Original artifacts found on Marco Island during the 1806 Pepper-Hearst Expedition by Frank Hamilton Cushing are currently on display at the Marco Island History Museum, on loan from the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History, and the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archeology and Anthropology. These art objects are thought to have been created 500 to 1500 years ago.
Although many of the wooden artifacts were preserved in the anaerobic muck environment in which they were buried, many turned black and became distorted upon excavation. The exception was the Key Marco Cat which survived because, unlike the other artifacts, it is thought that it had been rubbed with animal fat as a deity.
The Key Marco Cat is a half-man half-cat kneeling figure. Carved of buttonwood, the six inch effigy has been called one of the finest pieces of Pre-Columbian Native American art ever discovered in North America. On display through April 2026.
Spoonbill Man is different from the other ceremonial masks discovered in having a mortised space for insertion of a separate nose piece which was missing. Archeologists never found the nose once attached to the mask. It has been speculated that it was carved separately because it was too long to come for a single block of wood. Spanish friars who visited the Calusa in 1697 reported some of their masks had noses six feet long.
The Beaked Sea Turtle figurehead, carved between 600 and 800AD is about six inches long. Originally painted black, white, blue and red, only black and white remain today. Also referred to by some as a Falcon.
The Alligator measures about 2 feet long with a lower, articulated jaw. It was originally painted white, black and blue. But today, only the black pigment remains.
A small wooden Human Figurine stands with arms at sides, in a square tunic or cloak at the back. On display through April 2024.
The Pelican Figurehead was found with fragments of wing pieces. Highly finished and graceful it was originally painted with white, black and buff gray pigments and was likely used for ceremonial purposes. On display through April 2023.
The Sunray Venus Clam Shell, about three inches long, contains a full-length figure of an Indian Dancer with headdress, waist and ankle bands drawn in black pigment. A shocking accusation of fraud against Frank Cushing was made shortly after the Expedition by a Smithsonian photographer resulted in a well-publicized investigation. Ultimately Cushing was exonerated.
Replicas of the artifacts above are available on the "Shop" Page of this website.
The following is a partial list of references for those interested in reading more complete descriptions of the Key Marco Replicas:
Florida’s First People; Robin Clark; Pineapple Press, Inc.
Florida’s Lost Tribes; Theodore Morris; University Press of Florida
Indian Art of Ancient Florida; Barbara A. Purdy; University Press of Florida
The Calusa and Their Legacy; Denise A. MacMahon & William H. Marquardt; University Press of Florida
The Material Culture of Key Marco Florida; Marion Spjut Gilliland; Florida Classics Library.