Just over the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, not far from the Bayway Islands, there's another interesting little cluster of isles. There's Ed's Key, Rattlesnake Key, the Sister Keys, the Two Brothers Islands, Skeet Key, Snead Island and more, and the largest of them all is Terra Ceia Island.
There's a lot of unusual archaeological activity going on here. Or, more precisely perhaps, there was a lot of unusual prehistoric activity going on here back in the day, and modern man has noted it with a few signs. Though much of the island is deemed an "archaeological site", I don't actually see any digging going on here. In fact, they've turned the Madira Bickel Sacred Mound into a little park with little or no seeming regard for the integrity of the site. There are signs warning tourists not to take with them any stray artifacts or human bones they happen to find. Doesn't that just warm your heart?
Apparently the Bickel mound was once the center of a thriving community of native Americans - what tribe? Well, they don't really know for sure. The mound was, so the informative signs tell us, the main temple from which the chief resided, and/or sacrifices were performed. How they know this, it isn't made clear. Archaeologists, it seems, love to extrapolate, and given enough leeway could probably extrapolate a postulated pre-Cambrian supermarket from a fragment of femur bone.
Meanwhile, there's a burial mound hidden right beside the parking lot, and an even larger one called the Johnson Mound somewhere north of here. That's not completely clear either, because the map they handily provide is atrociously rendered and has little in common with what you see on Google Maps or Flash Earth. A future expedition to the Johnson Mound will have to rely more on luck and intuition - both of which I fortunately have in spades - than the GPS.
As for the Bickel Mound, when I parked the car and wandered the lovely park's path in search of it, I was dispatched up a very steep wooden walkway up a lushly forested hill. What they don't tell you until after you get up there is that the hill is the temple mound, and congratulations, you're now standing on it. I apologized to whatever spirits were lurking around, and made my exit back down.
There's some degree of squabbling going on amongst historians whether the people here were actually Mayans, or at least influenced by them. Though the position of officialdom is that the Mayans did not make it to Florida, their illustration at the park depicts the original state of the temple mound as lookin' pretty damn Mayan to me.
According to Wikipedia, "Archaeological excavations have established that indigenous occupation reaches back 2,000 years, and across three distinct periods: Manasota, Weedon Island, and Safety Harbor cultures." But then you click through to the articles about these cultures and you find that no one really has a clue about who they were either. In fact, there seems to be much confusion about what goes where and who did what, and most deductions are based on relative similarities found in the scant historical artifacts. It's a bit like the giant radioactive intelligent cockroaches of the future deducing that Florida and Japan were the same civilization because they found a Starbucks cup in each location.
I'm going to see if I can't get the real scoop on what happened here, straight from the horse's mouth, and ask a ghost.