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Sloth Hole site excavations

BY ANDY HEMMINGS

Below Highway 98 in the Aucilla River is a site that Dick Ohmes collected heavily for many years. (See "Ohmes Ivory Collection") His incredible collection of stone, bone and ivory artifacts (much of which has been donated to the Florida Museum of Natural History) prompted our desire to examine this site thoroughly and decide if it warrants more full scale excavation. This site is of course Sloth Hole (8JE121) where we spent nearly two weeks, testing and surface collecting, split between the June and August field seasons.

In June we relocated the area where we had found tremendous amounts of Mastodon remains during the survev of 1994. This area also included a large number of nondiagnostic artifacts, all of which were laying on a fresh-looking reddish peat. Because of the thick soup of loose sediment and leaf litter we only cleared one square meter and dug a test excavation 20 by 20 centimeters. Radiocarbon dates for samples of wood from 22cm and 69cm below the surface of this stratum came back at 41,000 and 43,000 years before present respectively. Clearly our artifacts are at least vertically deflated, and we were looking in an area that was too old to represent a human occupation. The dates came in prior to our return to the site in August and afforded the opportunity to rethink our strategy.

In August we moved to shallower areas of the relict sinkhole looking for intact sediments, hopefully bearing cultural remains. Three units were excavated in different parts of the site. All contained artifacts in the upper levels above the clay/peat sediments. One unit did contain lithics that were not stained and in fact seem to be from a chert source about half a mile away. Part of the 1996 field season will be spent excavating the immediate area of this unit and developing a thorough map of the entire site.

The area with the 41,000 year old sediment is literally covered with bones and artifacts. While we know this is not a primary deposit it appears that this may be an area that is only vertically deflated. This seems reasonable be- cause the remains of the Mastodon are pretty much articulated, with everything in the right order. When we generate a map that plots all the bone by unit then this should become clear.

We surface collected twelve units in a continuous block above the 41,000 year old area. The artifacts we recovered include: Several Aucilla Adzes; Bolen points; Ivory foreshaft fragments, a broken lanceolate point (Figure 1); Many varieties of unifacial tools generally associated with paleoindian occupations; A fluted Burin (Figure 2); many forms of bone pins, including one that may have remains of a mastic on it; and last but not least Terry McKibben found a nearly complete J shaped bone fishhook (Figure 3) almost three inches long in one of our units.

To date, we have 586 artifacts from this site in the Florida Museum of Natural History. This number includes over half of all academically known worked ivory in the New World. As work progresses at this very rich site it is our greatest hope that intact sediments containing extinct faunal remains and paleoindian artifacts will be found in situ in the sediments. After much deliberation, and some digging, we have two very intriguing areas within Sloth Hole to examine this summer. Lacking a good stratified context this site would still warrant more investigation simply because of the large and varied number of paleoindian and early archaic artifacts that have been recovered to date.

The motley cast of characters who worked at Sloth Hole all deserve a big hug and a cookie. What you will actually get is an extra turn as pond scum if I have anything to say about it. In all earnest the daily circuitous commute to the site and severe blackwater conditions at the bottom make the amount of information we were able to gather all that much more amazing. Thank you all. Let's go find the in situ dirt!