Underwater archaeological investigations in a Florida panhandle pond seem to have established firmly a pre-Bering-Straits-Ice-Bridge human presence in Florida much older than the Clovis Point Culture long supposed to be the oldest.
The project involved years of painstaking excavation in the Aucilla River, a slow-moving, coffee-colored waterway shaded by cypress trees and inhabited by alligators. Underwater archaeologists dug up and dated layer after layer of sediment from the river bottom, sifting through each patch of dirt for evidence that humans had once been there.
They uncovered what co-author Tom Stafford calls a “chronological layer cake.” More than 70 samples of ancient organic material taken from the site and radiocarbon dated at Stafford’s lab showed that each layer was slightly older than the one before it. They prove that nothing had disturbed or mixed up the sediments as they were laid down over time.
By the time archaeologists reached the 14,500-year-old stratum, they began to find objects they say could only have come from humans: five sharpened rocks that were carried in from elsewhere in the region, and a double-sided stone knife, or biface, that would have been among the most advanced technologies of the time. The team then re-examined the mastodon tusk found by Webb and Dunbar (who was also part of this excavation) and determined that it was most likely butchered by humans.
“It’s really exciting,” said Jessi Halligan, an archaeologist at Florida State University and Waters’s fellow principal investigator. “We have these unambiguous cultural artifacts found in an intact geological stratum that dates to more than 1,500 years older than Clovis. That’s why it’s a big deal. That’s why we have to revisit our theory for how the Americas were colonized.”
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Sciences Advances, Pre-Clovis occupation 14,550 years ago at the Page-Ladson site, Florida, and the peopling of the Americas, Abstract:
Stone tools and mastodon bones occur in an undisturbed geological context at the Page-Ladson site, Florida. Seventy-one radiocarbon ages show that ~14,550 calendar years ago (cal yr B.P.), people butchered or scavenged a mastodon next to a pond in a bedrock sinkhole within the Aucilla River. This occupation surface was buried by ~4 m of sediment during the late Pleistocene marine transgression, which also left the site submerged. Sporormiella and other proxy evidence from the sediments indicate that hunter-gatherers along the Gulf Coastal Plain coexisted with and utilized megafauna for ~2000 years before these animals became extinct at ~12,600 cal yr B.P. Page-Ladson expands our understanding of the earliest colonizers of the Americas and human-megafauna interaction before extinction.