Little River site updates

By Mark Muniz

The Green Lantern site was excavated from May 30 to June 3, 1996 as the third of a series of excavations in Little River that had as their goal, the further exploration of sites with a high potential for the preservation of Paleoindian activity. The third? You are probably wondering. The first intensive survey/excavation of archaeological site in Little River by the Aucilla River Prehistory Project was conducted at the Matten/Childers site 8Je604 in 1990. The Latvis/Simpson site, excavated in 1995, was the second large scale operation with which many of you are intimately (if not regretfully) familiar (see C.A. Hemmings). From years of diver collection and surface surveys, it was clear that Little River held multiple occurrences of artifacts in association with extinct fauna, the only problem was (and still is) finding this association in a secure stratigraphic context. Thus it was decided that 1996 would be the year to blitzkrieg Little River with the equivalent of Phase 11 surveys of five sites, four of which had not been excavated before.

The Green Lantern and Crag Hole sites, 8Jel507 and 8Je638 respectively, were excavated almost as one continuous site due to their immediate proximity. The primary goal for both sites was to determine if there were any intact paleosols present, similar to that of the Bolen paleosol at Page/Ladson. A paleosol is an ancient soil that was exposed to the air as a modern soil would be, but was then capped in such a way that its structure and surface were preserved intact. Without a paleosol, or some other distinct intact surface to associate artifacts and features with, cultural material would seem suspended in the space of whatever matrix we encountered it and would offer us few clues as to its context or associations.

Other goals were to measure enough data points to create a bathymetric reconstruction of the sites (see fig. 1), and to date the sediments present at each site.

June 7 was the last day spent at Crag Hole, and I am proud to say that we accomplished all of the goals we had set for the two sites. Unfortunately we encountered no paleosols or other subaereally exposed surfaces at the targeted time frame (12,000-10,000 hp) but this in itself was not at all a failure in any sense. Going into these unexplored sites, there is no way of knowing if there will be any intact Paleoindian remains, therefore, even by learning about a site that is not what you are looking for, much information is gained about the geologic history of the river, effects of hydrology on the behavior of artifact and bone beds along the bottom of the river, and the strategic elimination of another site that does not hold “da goods”. Dates for the clays at Green Lantern came back at >40,050 bp and 37,430 +/-560 bp. Although one sediment sample remains to be carbon dated, it is likely to be too old. Dates on the clays at Crag Hole are 41,560+/- 920 bp, 37,690+/- 910 bp, 37,160+/710 hp and 32,660+/-1,230 bp. Interestingly these dates coincide with a glacial maximum that was of shorter duration than the final Wisconsinan glaciation and may prove to be quite influential in the sedimentation of the Aucilla River drainage.

The remainder of the June field season (June 9-14) was spent at 8Je604, the Matten/Childers site. This site is home to "Priscilla," a nearly complete mastodon recovered from the bottom in the 1970s by Don Serbousek. The site was also dove by Billy Mathen and Ron Childers in the 1980's for whom it was named (with a slight misspelling that embedded itself in the site file name and unfortunately stuck). The site was investigated by the ARPP in 1990 to rediscover the sediments that once held Priscilla and to explore the possibility that cultural material would be found in association.

While the survey/excavation was successful in defining the area that held Priscilla, and recovered an immense amount of bone pins from the area, no radiometric dating of the site was conducted, and all assumptions regarding Priscilla's demise remain speculative. Evidence leading to human association with the Mastodon included an impact fractured Clovis point, and ivory embedded into the distal end of the left ulna of the mastodon! Clearly, more work needed to be done at 8Je604.

Three main areas of investigation were opened up in June of 1996: the first was well to the north of the 1990 excavations, in a lily pad bank along the west side; the second was just on the downstream side of a shallow rocky shoal, due east of the Priscilla site itself, where a previously capped spring was uncovered; and the third was due west of where Priscilla lay, along with a gradual slope of the channel. Throughout the course of excavations, two more areas would also be looked at, but these primary three loci would tell us the most information. While we were not able to reconstruct a bathymetric profile, a map was made of the bottom features of the site which greatly enhanced the previously skewed interpretation of exactly where the 1990 excavations were in relation to other channel features.

