Exploring north Florida rivers for ice age tusks


In 1968, when I first came up here on the
river, it was a clear spring and in about an hour scuba diving I saw eleven skeletons of mammoths and mastodons. These sink holes in the bottom of this
river are like a time machine. The sediments slowly stack up and each layer
is a little chapter. And what’s neat from our point of view as explorers, is that
those wet sink holes slowly backfilled as the ice ages ended and the record
of those sediments included earliest peoples, extinct animals and this
backfilling episode and that’s what we go in the river to excavate. Here in the
Wacissa River and in the Aucilla we’ve got about a dozen major sites and we’re
continuing to work and daily find exciting new features about the earliest
people. Then there was a 15 year lapse before we got back up here. The impetus
was a bison skull with a spear point right in the frontal bone and part of a
bison kill site. So it’s a paleontologist’s and archaeologist’s dream up here once
you learn how to get through the water to the bottom. This site, Sloth Hole, is a focus of my
masters and dissertation research. We have both a mastodon butchery from
around eleven thousand years ago and a camp site from around ten thousand years ago. All right the last bit of mapping of the contours of the unit will have to do
we’ll start around unit 57 where the tusks came up and as we work to the
north will cover the units where the worked ivory came from. Seven and a half foot tusk that was
recovered in intact sediments in another section of the Aucilla river here that
ended up being seven and a half foot long and it was preserved exquisitely in
sediments that had stained it golden orange color, and it was just a
magnificent experience to be there as the excavators slowly uncovered the
sediments millimeter by millimeter until this glorious tusk glowed orange in the
otherwise dark water on the bottom. Thrill of the discovery is everyday,
always with us, because we are constantly running into either butchered bones of
an articulated Mastodon or some of the other pieces, such as an ivory four shaft
fragment that we found just a few days ago. Only one implement like this has
been found west of the Mississippi, and here at Sloth Hole we’ve recovered sixty
fragments that seemed to represent about thirty-five tools like this one. This
example is thirty three point three centimeters long, and when complete, would
have been about forty centimeters long, making it far and away the largest ivory
object that’s been found in North America. Some of the things that come out of the
river are very special. The lithic points–like the Clovis points,
the classic western ones–but then a lot of Florida varieties. Suwanee points, Bullen points, stuff through time that culturally it evolved. Also we get very
special preservation of bones, ivory and wood that’s sealed off in the river
sediments. When we first find them sometimes they turn brown on exposure to
oxygen or sunlight but they’re beautiful. All right, I got enough pigment now. I
think it should match pretty good. Okay, looks good. Being able to cast these
things and distribute them to other scientists and share the
information without having the object travel–it’s a very delicate object. Okay, looks like a good color match on the ivory. We’ve just got to fill the barb right now. Okay, and if you can tap that and get the bubbles out at the end of it. Should run out a little bit but not too bad. Well here we have a cast of a barbed
ivory piece from very nearby. The barbed ivy piece is very important because, as
far as we know, it’s unique and it’s clearly a point. it’s not part of the
Four Shafter point debate that rages among archaeologists. There you go. Tap it a little bit and
that should be full so it should be okay now. These are finished casts of the very large Clovis point and the barbed ivory
point which now can be put on display in the exhibit hall or can be sent to other
scientists worldwide for comparative purposes. The satisfaction that I’ve
received in my 30 years in this river, and indeed the whole project, is received
in the last 15 of very intense work, is impossible to describe. The Museum and
people of the future will benefit from this but I think those of us that were
directly involved are very, very privileged. The Florida Museum of Natural
History was chartered by the legislature in 1917, so that makes us over 80 years
old at the present time. Since that time, it has grown to become the largest
collection-based museum in the Southeastern United States and probably
the most comprehensive university-based natural history museum in the country. So
the citizens of Florida should be quite proud of this institution that has grown
to such enormous capacity in 80 years.

9 thoughts on “Exploring north Florida rivers for ice age tusks

  1. Excellent film…I would love to see the whole one. The clovis point that lady found looked awesome!!! these folks have freakin AWESOME jobs lol.

  2. My DNA goes back to a man 30,00 years ago, I have 1200 generations, maybe they are my family

  3. A grate way to brake artifacts is so suck them up with a industrial water pump clovis points love it

  4. Oh Thank you! Thank you. Thank you. Very helpful information. Preserved for Us to Preserve!

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