By Dr. S. David Webb
The purpose of the Aucilla River Prehistory Project (hereafter ARPP) is to increase our knowledge of prehistory in the region of the Aucilla river. We conduct sophisticated underwater excavations in sediments of three periods, including those deposited before during and after the arrival of the Paleoindians, the first people to populate the New World. Analyses of samples taken during these field activities involve several disciplines, primarily archaeology, to study evidence of human cultures, a paleontology, to analyze plants, animals, and their environments. (More about ARPP's scientific rationale is presented by Dr. Milanich.). The first of the three periods are the prehuman records, well-represented by the Latvis/Simpson Site in Little River. It provides an excellent record of fossils and sediments representing Aucilla life in the range of 30,000 years ago. The most important sites for the ARPP are those that feature the earliest human cultures. We have now identified at least five substantial Paleoindian sites, one or two in each of the three segments of the Aucilla River. Each Paleoindian site demands more carbon dates, meticulous documentation and thorough excavation. And thirdly, the ARPP has discovered several sites that represent human cultures and their environments after the terminal Pleistocene extinctions of the big mammals. we know these as late Paleoindian sites, best represented by the Bolen culture. The richest record comes from upper levels of the Page/Ladson Site and is now the focus of a doctoral dissertation by Brinnen Carter. (See Brinnen Carter's "Bolen level interpretation," in this issue). Thus the ARPP is pursuing three prehistoric periods in three segments of the Aucilla River.
Our team takes great pride in the ARPP. It has grown steadily in stature to the point where, more than a decade after the project began, the Aucilla River is recognized nationally and internationally as a major prehistoric resource. Each year the ARPP team produces substantial new evidence of human, animal and plant life spanning the past 30,000 years. The Aucilla River is now recognized and honored as a unique treasure trove of stratified prehistoric records yielding lithics, wood, other plant remains, bones, teeth, digesta, hairs and even hormones. This wonderful river has become our time machine, from which we report our adventures.
Even as the ARPP looks proudly at its glowing accomplishments, it must also try to foresee its future. There is much talk lately about the end of the millennium, which comes in December of the year 2000, and it seems useful to put ARPP planning on the same millennial calendar. Our biggest job, and our largest investment of money and manpower goes in to underwater field research. If we count down the field research that requires long lead-times, it turns out that 1997 is our last year to undertake surveying and prospecting in new parts of the river. We reserve that activity for the research of the newest of our current students. That will leave three additional years to carry out substantial field operations at sites selected from the survey data. Newly selected sites must be probed and dated efficiently, to permit rational prioritization for major excavation. Fortunately the ARPP now has a body of experience, equipment, and a well-trained cadre of underwater excavators to carry out these tasks.
Meanwhile, based on previous surveys and probings, the ARPP has earmarked major sites in three segments of the Aucilla River. For our many friends who have visited the river, Nutall Rise makes a convenient reference point. The middle segment is Little River which extends upriver from just above Nutall Rise a distance of nearly a mile to the point where the river surges out of the regional limestone (Suwannee Formation). Many who know the river regard Little River Rise as the most beautiful spot in the region. The next long segment upriver is called Half-Mile Rise; it runs a little more than half a mile and receives a tributary from the Wacissa River before disappearing underground. The third research area (indicated on the accompanying map) is West Run which connects from the Wacissa River to the main channel of the Aucilla nearly two miles below Nutall Rise along the west side of Ward Island. In each of these three segments of the Aucilla River, the ARPP has discovered and probed several sites that produce valuable, stratified evidence of prehistoric life. The one new area in which the ARPP is conducting a major survey, is the area at Nutall Rise.
The ARPP program has succeeded only because we continue to attract and extraordinarily talented band of professional and amateur personnel.
We present profiles of some of our wonderful members in the following pages. The range of ages and talents is truly remarkable. We can never adequately thank our team of professionals, students, volunteers and supporters. It is sad to report that on December 6th we lost Wilmer Bassett, our best supporter (more about Wilmer in this issue). We are fortunate indeed that our supporters and participants seem to regard the ARPP's challenges as their own reward. Perhaps we have discovered the paradoxical theorem that drives this project: the quality of the volunteer is directly proportional to the challenge of the job.
We lead a good life at the river. We face challenging work, sometimes with exciting results. We eat well, or, at least, when you have worked up a good appetite, it seems so. Our comrades in arms are wonderful people.
These are the ultimate reasons that most of us are involved in this project. We believe that it will enrich the lives and perspectives of a wide range of human beings, including many as yet unborn. That is why we continue to she new light on these ancient treasures.