Sloth Hole site update

By C. Andrew Hemmings

Two field seasons at Sloth Hole (8JE121) in 1998 gave us our most detailed look at the site yet. If you can wade through the detailed description below you will be rewarded with news of our amazing finds from 1998. Major excavation activities are nearing completion in the areas containing intact strata. Intact stratified sediments have been excavated well into Pleistocene deposits everywhere we have encountered them. Exposed surface material remains in some portions of the site but we have aggressively collected that material as well. Additional terrestrial and bathymetric mapping will be combined with some final surveying this summer.

In 1998 one of our major goals was to construct a continuous stratigraphic column of stepped Pleistocene/Holocene sediments. From the greater than 41,980 year old (Beta # 83379) compacted slick peat in the bottom we traced the sediment 10ft vertically to the 34,760 +/-1600 year old in situ palm stump (Beta #95342). We wanted to connect this sequence with the terminal Pleistocene (12,300 year old) sediments encountered to the east. The eastern sediments contained a detailed but discontinuous sequence of terminal Pleistocene to modern material.

We were able to track the strata from 34,760 to 12,300 radiocarbon years ago. This period is contained in a homogeneous highly compacted layer of gray silt/clay, fine white sand, limestone pebbles, wood and animal bones nearly 160cm thick. 60cm above the 34,000 year old layer we submitted wood that returned a radiocarbon date of 28,470+/-170 years old (Beta #119349). This lower portion of the sequence seems to preserve continuous slow deposition of material.

The 12,300 +/-50 year old date on wood (Beta #95341) represents the top of the 160cm stepped sediment sequence discussed so far. However, this date is at the bottom of a 183cm vertical column of continuous terminal Pleistocene fine silts and clays. Seemingly these represent quiet water backfilling of a pond environment. Numerous flaked stone artifacts were found above this layer but unfortunately no tools were recovered. We hope to excavate more of this material this summer.

The 1998 seasons represent the end of concentrated generation of field data from Sloth Hole. Incremental growth of the data set is proceeding by contact with river divers who have collected material from Sloth Hole. I am very interested in talking with anyone who has material or data about Sloth Hole. If you have artifacts or fossils from the lower West Run of the Aucilla please contact me at the Florida Museum of Natural History.

Outreach with numerous collectors has yielded casts, images and detailed information regarding great quantities of worked ivory tools, six Clovis points and numerous other bone, stone and ivory tools.

The most dramatic find we have documented is a weakly stained fluted Clovis point (see Figure 1) found by Kurt Cox. The morphology of this Clovis point is distinct from the one in the Ohmes collection on the cover of this issue. Whether the different shapes are separated chronologically or simply represent different contemporaneous knappers’ work is virtually impossible to say.

The density of the Clovis occupation at Sloth Hole is further demonstrated by the large amount of worked ivory recovered (2 complete points and 58 fragments, some of which are nearly complete). In the earlier work of the ARPP we had recovered only four slivers of ivory tools, including the 8.3cm piece described in the last Aucilla River Times. 1998 was our bonanza year. 15 pieces of ivory were found across the site. Five pieces were refitted and glued together. This unusually slender ivory point (see Figure 2) is 33.3cm long. The hafting end and a portion of the shaft are missing, so it probably was 40cm when complete. The 33.3cm section is the longest piece in the FLMNH collections and is noticably longer than worked bone and ivory shafts reported anywhere else in North America. The slender diameter and great length seem to indicate that this is indeed a point rather than a foreshaft.

Several stone projectile points were found in various contexts last year. Several lanceolate Paleoindian point fragments were located, including what appears to be the midsection of a resharpened Simpson Sunfish. An unusual Clovis point with a unifacially resharpened impact fracture was found and loaned by Kurt Cox.

