Leadership, Accomplishment and Cultural Celebration

Before Columbus

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This stamp was issued in San Juan, Puerto Rico, October 12, 1989, as part of the Postal Union of the Americas and Spain’s commemoration of the 500th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s arrival in the New World.
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Kneeling human-feline effigy figure "Key Marco cat," Key San Marco, Collier Co., Florida; date: A.D. 1400-1500. The figurine is in the collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. (A240915-0)

The Calusa Indians were a thriving fishing and hunting society dating from circa AD 500 who lived along the southern gulf coast of Florida and into the inland waterways. Part of their spiritual life was their respect for the Florida panther. The Calusa were diminished by warfare with other Native nations and attacks from European invaders, but devastated by new European diseases and are lost to the historical record by the late 18th Century. In 1896, archeologist Frank Hamilton Cushing found this wooden, six-inch-high, human-feline effigy figure (AD 1400-1500) while excavating through a type of wetland that made possible the preservation of such a spectacular example of Calusa culture. Referred to as the “Key Marco Cat,” it is a transformative effigy with spiritual and ceremonial significance.

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Shell pendant from Key Marco site, Ten Thousand Islands, Marco Island, Florida ca. AD 1200-1650. 17/1120. To the Mississippian Period indigenous Americans, and to many Native peoples today, the “cross-in-circle” motif represents the four quadrants within the world circle, and much more. The motif existed in the Middle World, and later continued as representative of the sacred fire of the historic and contemporary religious systems of the original Southeastern Ceremonial Complex. Indeed, this symbol is near universal among American indigenous cultures. This iconography can be found as far north as the petroglyphs of Mississippian Era Illinois and today from MesoAmerica to the northern woodlands.
Courtesy, Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian.