What’s up folks?
Let’s talk about an amazing conference few of you probably heard of!
Earlier this month, the greatest state in the union (ugh, yes it’s Florida (I’ll tell you because you wouldn’t guess it otherwise (I promise it’s cool, come visit))) was descended upon by 23 First Americans archaeologists to determine how the home of bath salts, alligators, and alligators on bath salts at spring break, (and myself, not on bath salts) fits into the peopling of the Americas. Called the First Floridians, First Americans conference, this event was held in a beautiful historic opera house in one of the only cities in America with no stoplights: Monticello, Florida. It drew together a lot of great folks to chat about the fascinating things they’re working on. Below is a list of speakers and a brief description of their talks. All of the talks were recorded, which I’m working on getting up on my YouTube channel talk by talk. I’ve posted links to these below next to each talk, summarized below. Major credit to my good friend and colleague Brendan Fenerty for the audio recordings! If you close your eyes and listen to the dulcet tones of Mike Waters, Dennis Stanford, and David Anderson, it’s almost like you’re there! If you’re interested in First Americans archaeology, particularly in the Southeast, you should definitely consider attending the next one (it’s free and open!), to be held three years from now in 2018. The conference proceedings from this event will also be published so stay tuned for that.
Speakers (in order of appearance)
Dr. Mary Glowacki– The state archaeologist of Florida, Dr. Mary Glowacki, kicked off the conference with a great talk concerning the state of looting at Florida archaeological sites. This has been a polarizing issue (unsurprisingly) in Florida, which crystallized with the closure of the Florida Isolated Finds Program in 2005 (in which avocational could collected isolated artifacts on state lands provided they reported them to the state) and recently came to a head with Operation Timucua, an extensive bust of looters and artifacts buyers in Florida and Georgia (for more information, see: this overview article). Dr. Glowacki did an excellent job describing the issues and concluded her talk with discussions of Florida’s current position on the issue, which included a brief description of a proposed “amnesty program,” where collectors could return artifacts to the state during a specified time window.
Dr. David Webb– The man, the myth, the legend. David Webb (retired, University of Florida) was the primary catalyst behind the Aucilla River Prehistory Project, which represented the first and most extensive scientific exploration into Florida’s Pleistocene record to date. The ARPP project not only expanded the understanding of Pleistocene Florida, but identified valuable archaeological sites such as Page-Ladson, Sloth Hole, and Ryan-Harley. A Paleontologist specializing in late Rancholabrean (Pleistocene) fauna, Dr. Webb gave an extensive overview of the ARPP (not to be confused with the AARP, although I believe most of the original ARPP members are now in fact AARP members), paying particular attention to the archaeological sites investigated, most notably Page-Ladson. Check out the tome, First Floridian and Last Mastodons, the end product of the ARPP when you need a few hundred pages of extra reading material! Or just listen to the talk here.
Dr. Jessi Halligan– A fitting follow-up to Dr. Webb, Jessi Halligan (University of Wisconsin, La Crosse) has spent more time on the Aucilla River than anyone in the last decade. Extensive geoarchaeological analysis culminating in an awesome dissertation revealed sites with potential to contain Paleoindian contexts in situ. Her talk summarized the efforts of four field seasons at Page-Ladson, during which over 70 new radiocarbon assays, paleoclimatological data, and sedimentological data were accumulated. Additionally, several artifacts were recovered by Dr. Halligan’s team from in situ within the securely dated pre-Clovis component making Page-Ladson one of the oldest confirmed sites in the Americas. Publication of this data is imminent, so be on the lookout! Click here for Jessi’s talk.
Dr. Michael Collins- Mike Collins (Texas State University) spoke on an interesting concept he referred to as the “North American Paleolithic,” in which he outlined a series of patterns he noticed in the older than Clovis record of the Americas. Dr. Collins also spent time outlining his research at the Gault Site in Texas, mentioning several new discoveries that will hopefully be expounded upon soon! Follow Dr. Collin’s work at the Gault site by checking this link out: http://www.gaultschool.org/Home.aspx. Or, grab some popcorn and listen to the full talk here!