The final day at Matten/Childers witnessed a violent rainstorm that ended excavations early, necessitating a third and final trip that is planned for May 1997. Radiometric dates from 8Je604 came back as 1,450+/-70 bp on a sample taken from above the spring in a gray clay matrix immediately to the east of the Priscilla locale; 100.5+/-0.6% bp from a sample taken at the bottom of a peat/sand stringer sediment that covered artifacts and megafaunal remains on the gradual slope of the west side of the channel; and finally, a date of 24,010+/-460 bp on a sample taken from the brown peaty clay that lay just below the Priscilla mastodon in a trench excavated during the 1990 ARPP explorations. Although this last date is quite old, it does not mean that the mastodon was not killed by people utilizing Clovis technology, it only means that either the activity itself took place on an eroded land surface, or, there is no longer any sediment remaining that dates between 12,000-10,000 bp. This question will be resolved after the 1997 return visit.

The final two sites on our whirlwind tour of Little River are 8Je603, affectionately known as Little River Rapids, and 8Je602 known as Ladson Rise. As we patiently waited for water levels to drop following a late season tropical storm, there was little prospect of accomplishing anything at all on Little River. But as the fates would have it we began excavation at 8Je603 on October 24 and ended 11 days later on November 3. Unfortunately we were not able to thoroughly explore Ladson Rise, however, it will probably turn out to be intimately connected with 8Je603, and incorporated within its overall excavation.

Little River Rapids was chosen as a priority site to excavate as a result of a surface collection conducted by Craig Willis and the Paleontological and Archaeological Research Team of Florida (PART) in 1987. This project collected 1,013 formal artifacts (over 950 of which were bone pins and bone pin fragments) and 21.647 kilograms of debitage (much of which are unrecorded blades and utilized flakes).

With such a high number of artifacts and debitage, it is clear that this was the site of a major activity center. Exactly what activities were occurring here will be the major thrust of my masters thesis, and will require further site excavation and some re-analysis of the artifacts collected in the 1987 survey to say with any certainty.

The October excavations allowed us to establish where intact strata remained and provided us with radiometric dates of the ages of the strata. The ARPP crew also faced a challenge that had not yet been a major factor on the river; the extreme current raging across the site as a result of Tropical Storm Josephine's passage Although there is no white water on the surface, after one dive it is obvious why they named this site Little River Rapids, as several divers (who will remain unnamed) have been seen moving downstream at quite a rapid pace! I think everyone who dove during the October field season (and especially those mad dogs who volunteered to dive doubles) should give themselves a pat on the back for conquering a daunting task. Kudos to all!

Fortunately, further excavations at the site will take place in areas that are sheltered from the current (along the west bank and on land). A very important outcome of the field season was that for the first time we tracked the movement of artifacts from their original position in terra firma, into an erosional collapse in two to three feet of water, down a series of shelves and out into the channel bottom.

Never before had this series of site formation processes that eventually lead to artifact and bone beds on the bottom, been so accurately observed. I would like to mention a special thanks to Joan Herrera, whose patience and perseverance (while digging in water so shallow her tank was dry) led to the discovery of the first artifact in this transitional context.

While multiple carbon samples and cores were collected from the site, at press time we have only three dates. From one meter below the channel bottom in Unit 5, wood was dated to 4,850+/-70 bp. This may turn out to be a depositional sequence similar to that at Sloth Hole, and is definitely on the agenda for the coring operation in 1997.

Another date of 36,370+/520 hp came from a wood sample taken from the very bottom of Unit 2. This unit had several abrupt strata changes, and there may still be intact terminal Pleistocene sediments present above the stratum that produced the date. final date is 28,490+/-240 bp on a sample of exposed surface sediment at the bottom of the small sinkhole in the south-western area of the site.

In 1997 the site will undergo further testing with a coring project slated for early in the year, and a series of land excavations to be held in the spring. As of yet, Little River still holds its secrets from us, but the telltale signs are everywhere.

As we have seen, strewn across the bottom of the current is 40,000 years of history, but locked in the banks is the key to understanding the great transition from the Pleistocene to the Holocene and the people that survived it and went on to settle the Southeast.