Sloth Hole site update

By Andy Hemmings

The October 1997 field season at Sloth Hole proved to be the most productive and archaeologically rewarding to date. 35 square meters were excavated, mapped and collected. The entire season was spent recovering data from the deepest part of the site. The 35 meters we excavated this year complete a block of 53 square meters of stratified and mixed layers of fluvial deposits in a U-shaped recess. This recess was protected upstream and to the east and west by vertical bedrock limestone walls.

In August, a brief survey of the lower West Run of the Aucilla included some surface collecting from exposed areas south and north of our large excavation area in Sloth Hole. A distal phalanx of a monk seal was our most unanticipated discovery. It is possible this animal really was alive at Sloth Hole, as they have only recently become extinct in the Gulf of Mexico. Another possibility is that the seal skin was a prehistoric piece of clothing that had the flippers intact (the distal finger bones would have been very difficult to remove). This last speculation would probably be impossible to prove but does offer a reasonable explanation for the presence of a monk seal in Sloth Hole.

The August survey also turned up several stone and bone tools of note. An unstained 10cm Paleoindian bifacial knife was found (Fig. 1) a few meters from a white Bolen Beveled point, while a river stained Bolen Beveled was found in a concentration of artifacts with an archaic stemmed knife and several bone pins. One complete bone pin was 21cm long.

Remains of at least two moderately articulated mastodons constitute the bulk of the faunal material recovered in October. One of the mastodons is a juvenile that may have been butchered on the edge of a Pleistocene pond prior to being inundated as the water table rose. Trampling scars or cut marks are visible on numerous bones and await microscopic examination to make solid determinations regarding the possibility of human agency being their cause.

Another line of evidence tends to support the butchery scenario, namely the lithic artifacts of this area. The 12cm biface and large hammerstone in close proximity to the fibula with good cut marks were described last year. The 1997 work added many worked and utilized flakes as well as several Paleoindian and Early Archaic unifacial and bifacial tools. These various tool forms are dominated by cutting, chopping and scraping forms.

One diagnostic unifacial tool that is not thought to be involved in butchering activities is becoming common at Sloth Hole, the Aucilla Adze. This year we recovered three of them in Sloth Hole and an Aucilla Adze Preform was found downstream in August during survey work. The total at Sloth Hole is now seven. This type of adze has been dated only from a Page/Ladson specimen to 9450+/-100 RCYBP. The Aucilla Adze is a relatively rare artifact with probably fewer than 200 known, less than 10 are in the Florida Museum of Natural History collections. This tool is thought to be a hafted woodworking tool from the Late Paleoindian or Early Archaic period in Florida. Our finding seven of them at Sloth Hole seems to indicate an occupation of the site after the mastodon butchery that is related to tool manufacture, or at least tool discard, at a habitation site. The discard theory seems unlikely because only one adze appears to be exhausted, whereas another appears to be virtually unused. The majority have some use wear visible but remain functional. We have plans to replicate and use Aucilla Adzes on several materials such as bone and wood to help understand what they were used for.

We recovered an 11.5cm long Aucilla Adze from a well stratified unit while Joe Latvis and Tim Barber were respectively videoing and photographing procedural activities. Needless to say we are overjoyed to have the discovery documented in two media. Tim Barber is to be credited with sighting this artifact first. The other two adzes recovered this year were from units that have had the intact organic sediments above them disturbed, either by erosion or collector activity. These latter adzes were found by William Owen Gifford and myself.

The area of greatest sediment disturbance was right down the middle of our 53 meter block in the deepest area that we have worked since 1995. Concerns regarding stratigraphic integrity of this area are mitigated by the fact that the same sequence of strata has been encountered on each side of the disturbed area. Also, the mastodon bones are roughly in anatomical order and related to two discrete individuals all the way across this area. These two features may indicate spacial integrity, even when the overlaying strata are disturbed.

Several more stone tools discovered in October merit discussion. The broken concave base of a lanceolate Paleoindian point or preform and two lanceolate Bolen Beveled points with pressure flaked edges broken from impact were found in the course of our work. Unfortunately all three came from disturbed units. We unearthed a 7cm teardrop shaped biface that had been split at the round end and evidently used as a hafted end scraper. This tool may have affinities with Paleoindian tools in the Northern United States but is really unlike anything in the literature. T

he August survey recovered nine bone tools, and the October season located 41 bone tools. In October we averaged better than one bone tool per unit. This brings the total to over 200 bone tools from Sloth Hole in our collections since 1994 and the material donated by Dick Ohmes in 1993. For our third year running we found a bone fishhook. This one is 7cm long and unfortunately is broken at the bottom of the shank (see “Bone fishhooks”).

The best artifact discovery, of course, has been saved for last. In a well stratified fluvially deposited level an 8cm long fragment of an ivory foreshaft was found (Fig. 2). This level is well above a 4500 year old sediment and probably only dates to 2000 years ago. This late date of deposition is disappointing, and surely indicates redeposition. Having an XYZ coordinate on any location for a worked ivory artifact is very rare. In fact, this may be the first found east of the Mississippi with precise provenience, albeit redeposited.

The possible mastodon butchery discussed above lacks most tools normally associated with killing proboscideans, the ivory foreshaft notwithstanding. It is possible we are seeing remains of scavenging activities of an individual that was naturally trapped at a waterhole, not unlike the Latvis/Simpson situation discussed in Milhbachler’s article (see “Latvis/Simpson site update”). This line of inquiry will be pursued in the future along with detailed analysis of the bone, stone, antler and ivory tools of Sloth Hole.