Underwater Archeology | Excavating the Wacissa River


[Frogs, crickets, and rain]>>Rob Diaz de Villegas: What’s the hot water
for, just to make coffee up there?>>Dr. Jessi Halligan: Yeah, to make tea, coffee,
or sometimes people like to pour it into their wetsuits to warm them up after they get up
from a really cold dive. It’s a spring fed river and the stream is
flowing all the time. You end up losing a lot of the heat that is
ambiently supposed to be trapped with your body, so you end up pretty cold.>>Rob Diaz de Villegas: This trailer is the
temporary home of four archeology students and faculty from Texas A&M University.
The guys. Jessi sleeps outside in a tent.
Hot water in hand, she returns to the site of their dig on the Wacissa River. [Music]>>Rob Diaz de Villegas: I’m Rob.>>Morgan Smith: I’m Morgan.
Four years ago I saw an ad for Dr. Halligan, for one of her excavations down the Aucilla
River. I saw it in the local news and I thought it
would be really neat. So I e-mailed her and asked to volunteer on
the project. Since then, I’ve gotten into graduate school
at Texas A&M, and started working with her old major professor Dr. Michael Waters, who
I’m working on this project with currently. What we’re looking at here is a cultural
identity known as Suwannee. It’s really common here in the state of
Florida and in the greater Southeast. It’s presumed to be thirteen thousand and
twelve thousand years ago, following the last ice age.
As people moved in here, they were adjusting to this rapid climate change.
I know we’re not allowed to use that word, you might have to edit that out now.>>Rob Diaz de Villegas: Florida’s coastline
has expanded and contracted many times over millions of years.
As the ice ages ended, the coast retreated over 70 miles to its current location.
During this time, the flora and fauna of the area began to change, with many large mammal
species going extinct.>>Morgan Smith: So we think it dates between
thirteen thousand and twelve thousand years ago, but we’re really not sure.
And that’s one of the major reasons we’re here, is to figure out approximately how old
Suwannee is. [underwater sounds]>>Morgan Smith: The thing that really set
us apart is that we go about this really systematically, you know, it’s not a quick process at all.
It takes hours to go through a single level. We take down five centimeters of sediment
at a time. So, we’re talking about that much sediment
at a time. We excavate very slowly, and every time we
find an artifact, we take its exact x, y, and z coordinates from the surface, from the
datum we’ve established.>>Rob Diaz de Villegas: Some of the artifacts
are too small for the divers to see. For that, they have the dredge.>>Dr. Jessi Halligan: A lot of them are really,
really tiny, like a quarter of the size of your fingernail or something like that.
So we’re screening through, basically, hardware mesh, quarter inch mesh that’s laying on
top of window screen like you would put in your house windows.
This one piece of bone has come up. It’s just a little piece of bone that’s
probably part of a turtle shell. And then we have a couple little plant materials
that we’re keeping because they represent what the environment was like in the past.
And that’s pretty much it. When they come up they’ll probably have
a whole bunch of little tiny artifacts from making tools.
We call them flakes. And then we’ll have, maybe, some bigger
ones as well.>>Dr. Bruce Means: And did you say you had
markings on the skull? It looked like it was a->>Morgan Smith: Of the alligator? No.>>Rob Diaz de Villegas: A month after the
dig ends, Morgan brings some of his artifacts to the Florida Geological Survey.
There, they are looked over by other researchers, including the discoverers of his site and
the archeologist who first excavated it.>>Harley Means: My brother and I would periodically
swim past this site. And every time we’d go past it, something
new would be laying exposed. So, through a length of time and finding a
various number of things, even some things that fit back together, we finally recognized
that it was probably eroding out of the bank. And knowing the kinds of things that were
coming out, these Paleo-Indian implements, we knew it was an incredibly rare and old
site.>>Dr. Jim Dunbar: Back in ’99 we did sort
of a salvage archeology work. The site was eroding.
We had to discriminate from things that had already eroded out of context versus those
things that were found in place, but this is excellent.
He’s gone back there and, everything here is from in situ, which is an archeologist’s
dream to do that and be able to piece back what you can of the site.>>Morgan Smith: Well that point’s what we
call a Suwanne base. And that associates it with we think is Paleo-Indian,
and what we thought this site was. So finding it in situ, in place in this site,
meant that the site is- belongs to the time period we believed it to be. [music] [laughter]>>Morgan Smith: Florida’s interesting, you
know. Florida does throw a wrench into things.
People shouldn’t be here as early as they are.>>Rob Diaz de Villegas: This may have something
to do with the sheer amount of water in our state.>>Morgan Smith: Research, underwater, in Florida
continues to be popular because it’s of the very few places where we can find such
old material in such good condition, because the water preserves it in a way that the acidic
soil on land just doesn’t. There’s things that have been found here
that aren’t found anywhere else on the continent.>>Rob Diaz de Villegas: So, do we have older
sites, or are they better preserved? The Aucilla/ Wacissa basin is an archeological
hotbed, and it may hold the answer. Growing up nearby, Morgan never imagined that
his outdoor playground could hold clues as to how people settled our continent.>>Morgan Smith: I kayak it all the time with
my friends. We’ve gone by this site a half-a-dozen times,
and I never really thought anything of it back then.
So it’s funny to be here now.>>Rob Diaz de Villegas: For WFSU, I’m Rob
Diaz de Villegas.

3 thoughts on “Underwater Archeology | Excavating the Wacissa River

  1. 12000 years? wow that's amazing considering creation is only about 6000 years according to the Bible.

  2. Interested in underwater archaeology. School that would be suggested for this field of work?

  3. Climate change 13,000 years ago WTF. Did they burn fossil fuels NOOOOOOOOOO! Is climate change just a natural occurrence YESSSSSSSSS!

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