Little River Rapids site update

By Mark Muniz

Research on the Little River Rapids site (8Je603) has been progressing on two fronts over the past year. The first half of the year saw a coring project and 17 days of excavation during the May/June field season. The second half of the year was spent looking at data (cores, sediment samples, faunal remains, artifacts, stratigraphic profiles, carbon dates, etc.) from Little River Rapids in the lab. So now it’s newsmagazine time again, and while I feel a sense of incompleteness in reporting my activities, at least I can present what we have so far.

In the May field season, our primary focus at Little River Rapids was on unit 2’ (2 prime), which was a 2x2 m extension of unit 2 (excavated in 1996). Excavation of this unit proved to be difficult and time consuming as the conglomerate mass of clay, sand and limestone cobbles often sloughed into the unit and forced us to erect plexiglass barriers to maintain site integrity and to protect divers. The unit was placed on the submerged bank of the northern side of the river at about a 45 degree slope, and while encompassing unit 2, extended another one meter both upstream and toward the bank (hence the 2’ designation).

The excavations uncovered eight main stratigraphic units (Fig. 1), which we were happy to discover represented the Pleistocene/Holocene transition. We proceeded to remove what was considered modern detritus and designated zone one (loosely consolidated leaves and twigs) until we encountered a hard, brittle, green clay (zone two). This sediment was almost entirely clay and occasionally contained aquatic faunal remains. Continuing downward, we uncovered zone three. Zone three was a soft, light gray clay/silt, also containing aquatic fauna in the upper portions, yet picking up some mammal remains and limestone pebbles in the lower portions. Finally, we uncovered zone four, which consisted of a gray sandy clay, with pebble to cobble size limestone, as well as gastropod and bivalve fragments throughout.

Zone four lay directly above an intact paleosol, which contained terrestrial faunal remains such as tapir, horse, camel, muskrat, sloth, and mammoth embedded in its surface. This paleosol was designated zone seven (as zones five and six designated sand and peat beds overlying the paleosol to the south) and all faunal remains were mapped in place. Several carbon samples were collected from the unit, as well as bulk sediment samples that could be used for dating (Fig. 1).

As can be seen from the carbon dates and the extinct faunal assemblage, the paleosol encountered in unit 2’ predates the paleosol occurring at Page/Ladson (8Je591) on which Bolen style artifacts have been dated at 10,000 bp. As of yet the relationship between the two sites is not fully understood, however, the presence of an intact paleosol, similar to, yet older than the “Bolen soil” implies a high potential for there to be human activity preserved on its surface. Although we did not encounter any unequivocal artifacts within unit 2’, diagnostic artifacts of Clovis through Bolen aged cultures are present at the site, and thus are likely to show up on this paleosol, if any are left in situ.

The second major area I have been concentrating on has been a reanalysis of the artifact assemblage collected during the 1987 Palenotological and Archaeological Research Team (P.A.R.T.) survey. While the survey did a wonderful job in describing the formal artifact types, little attention was paid to the debitage and informal tools. Thus I have been analyzing the debitage using a Sullivan and Rozen (1985) approach, as well as Ahler’s (1989) mass analysis method. Informal and formal tools are undergoing analyses related to Southeastern U.S. typologies. A study of thermal alteration (heat treatment) will also be included. The goal of the analysis is to test the hypothesis that the artifact clusters documented by Willis (1987) are in fact representative of real activity areas, and not products of the fluvial erosion caused by the Aucilla River over the past 11,000 years. If the artifact clusters do represent real activity areas, then the debitage, informal and formal tools should all be in agreement. If the artifact analysis reveals incongruity between activities and artifact clusters, then these same clusters are more probably the result of site formation processes.

Results of the excavation and analyses from this site will appear in a paper at the 1998 S.A.A. conference, as well as a chapter in the upcoming book, The First Floridians, and hopefully at the 1998 F.A.S. meetings in Gainesville (May 22-24), before the final picture is presented as my M.A. thesis.


Ahler, Stanely A. 1989. Mass Analysis of Flaking Debris: Studying the Forest Rather Than the Tree. In Alternative Approaches to Lithic Analysis, eds. D.O. Henry and G.H. Odell, Archaeological Papers of the American Anthropological Association, No. 1.

Sullivan, III, Alan P. and Kenneth C. Rozen. 1985. Debitage Analysis and Archaeological Interpretation. American Antiquity, 50(4):755-779.

Willis, Craig. 1988. Controlled Surface Collection of the Little River Rapids Site (8Je603): A Stratigraphically Deflated Site in the Aucilla River, North Florida. The Florida Anthropologist, 41(3):453-470.