Dr. James Adovasio- Jim Adovasio (Mercyhurst University) summarized the extensive research performed at Meadowcroft Rockshelter before exploring the Miller complex. Dr. Adovasio first explained the type specimen before detailing the pre-Clovis component at Meadowcroft Rockshelter. Following this, Adovasio discussed appearances of Miller lanceolate points elsewhere in the Americas and briefly summarized the work he and Dr. Hemmings are currently conducting at Vero Beach. Listen to Dr. Adovasio’s talk here or read the paper he presented, The Miller Complex and it’s Kin!
Dr. Peggy Jodry– Dr. Jodry (Smithsonian Institute) spoke on the fascinating research being carried out on the Horn Shelter burials, located near Waco, Texas. I must admit that until recently, I was totally unaware of this amazing site. This beautiful rockshelter off a prominent bend in the Brazos River contains the remains of two individuals, a mature male and a young girl. Described as being in the “spooning position” by Jodry herself (which also may be the first archaeological evidence of spooning in the Americas), the burials interred with turtle shells, stone tools, and an antler pestle. Peggy did an excellent job defending her hypothesis that the man was a shaman, not a flintknapper as commonly thought.
Dr. David Anderson– Dr. Anderson (University of Tennessee) gave an excellent talk on DINAA: the Digital Index of North American Archaeology. If you haven’t checked this site out yet, shame shame, here’s the link so you don’t have an excuse: http://ux.opencontext.org/blog/archaeology-site-data/. Dave made the talk especially relative to the Sunshine State by exploring the sobering number of sites that will be directly affected by sea-level rise. DINAA truly is an amazing resource with endless applicability, so go check it out and thank Dr. Anderson and colleagues for all they do when you get a chance! Listen to Dave’s talk here.
Dr. Dennis Stanford– The keynote speech for Thursday evening, Dr. Stanford’s (Smithsonian Institute) talk was given in defense of the Solutrean hypothesis. His talk discussed his concerns over an eroding archaeological record on the Atlantic coast, the Cinmar discovery, and the mounting archaeological material being recovered from the Delmarva area that Stanford and colleagues believe pre-date Clovis. Stanford also discussed recent archaeological work being conducted at Parson’s Island, a promising Clovis locality that Stanford also believes has an associated pre-Clovis component. Here’s to finding more out about what the heck is going on in the Chesapeake soon! Listen to Dennis’s talk here.
Dr. Vance Holliday- Dr. Holliday (University of Arizona) gave a refreshing look at western Clovis through the eyes of the El Fin Del Mundo site, which in addition to having one of the coolest site names ever, is pretty remarkable. This Clovis Gomphothere (which spell check wants to correct to Godmother) kill in the Sonoran Desert is controversial, given its very old radiocarbon age, several hundred years older than the proposed Clovis range. Vance outlined the research conducted at the site and indicated what the future holds for EFDM, all of which can be heard here.
Dr. Lee Newsome- Lee Newsome (Penn State), McArthur Fellow and esteemed botanist, gave an excellent talk outlining the analysis she performed on the mastodon digesta material from Page-Ladson in the ARPP era. Dr. Newsome explained the seasonality and dietary reconstructions done on the mastodon fecal material recovered from site, highlighting the significance of plant based studies in First Americans archaeology. Hear Lee’s talk here.
Dr. Shane Miller- Shane (Mississippi State University) gave an excellent summary of the extensive research done at one of the Southeast’s Paleoindian crown jewels: Topper. He discussed the work done at the site by Ashley Smallwood, David Anderson, Derrick Anderson, and Albert Goodyear, focusing on the very special Clovis bifaces recovered from the site, while also reviewing the spatial distribution of bifaces in varying stages of reduction. Dr. Miller concluded his talk by discussing his current research at the site, now under Mississippi State University. Listen to Shane’s talk.
Dr. Michael Faught- Dr. Faught (SEARCH) has more charisma and exuberance than almost any other person I know, which makes him impossible not to listen to. Faught discussed his decade of research in the Gulf of Mexico recording paleolandscapes in an attempt to locate inundated Paleoindian localities. Dr. Faught has had an excellent success record locating early offshore sites in the Big Bend region of Florida and is a remote sensing guru (if you need underwater remote sensing data processed, call him, he’s got a SonarWiz key!). His talk detailed the past, present and future of offshore research in Florida. Check out what Faught has to say.
