee market?

You must not be from the Northeast.

When it comes to getting a cup of joe, Starbucks is the place to go for many — some 46 million Americans got a Starbucks gift card for Christmas — but its rival Dunkin’ Donuts is putting up a solid fight.

As the map below shows, Dunkin’ Donuts shops actually outnumber Starbucks locations in the caffeine-fueled Megalopolis stretching from Boston to Washington, D.C.

Created by Reddit user cingraham using POI Factory data, the map shows how many coffee shops are in a region — the bigger the hex, the more stores — and whether Starbucks or Dunkin’ Donuts has more locations in that region.

On Reddit, commenters were quick to defend their favorite coffee place — or attack the competition.

“I hate Starbucks, it tastes like burnt poop,” one commenter quipped.

“How is Dunkin’ Donuts even competing?” a pro-Starbucks commenter asked, returning fire. “Their coffee is not even close.”

A few commenters noted the benefits of healthy competition.

“Dunkin and Starbucks have set themselves up in working class and high income areas, respectively, and in some areas such as downtown [Chicago] it’s a fierce battle,” one commenter wrote. “We as the consumers are winning in the end.”

Of course, even in the Northeast Starbucks is still a gigantic player.

Crain’s New York Business reported that Starbucks rules Manhattan, with 205 locations on the island, while Dunkin’ Donuts’ owns the Big Apple as a whole with 536 NYC locations.

The fight stretches across the nation.

As Starbucks tries to become the “Willy Wonka of coffee” with its new, fancier store options, Dunkin’ Donuts is unleashing a ground-level assault, opening new stores across the U.S.

Dunkin’ Donuts announced Monday that it had opened 405 new restaurants in 2014, in such new territory as California, Nevada and Colorado — the Seattle-based Starbucks’ heartland.

Dunkin’ Donuts plans to open as many as 440 new stores in 2015, and the company’s long-term goal is 17,000 U.S. locations.

For the moment, Starbucks has a decided numerical advantage.

The number of Starbucks locations nationwide has held steady at around 12,000 for the past few years, while Dunkin’ Donuts reports having roughly 7,000 stores nationwide.

A Map of the Most Googled ‘Distinct’ Thanksgiving Recipes Broken Down by State

The New York Times has a map of the United States detailing the most “distinct” Thanksgiving recipes Googled by each state. The results were compiled by Google, tossing out obvious choices like turkey and stuffing, instead focusing on unique foodstuffs, such as “frog eye salad” in the Rocky Mountain States and the “pig pickin cake” of North Carolina. The map was created in part due to fallout from a recent Thanksgiving map designed by the paper to reflect “recipes that evoke each of the 50 states.”

image via The New York Times

12 Of The World’s Most Awesome Remote Hideaways

When you live in a constantly connected (but spiritually disconnected) urban environment, it’s natural to dream about escaping to some wilderness shack and never coming back. Hide and Seek: The Architecture of Cabins and Hide-Outs, a new book from Gestalten, lets you indulge that fantasy without having to go all Grizzly Man. It presents some of the world’s most stunning cabins, shelters, hideouts, and sanctuaries that answer to the longing for retreat in nature.

Similar to the way 19th-century Romantics reacted to the Industrial Revolution with a more emotional, worshipful approach to the natural world, contemporary architects are building structures that incorporate the wilderness into their designs, inviting it in rather than shutting it out. “Direct connections to water, earth, air, and even fire enhance the power and sense of discovery present within the rural refuge,” writes Sofia Borges in Hide and Seek’s introduction. Among these are a mirrored lake cottage that reflects the surrounding forest on its facade and the nook-like Cocoon shelter, made of strips of cedar, which snakes around a series of tree trunks. Here, 12 of the most jaw-dropping contemporary hideaways in the world’s many middles of nowhere.

BIVACCO LUCA VUERICH, BY GIOVANNI PESAMOSCA ARCHITETTO IN FRIULI-VENEZIA GIULIA, ITALY

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This tiny, stoic A-frame cabin perches atop a rugged landscape in the Julian Alps, 8,303 feet above sea level. It’s situated along a summit trail, so hikers and climbers can catch up on rest in the hideout, which sleeps up to nine guests.

SLEDGE-PROJECT, BY ROB SWEERE, QAASUITSUP, GREENLAND

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These futuristic mobile dwellings on sleds were built for an organization that helps rehabilitate troubled children by pairing them with local hunters, who teach them the ways of the wild. They can be towed with dogs or snowmobiles over sea or ice, and each sleeps up to six guests.

THE PUMP HOUSE, BY BRANCH STUDIO ARCHITECTS, VICTORIA, AUSTRALIA

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This re-locatable lakeside cabin perches on stilts. Floor-to-ceiling windows let sunlight pour through.

FIRE SHELTER, BY SIMON HJERMIND JENSEN, CAPITAL REGION OF DENMARK, DENMARK

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Inspired by the architecture of nomadic people, this egg-like plywood hut has a simple circular bench around a central fireplace. Open to the public, and meant to stand only for a year, the Fire Shelter is ventilated by a hole in the top and two towards the bottom.

STEVE’S THAILAND DOME HOME, BY STEVE AREEN, IN ISAN, THAILAND

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This Dr. Seussian orange refuge sits amid a large organic mango farm. Completed by a small community of builders in just six weeks for under $6,000, the dome-shaped hut includes a handmade staircase that winds up to a rooftop patio shaded by a shaggy palapa.

VEGA COTTAGE, BY KOLMAN BOYE ARCHITECTS, IN TRONDELAG, NORWAY

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Close to the polar circle, this simple house borrows the gunmetal-gray color scheme of the surrounding bedrock in its harsh northern landscape, and its roof reflects the silver-white of the perpetually overcast sky. Large windows offer vistas of the ocean and mountain range.

COCOON, BY AA DESIGN & MAKE, SOUTH WEST ENGLAND, U.K.

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This cocoon, made of cedar strips in a whimsical monocoque structure, weaves through the trees of a forest park. Visitors can curl up inside its undulating form.

KEKKILA GARDEN SHED, BY AVANTO ARCHITECTS, UUSIMAA, FINLAND

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This garden shed-greenhouse hybrid lets you feel about as close to nature as possible while still technically being inside.

LE TRONC CREUX BY BRUIT DU FRIGO, BORDEAUX, FRANCE

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This cylindrical nature hut, resembling a giant log, can sleep up to nine people.

TREE SNAKE HOUSE BY REBELO DE ANDRADE, PEDRAS SALGADAS PARK, PORTUGAL

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The long, skinny bodies of snakes gliding between trees inspired these designs, in a Portuguese resort park, which can sleep one to two guests.

LAKE COTTAGE BY UUFIE, ONTARIO, CANADA

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This cottage in an Ontario forest has a mirrored entrance that lets it blend magically into the surrounding wilderness.

STUDIO FOR A COMPOSER BY JOHNSEN SCHMALING ARCHITECTS, WISCONSIN, UNITED STATES

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A country western musician uses this retreat, made of exposed concrete and steel, glass, and wood, as a studio for writing and recording his music.