Sloth Hole site update

By Andy Hemmings

The excavations at Sloth Hole (8JE121) by the ARPP blossomed into a month long field season during the May/June operations because of the discovery of what appears to be butchered mastodon bones associated with a 12cm bifacial knife (see fig. 1) and a huge, battered hammer-stone. We also recovered many other artifacts and mastodon remains from the alternating thin beds of sand and grey organic clay we call level 4.

Level 4 is up to 20cm thick with as many as 74 microstratigraphic layers. No datable vegetation has been recovered but we hope to submit a bulk level 4 sample for a date on the fine organic clay. A single native vitis seed from the bottom of Level 3C was dated by BetaAnalytic to 4450+/-60 RCYBP. We know then that at the very least the sand layers have been capped and undisturbed for nearly 5000 years. Needless to say these in-situ mastodon and artifacts generated a great deal of excitement around camp as well as with members of the scholarly community with whom we have discussed it.

On the margin of the site we set the 2x3 meter rail track in shallower water. While removing the leaf overburden we found a Seminole, rolled copper point called a Kaskaskia (see fig.2). William Owen Gifford saved this point on the screen. Thanks to his amazing breadth of knowledge this rare artifact was correctly identified in the field. Farther down, in the 3rd level of Unit 21, Frank Willson and I found a complete greenstone, groundstone axe. Both of these artifacts are quite a bit younger than what we are looking for. However, they do serve as excellent markers for the stratigraphic sequence and its intactness. Clearly this site had been visited for many millennia. Levels 4 through 7 were grey clay and sand levels that had a number of lithic artifacts, but none as yet are diagnostic.

At this point it does not appear that the rail track excavation contains a buried living surface. But it makes an excellent stratigraphic control section of the right age. A carbon date of 12,300+/-50 RCYBP was obtained on a piece of wood from the bottom of Level 7. One goal in the next field season at Sloth Hole will be to open adjacent areas just above the 12,000 year old level and obtain a large number of carbon dates.

One particularly interesting discovery in the lab was a tooth of an extinct llama form 58cm the 12,000-year-old level. Although there is no evidence of cultural association it is still an important find. Very few forms of extinct fauna from the late Pleistocene have such closely associated dates. At the very least we hope to bracket the tooth with dates from layers above. This could be the "youngest" dated Paleollama in the eastern United States.

A third unusual artifact was recovered near the mastodon while clearing back leaf and sand overburden to the top of Level 3. Alyssa Martinelli pulled a complete bone fishhook from the screen full of leaves before it was lost overboard.

Heretofore we had guessed that the upper peat and leaf layers were culturally sterile. This seasonís work clearly demonstrates that this is not the case. These artifacts probably got to the site as lost or discarded items. The fishhook being lost in use is logical and the copper point may have been fired and gone astray. The axe is more difficult and rather defies explanation.

A third area that received attention was a middepth deposit of wood and clay that included a palm stump still rooted in the ground. Unfortunately this inundated land surface dated to 30,920+/-230 RCYBP. The stump itself was 34,760+/-1600 RCYBP. Above these ancient strata is a well developed sequence of sand/gravel, peat, and leaf mold layers. Near the stump we found many bones of a single juvenile mastodon. Some of this area had been disturbed and it seems unlikely that the skull is still there. This mastodon has very few artifacts around it and at this time does not appear to be killed or butchered. One fragment of a thin biface was found in this level and is probably a paleo type, possibly a Suwannee preform.

A great many mastodon bones and several diagnostic artifacts from every level were recovered this year. The potential we thought this site holds is starting to bear out. Admittedly we are rather tentative in our discussion of a possible mastodon butchery but we are greatly encouraged by what we found last summer. As soon as we can get back to Sloth Hole we have three areas to excavate that all seem ready to help answer our questions about Paleoindians, extinct megafauna and their late Pleistocene associations.