Dr. George Cole- Dr. Cole (retired, National Geodetic Survey) blew every submerged prehistorians mind by discussing a ridiculously cool new technology: underwater LiDAR. If you don’t know what LiDAR is, c’mon, it’s 2015. Look it up and find a LiDAR map of your site area. LiDAR can produce a digital elevation map of an area and has been a saving grace in the southeast, where landforms are not as visible due to extensive ground cover. The ability to use this technique underwater is a game changer. Being able to locate underwater landforms expediently and accurately will benefit offshore archaeology tremendously. Now we just need a few million dollars to scan the gulf…
Dr. Rochelle Marrinan- Rochelles’s talk concerned the often overlooked faunal assemblages from early archaeological sites. It ain’t just about the stone folks! Dr. Marrinan (of Florida State University) pointed out the lack of diet and environmental reconstructions via faunal assemblage analysis and noted that, especially in areas where the preservation lends itself to preservation, zooarchaeology can add a significant amount of understanding to Paleoindian lifeways. So go study some bones!
Dr. David Thulman- Dave (George Washington University) focused on using artifact shape through time to understand what came before: the predicate form. Dave’s talk focused primarily on Late Paleoindian and Early Archaic forms in an attempt to see a continuum in form. Dave discussed the production of points from an anthropological approach, stressing teaching strategies and learning though time. Dave and Faught have a great non-profit, The Archaeological Research Co-Operative, (ARCOOP, http://www.arcoop.org/OP), where much of their data is posted, so go check them out! Listen to Dave discuss point forms and social learning.
Dr. Michael Waters- The keynote speech for Friday evening was given by Michael Waters, director for the Center for the Study of the First Americans at Texas A&M University. Dr. Waters synthesized a large amount of data concerning known Clovis sites in the Americas, known pre-Clovis localities, and genetic information concerning the First Americans to give the audience a broad understanding of the current status of First Americans research in the Americas. Visit the CSFA webpage at http://csfa.tamu.edu/index.php or like us on Facebook to stay up to date! You can listen to Mike’s talk here.
Dr. Jack Rink- Jack Rink (McMaster University) spoke at length on optically stimulated luminescence dating (OSL), an increasingly popular technique for dating sediments when radiocarbon isn’t an option. Jack discussed the potential for OSL to answer First Americans questions on cultural chronologies, especially in the Southeast where organic preservation tend to be poor on the whole. Dr. Rink pointed out the increasingly popularity of the technique but also spoke to the current issues for which OSL is criticized, include the potential for large standard deviations and bioturbation.
Dr. Andrew Hemmings- Andy Hemmings (Mercyhurst University spoke about the Vero Site in south Florida. The Vero site was initially investigated in the early 20th century where human skeletal remains were proposed to have been found in place with extinct megafauna. Drs. Hemmings and Adovasio have returned to the Vero site in an attempt to define its place in the archaeological record of North America. Check out the website for the excavation at http://www.oviasc.org/ and listen to the talk here.
Drs. Chris Moore and Mark Brooks- Drs. Moore and Brooks spoke on something I think we all are curious about: blood residue analysis. This technique has seen a smattering of use in recent years, but many people are still apprehensive of its validity. Chris (South Carolina Institute of Archaeology) presented the paper, including recent development in the world of protein analysis as well as the current pitfalls of the technique.
Morgan Smith– I spoke about an weird underwater site in central Florida; the Guest Mammoth. This site was excavated in the 1970’s and was met with harsh criticism due to its interpretation as a Clovis age mammoth kill site. The site slipped into limbo and has been inconsistently cited since. He presented a review of the original data and added information gathered from renewed investigations at the site in 2014 and 2015. You can listen to the talk here, if you reallllyyy want to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fL3JiiHOTKI
Dr. Jim Dunbar– Jim Dunbar (Aucilla Research Institute) gave the concluding talk on the ongoing development of the Aucilla Research Institute. This organization would help facilitate research in Florida and the lower Southeast concerning karst river systems. Currently in its initial stages, this organization would be of huge benefit to a wide array of sciences and should be supported by all! Check it out here: http://aucillaresearchinstitute.org/. Dr. Dunbar also spoke in detail about the climatic past and present of the region, discussing why the rivers of Florida are so crucial to First Americans archaeology.
