The Spanish wells: Freshwater lenses and the Florida Keys

M. Jesse Schneider, Traci Ardren, Brad Bertelli, Philippa Jorissen, Sam J. Purkis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The Florida Keys comprise a unique ecological and archaeological setting in the southeastern United States yet have remained relatively understudied archaeologically for much of the twentieth century. Anecdotal accounts of “Spanish wells,” employed by sailors and settlers during the colonial and early modern eras, have long posed questions about the availability of freshwater resources to Indigenous communities in the islands and how this availability may have impacted settlement patterns. Herein, we conduct the first systematic investigation of the “Spanish wells” in English-language historical records and compare their descriptions and locations to those of known Indigenous archaeological sites in the archipelago. In total, 22 distinct water sources in and near the Keys were attested to in documents and personal accounts from 1601 CE to 2021 CE. Geospatial analysis of their distribution relative to local archaeological sites returned few statistically significant results, however, likely influenced by the extensive history of site loss in the region. While the exact nature of most “wells” remains unclear, descriptions of their reliability and their broad spatial distribution bolsters the possibility of these water resources supporting year-round Indigenous communities in the archipelago prior to colonization. Future investigation focused on the identified water sources could shed further light on their exact nature and possible exploitation by Indigenous communities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalJournal of Island and Coastal Archaeology
StateAccepted/In press - 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • Badon lens
  • Florida Keys
  • Glades culture
  • Matecumbe
  • water management

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oceanography
  • Archaeology
  • Ecology
  • History
  • Archaeology


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