The Suwannee Valley culture is defined as a Late Woodland Southeast period archaeological culture in north Florida, dating from around 750 to European contact. The core area of the culture was found in an area roughly corresponding to present-day Suwannee and southern and central Columbia counties. It was preceded by the McKeithen Weeden Island culture and followed by the Spanish mission period Leon-Jefferson culture.
The Suwannee Valley culture was defined in the 1990s, as excavations revealed a unique ceramic assemblage. The core area of the Suwannee Valley culture was roughly bounded on the north, west and southwest by a great bend in the Suwannee River, and on the south by the Santa Fe River. The Suwannee Valley culture probably included the south bank of the Santa Fe River, in northern Alachua County, Florida, where it bordered the similar Alachua culture. It also extended westwards towards the Aucilla River, beyond which lay the Wakulla (750-950) and Fort Walton (950-Spanish mission period) cultures and eastwards towards the St. Johns culture. To the north, in southern Georgia, was an otherwise undefined culture area characterized by the Carter Complicated Stamped ceramic series.
The Suwannee Valley ceramic assemblage has some elements from the adjacent Wakulla and Alachua cultures, but is distinct from both. The Suwannee Valley culture developed out of the McKeithen culture. While Wakulla ceramics have been found at early Suwannee Valley sites, no evidence has been found of contact between the later Fort Walton culture and the Suwannee Valley culture.
In the early part of the Suwannee Valley culture, settlement patterns became more scattered, with smaller sites, than in the preceding McKeithen Weeden Island culture. A similar pattern occurred in the adjacent Wakulla culture. This change in settlement pattern may be associated with increased cultivation of crops. Later in the Suwannee Valley culture period, in the Island Pond phase, larger settlements, associated with burial mounds, developed.
Only four Suwannee Valley culture sites have been well described: Fig Springs (8CO1), Indian Pond (8CO229), Parnell Mound (8CO326) and Suwannee Sinks (8SU377). The Fig Springs South End Village has yielded four radiocarbon dates from the 10th century to the 16th century. This sub-site is essentially devoid of McKeithen Weeden Island and Leon Jeffereson ceramics, and of Spanish artifacts, and appears to have been occupied for some six centuries entirey within the Suwannee Valley period. Suwannee Valley ceramics more closely resemble the ceramics of the Alachua culture than of the other neighboring cultures, Fort Walton and St. Johns. Suwannee Valley ceramics are generally of a "rough" utilitarian form, as contrasted with the range of elaborately decorated and complex Mississippian ceramics of the Fort Walton culture and of the succeeding Leon Jefferson culture. Suwannee Valley sites also lack platform mounds characteristic of Mississippian cultures such as Fort Walton and St. Johns.
In historical times, after contact with Europeans, the core area of the Suwannee Valley culture was occupied by the Timucua proper, now generally known as the Northern Utina. The area west of the Suwannee River to the Aucilla River, which may have been part of the Suwannee Valley culture, was occupied by the Yustaga. After the establishment of Spanish missions in the Timucua (proper) and Yustaga provinces, Suwannee Valley ceramics were eventually displaced by Leon-Jefferson ceramics.
Despite the absence of archaeological evidence for Mississippian influence in the Suwannee Valley culture, the political organization of the Timucua/Northern Utina and Yustaga people at the time of European contact, and for more than a century afterwards, was Mississippian. The provinces were organized in a hierarchy of chiefdoms. Primary chiefdoms consisted of some 750 to 1,500 people living in a cluster of communities, and were under regional chiefdoms and councils. Chiefly and noble ranks were inherited. Warriers and ball players could also achieve elevated status.