Jessica Hale-Cook– “Submerged sites are often noted for their remarkable preservation of organic remains. What is not as routinely discussed is the staining, and corrosion often observed on lithics recovered from submerged sites. Corrosion can be so dramatic in marine sites that it completely erodes characteristics created when humans manufactured tools from raw lithic materials such as chert. This makes identification of these items as actual artifacts considerably more difficult. One assemblage from Ray Hole Springs, in 12 meters off water in Apalachee Bay, Florida, has been examined to characterize the extreme corrosion seen in the lithics items. The geochemistry and mineralogy were explored using petrographic techniques, electron microprobe analysis, and x-ray diffraction.
The primary objectives were to characterize the lithic material itself, and to examine corrosion in order to compare it to that seen in lithics recovered in other submerged contexts, specifically those recovered by Garrison, Cook Hale, and others from Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary off the Georgia coast (Journal of Archaeological Science Reports, February 2016), and several assemblages from the Chesapeake Bay examined by Lowery and Wagner in 2012 (Journal of Archaeological Science, 2012). The overall goal, however, was to determine if other lines of evidence can be used to argue that certain items in the Ray Hole Springs assemblage can still be considered artifacts despite their extremely corroded state and lack of flake scarring.
The results were of interest on all of these points. First, the lithics were made from dolomite, not chert, which is interesting given that chert is almost universally the source material used in the Big Bend area of Florida. Second, the corrosion found in this assemblage was, geochemically and mineralogically, exactly the same as documented in the Georgia and Chesapeake Bay offshore assemblages. Furthermore, the chemistry necessary to cause this corrosion can only be found in tidal marsh environments where salt and fresh water mingle, creating brackish, oxygen poor environments. Once these conditions change over to open marine, the very fine tidal marsh sediments are eroded away and the restoration of oxygenated conditions causes the geochemical reactions to run in reverse, causing actual physical erosion to the lithic items.
The implication is that lithics showing this kind of corrosion were deposited prior to sea level rise, because the higher energy found in fully marine environments either buries marsh sediments underneath marine sands, or erodes them away completely. This strongly argues against a scenario during which a lithic item is dropped from a boat into a mud bed, buried in sufficiently anoxic conditions to corrode it, and then somehow re-excavated by natural forces. The final implication then, is that this type of corrosion is a good marker for deposition in a terrestrial environment that was overtopped by sea level rise. While the lack of flake scars is, admittedly, problematic, I also argue that the presence of the corrosion in items that possess other, morphological characteristics of known diagnostic tool types is sufficient to evaluate them as artifacts, not geofacts.
Based on those lines of evidence, then, I argue that at least two items from the Ray Hole Springs assemblage should be treated as artifacts. Both items are made of dolomite, and both appear to have stemmed bases. A search of the literature on lithic resources for this area of the Southeast did not reveal any prior published studies documenting the use of dolomite, although personal communications from scholars highly familiar with the lithic landscape have suggested that dolomite could have exploited and that knappable formations have been detected offshore in the Florida Middle Grounds area (Hemmings, p.c., 2015). Ray Hole Springs is itself is composed of dolomite bedrock, arguing for use of local materials in tool manufacture even if the local rock was not, in fact, high quality chert. Ray Hole Springs was overtopped by sea level rise by 7500 cal BP at the latest.
In conclusion, it appears that the assemblage examined here contains at least two stemmed projectile points, highly corroded by brackish environmental conditions experienced after their deposition in a terrestrial landscape undergoing submergence. These points can date to no later than 7500 cal BP, making them very early Middle Archaic, which is also consistent with their base types. Finally, these items were made from is most likely completely local dolomite, suggesting that lithics manufacture in the Big Bend employed this material in addition to chert, and that chert was not considered preferable enough to justify traveling even the 30 or so kilometers inland to access it at other known quarry sites of equal or greater antiquity. This adds additional nuance to our understanding of the lithic landscape in the Big Bend, and adds another support to the argument that occupants of this area of the Southeast utilized lower residential mobility than elsewhere during the same cultural periods.”
Following these talks, an excellent Q and A session was held with a panel that was intimidating when you considered how many rad archaeologists were up there. You can listen to some of that chit-chat here, too: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_d05ggUjUq0
What do you think about Florida’s Paleoindian and Pre-Clovis record? Yay? Nay?