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Page/Ladson deep site excavations

BY DR. MICHAEL FAUGHT

The Aucilla River Pre history Project's October 1995 field activities focused on the sinkhole at the Page/Ladson site to continue the underwater excavation of sediments and surfaces dating from late Pleistocene and early Holocene time frames. [The Page/Ladson site is located in the Half Mile Rise section of the Aucilla River, about 2 miles from Nutall Rise. Page/Ladson is a deep river sinkhole located at the confluence of the Wacissa and Aucilla Rivers]. Over the decades, divers have found abundant chipped stone tools, chipping debris (debitage) and the bones of both extinct and extant fauna at the bottom of this sinkhole. The diagnostic artifacts found there reveal a long history of site use, and include at least one fluted projectile point, several Suwannee points, and abundant Bolen and Greenbriar like points. There are some Kirk-like points, but these are so similar to the Bolen that a distinction is often difficult. These items date from Paleoindian to Early Archaic times (possibly 12,000 to 9,000 years ago). More recent artifacts, such as Florida Archaic stemmed points and Deptford ceramics, are also found in and around the sink indicating occupation by Middle Archaic peoples of those cultures.

The great possibilities of finding the earlier artifacts in sedimentary contexts compelled Jim Dunbar and Dave Webb to initiate excavations there in 1983, and this research is the well from which this newsletter springs. Since that time various dredge exposures and vibra cores have revealed that the sediment bank preserved on the western margins of the sinkhole contains a remarkably complete stratigraphic record of what we call the Pleistocene/Holocene transition, that is the end of the Ice Ages, and subsequent (Holocene) environmental progression. The upper two meters of this sediment bank include early Holocene sediments down to the Bolen level worked during Brinnen Carter's watch. The Strawmat-limesand stratigaphic unit contains abundant remains of extinct fauna, proboscidean digesta and possible evidence for Paleoindian presence.

In the final two weeks of the season, I directed continued exposure of about four vertical meters of sediments in a three by two meter area below the Bolen aged soil surface. Our mandate was to explore the late Pleistocene Gray Clays and below the Strawmat-Limesand.

When we went into the field we wanted to determine if the Strawmat/Limesand contact exhibits erosion orpedogenesis, suggestive of desiccation. Therefore one task to perform underwater was the study of the lowermost Gray Clay, to describe the nature of the initial sediments, and to search for appropriate items to date the absolute beginning of Gray Clay sedimentation. The sediments were dug with the six inch induction dredge and shovels, knives, trowels, fingers and anything else we could try. The clays are dense and it was an arduous but ultimately satisfying experience.

Underwater archaeology is challenging, if nothing else. The research design I wrote in September called for a detailed study and drawing of the stratigraphic section, which we accomplished, thanks especially to Mark Muniz and Brinnen Carter. Joe Latvis and Eddie Green fabricated an excellent platform for taking videotape "stills" which worked well on the upper portions of the section, and pretty well on the Bolen surface. My desire to study the lower stratigaphic column as if I were in a terrestrial situation (staring and testing for as much as two or three days) resulted in three two hour dives dedicated to this purpose. These came during the last three days in the field, and the few significant equipment failures that did occur, happened at that time, of course. We did get some great shots of the contact and the sediment beds with hand held video, thanks to Joe Latvis.

From the stratigraphic study it became apparent that the lower Gray Clay stratigraphic unit is actually comprised of two major clay beds, and another band of color/constituent change at the base, just above the Strawmat. It's all still gray clay, but there are differences in it. As it turned out we relocated the remains of "Cring's Log" (10,600 years old). Its presence showed that the lower clays filled in the time between 10,600 and 12,000 years old.

Dan Cring was a UF graduate student who participated in several of the ARRP field seasons. He had the dubious honor of discover ing and extensively "carving" a very large ancient log that had fallen into the late Pleistocene sediments below the Bolen level. The radiocarbon date on that log still serves as an important chronological control point in the Page/Ladson site.

The lower clay bed exhibited abundant vegetation fragments resembling those familiar in the Strawmat. The sequence of clays below is also somewhat analogous to the sequence of clays a6ove the Bolen surface (two major beds and a color/constituent change just above the Bolen surface). All of this is very interesting from the perspective of reconstructing the way the sinkhole became filled with sediments, where the Paleoindian artifacts might be found in situ and what happened in the natural environment during and after extinctionís.

An unplanned contribution of the crew to the ARPP was the development of a useful and manageable new tool for survey and mapping underwater Mark Muniz and Andy Hemmings were particularly helpful with this invention, a float with three tapes attached for trilateration and depth determination.

Finally, there were three evening lectures presented, and these included my rendition of "The Peopling of the New World", David Webbs great discussion of the differences between Mammoths and Mastodons and then I got to present the offshore research . There was an atmosphere of intellectual exercise and discipline. This is due to the great crew of volunteers and staff that man (and woman) the Aucilla River Prehistory Project. It certainly was a great exercise and discipline for me.

Given the flakes, the bola stone and the cut tusk, there is a fair amount of circumstantial evidence of cultural activity in, or on, the Strawmat. However, for the "Oasis Hypothesis" to be true in Page/Ladson, there must be a place, presumably at, or below, the Gray Clay/Strawmat contact, where there is evidence for subaerial exposure and human presence down in the sinkhole - something that would probably be similar to what the Bolen surface looks like. This kind of situation was not found in October, but this is the kind of in situ situation that I believe is there. Jim Dunbar and Jack Simpson think it is to the north and west in the western sediment bank, and I agree. Indeed, two weeks of the spring 1996 field season will be devoted to exploring this very area.