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Brevard Locals

By Korinn Braden & Joel McPherson

On the shores of the Banana River is a site occupied by the Ais Indians between 1500 CE-1700 CE. The village was documented and mapped in 1605 by Spanish explorer Álvaro Mexiá. Between 2015-2019 a Brevard non-profit, Ais Village Trail organization, held a community-participation excavation, led by archaeologist Alan Brech and board members, Rick Piper and Brent Russell. With the support from their board of directors and the work of local community volunteers, this multi-year dig helped document an important part of Brevard’s native past for posterity. 

Intriguingly, the discoveries go beyond the utilitarian. Material culture also includes shell tools, charcoal, pottery sherds, and shells and bones associated with food ways. However ornamental artifacts, such as shell and bone beads and bone pins, hint at the Ais Indians' engagement in trade networks and social interactions with neighboring communities. The presence of these items underscores the interconnectedness of Indigenous groups in prehistoric Florida and challenges preconceived notions about their isolation.

A surprise was the total lack of drilled sharks’ teeth, leaving the group to wonder if they had been replaced by European goods, as three early Venetian glass beads were recovered. Shell tools appeared with less frequency than pre-Contact sites. European iron from shipwrecks and lead splatter were heavily used on this site. Although there is plenty of St. Johns pottery sherds recovered, there are no olive jar fragments – reports say the Ais did not have a high opinion of the pottery.

Two hundred years of Spanish rule (1513-1821), with a brief interim of 21 years of British rule (1763-1784), resulted in either assimilation or destruction for Florida’s native population. Many of the Christianized natives were moved to either Cuba or Puerto Rico when Spain left. The remaining Florida natives were either absorbed into other kingdoms, killed, died of disease, or captured and sold as slaves. After 1760, the Ais people disappear from the historical record.

The significance of the site extends beyond the artifacts themselves. Contextual clues, such as the arrangement of artifacts in specific layers of sediment, provide a chronological framework for understanding the evolution of Ais Indian culture over time. The meticulous documentation of these findings is invaluable for constructing a comprehensive narrative of the Ais Indians' history in Brevard County. The artifacts recovered not only contribute to academic research but also enhance the local community's appreciation for the deep roots of human history in their backyard.


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