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Florida

People first lived in Florida at least 12,000 years ago. The rich variety of environments in prehistoric Florida supported a large number of plants and animals. The animal population included most mammals that we know today. In addition, many other large mammals that are now extinct (such as the saber-tooth tiger, mastodon, giant armadillo, and camel) roamed the land.

The Florida coastline along the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico was very different 12,000 years ago. The sea level was much lower than it is today. As a result, the Florida peninsula was more than twice as large as it is now. The people who inhabited Florida at that time were hunters and gatherers, who only rarely sought big game for food. Modern researchers think that their diet consisted of small animals, plants, nuts, and shellfish. These first Floridians settled in areas where a steady water supply, good stone resources for tool making, and firewood were available. Over the centuries, these native people developed complex cultures. During the period prior to contact with Europeans, native societies of the peninsula developed cultivated agriculture, traded with other groups in what is now the southeastern United States, and increased their social organization, reflected in large temple mounds and village complexes.

Written records about life in Florida began with the arrival of the Spanish explorer and adventurer Juan Ponce de Leon in 1513. Sometime between April 2 and April 8, Ponce de Leon waded ashore on the northeast coast of Florida, possibly near present-day St. Augustine. He called the area la Florida, in honor of Pascua florida ("feast of the flowers"), Spain's Eastertime celebration. Other Europeans may have reached Florida earlier, but no firm evidence of such achievement has been found.

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