Several individual finds deserve mention while discussing projectile points found last year. Matt Mihlbachler found an 8cm unbevelled Bolen. Overall we found seven more Bolen points roughly all in the same area as the Aucilla Adzes. Susan Kane found her first point, a heavily resharpened Culbreath-like corner notched point. Melanie Damour also found her first point, an expedient arrow point made on an old flake. This point is rather unusual and not attributable to any type. However, it superficially resembles a Kirk corner notched variety.

Last year we reported the recovery of seven Aucilla Adzes in our earlier work. Five more Aucilla Adzes were recovered in 1998. Additionally, data on five more from Sloth Hole was generated from specimens in the Ohmes collection. This brings our total to 17. This density in one site is somewhat of a surprise to us. Certainly the case for an Early Archaic Bolen age wood working activity area is bolstered by the dramatic increase in sample size from one portion of the site.

It turns out that the Aucilla Adze is not as rare as reported last year. It now seems there are indeed hundreds of them known. While not as common as Bolen points they are a good cultural and temporal indicator of Early Archaic Bolen peoples.

Other stone tool discoveries included: bifacial and unifacial scraping and chopping tools; formal unifacial graver spurs; flaked stone cores and many other tool types.

A wide variety of bone and antler tools dominated the surface collections. Several hundred bone pin or point fragments and nearly a hundred complete bone tools were found. Some of the shorter bipointed bone tools appear to be gorge fishhooks.

Numerous bone fishhooks were recovered this year. The most interesting form is a barbed type (see Figure 3). No single piece barbed fishhooks have been reported in the Florida literature. The barbed hook is made from the proximal end of a left deer radius. One complete example and two broken barbs were located, all made on left radii. This deer radius barbed hook seems to be the first true archaeological “type” encountered, possibly in the whole of the Southeast. Since our initial discoveries we have learned that more than a dozen of this type of hook are known in private collections. An article describing this type of hook is being written with Ryan and Harley Means who have found several of these at another location.

The most surprising artifact yet collected at Sloth Hole was discovered in the museum collection amid unsorted faunal remains. Amy Schwarzer found a lynx mandible with an incised spiral pattern repeated three times on each side (see Figure 4). It was recovered slightly outside of Sloth Hole proper in an area containing most of the pottery we have found. The mandible is most similar to material reported from Tick Island and could be older than 6000 years BP. While probably newer than the Paleoindian materials we normally focus on it is a great contribution to distributional data for this type of bone working.

While trying to explain the potential benefits of sorting faunal materials to Brian Beatty he found a piece of turtle carapace with the same geometric pattern carved on it.

The faunal finds were as spectacular as the artifact finds last year. No new extinct animals were added to our faunal list, but more remains of mastodon, mammoth, camel, tapir, horse, sloth (Megalonyx), and muskrat (Ondatra - locally extinct) were found.

Our best in situ material was from two mastodon (Mammut americanum) skeletons that we have been following across the site since 1996. Prior to 1998 we had recovered most of the limbs of a juvenile mastodon and good portions of the skull of a very old mastodon. In 1998 we found both astragali and a calcaneum of the juvenile and the left calcaneum and right astragalus of the old fellow embedded in the 28,470 +/-170 RCYBP sediment adhering to the proximal end of a 7.5 foot mastodon tusk.

The large unstained calcaneum dated to 12,180 +/-60 RCYBP (Beta # 119350). This indicates that a 12,000 year old mastodon died and was deposited in 28,000 year old sediments on the edge of a pond. Because both mastodons’ remains were found on a ten foot terrace, and in this case unstained and in situ, we feel confident they are nearly in the position in which they died at the end of the Pleistocene.

As Sloth Hole fieldwork comes to an end it is clear the remains of a very strong Clovis presence, and Bolen presence, that we have documented will make broad contributions to both Florida’s archaeology as well as the continent wide investigations of Paleoindian adaptation(s) and migration. As the museum research now hits full stride the significance of what we have been doing in the field all these years becomes readily apparent, sometimes on a daily basis.