Fossil Hole site update

By C. Andrew Hemmings

In 1997 the ARPP briefly revisited an inundated quarry site at the southern tip of Ward Island called Fossil Hole 8JE1497, which we had documented in 1994. Our goals then were to see how much diagnostic artifactual material remained in the surface collection, collect additional raw material samples, and document the site perimeters.

While surface collecting we encountered numerous post cranial pieces of Holmesina, the extinct armadillo. This is a somewhat unusual late Pleistocene genus to recover in the Aucilla River. The formerly exposed knappable bedrock chert outcrop had been buried by recent storm action, which prevented us from collecting any samples.

As part of the 1998 summer field season we decided to spend three days on this site. Our goals were to thoroughly surface collect the site looking for clusters that might represent camping areas and to do some limited excavation seeking stratigraphically intact sediments in the dense lithic scatter.

Unit 1 produced an astonishing amount of flaked stone material (N=37,218 flakes and 28 cores). Three natural stratigraphic levels were delineated during excavation. The strata and separate artifact counts are presented in Table 1.

Several unusual features bear reporting. Only one flake was bifacially worked, and even this example was not beyond very early bifacial reduction when it broke. The five largest cores weighed between 50 and 86 pounds each. Flake counts from Levels 2 and 3 are sure to go up slightly when sediment samples are processed in the future. Virtually every conceivable stage of reduction flake is present in this one-meter square. Cortical primary flakes, primary flakes, secondary flakes, shatter, bifacial thinning flakes, broken flakes, flake fragments, pressure flakes and core trimming flakes are all present. Very little bipolar flaking seems to have occurred in this sample.

Notably absent from Unit 1 are hammerstones and broken bifaces (N=1). Both should be present, even given our very limited view of the site. Clearly, bifacial reduction to at least the stage of preforms was occurring in this portion of the site based on the very high numbers of small thin bifacial reduction flakes in Levels 2 and 3 (>6000 and >10,000 respectively). Our one meter unit is not expected to contain all the stages of quarrying and lithic reduction activities occurring at Fossil Hole. However, considering the variety of materials present the mentioned absences seem exceptional.

The discussion of lithics is not in and of itself very significant. A quarry site is expected to have very high numbers of artfacts spread out across the site. The excavation of Unit 1 is important because of the faunal remains encountered.

Four genera of gastropods were found only in Level 2: Palodosa, Planorbella, Campeloma and Viviparus. The Viviparus georgianus is quite significant because it is locally extinct by 8500 radiocarbon year ago. Even if our lithics are secondarily redeposited in a fluvial system they have been undisturbed for a minimum of 8500 years. This would indicate an Early Archaic cultural affiliation at the youngest.

A terminal Pleistocene date is possible for the cultural material encountered in Level 2 and below. This is based on the only identifiable large mammal remains being Tapir, which is of course locally extinct.

Two bone pin fragments were recovered in Level 2 as well. It is tempting to tentatively assign a Paleoindian or Early Archaic designation to these items. If it turns out they are Paleoindian in age that helps establish a very early date for the use of these items in the prehistoric tool kit.

Our enthusiasm regarding the paleoenvironmental data noted so far should be held in check until the context of deposition for the Fossil Hole sedimentary sequence is more fully understood. The microhabitats of the assorted gastropods may prove to be our most fruitful line of inquiry to pursue based on what we now know.