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Anthropology Student and Faculty Excavate at Submerged Prehistoric Site

Ben Ford, Department of Anthropology, and Archaeology graduate student Adam Burke recently participated in an excavation at the Page-Ladson Site in Florida. The Page-Ladson Site, located in the Aucilla River, is among the earliest archaeological sites in North America and contains such oddities as preserved mammoth feces.

Dr. Ben Ford and Adam Burk diving at the Page-Ladson Site
Ford and Burke diving at the Page-Ladson Site

The Page-Ladson Site is a deeply buried archaeological site situated in a sinkhole at the bottom of the Auculla River. The goal of the current work is to determine the age of the earliest human deposits at the site. Previous work at the Page-Ladson Site recovered artifacts from deposits dated to approximately 15,400 years ago. If these dates are correct, the site is nearly 1,500 years earlier than the Clovis culture, the earliest, currently accepted culture in North America. In order to verify these results, this year’s crew is excavating a new part of the site to make certain that artifacts are coming from this early layer.

Diving from Barges at the Page Landon Site
The Page-Ladson Site. The pump and screening barges are visible in the background. The site itself is immediately in front of the barges and down about 30 feet.

Adam Burke, an Applied Archaeology M.A. program student, and Ford, assistant professor of Anthropology, joined researchers from Texas A&M University and local volunteers in this year’s excavation. The majority of the work was done using a suction dredge to remove sediment and transport it to the surface where it could be screened for artifacts. Even while working in near-zero visibility, it was important to note changes in the sediment. As the environment around the sinkhole changed, the types of plants and animals using the area, as well as the sediments that accumulated in the river, also changed. All of this information is useful in dating the site and determining how it developed. The fact that the site is submerged and buried beneath meters of clayey sediments created an oxygen-free environment so that that the preservation was phenomenal. For Ford, one of the high points of the project was excavating and screening mammoth digesta. It’s not every day that you get to work with the poop of an extinct animal.

The Page-Ladson project is directed by Jessi Halligan, James Dunbar, and Michael Waters with funding from the Center for the Study of First Americans.

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