Endgame...and beyond...

By Joseph M. Latvis

After a spectacular fifteen year run the Aucilla River Prehistory Project is beginning its endgame in 1999. This does not mean that the great archaeological, paleontological, paleoenvironmental, geological and hydrologic questions of the age have been resolved. To the contrary, the ARPP has explored some of the many significant archaeological sites currently expanding the envelope of human antiquity in the New World. The time and tide of this large scale, longterm and far ranging cooperative endeavor have carried us all to a pregnant pause, and a new point of departure.

For instance, this is the final issue of the Aucilla River Times. (That is why no subscription request form appears on the back cover.) However the ARPP website (which contains all recent issues of the newsmagazine, as well as a “virtual museum” of fossils and artifacts) will remain active at http://www.flmnh.ufl.edu/natsci/vertpaleo/arpp.htm. Kudos belong to all the authors, photographers and production volunteers throughout the years whose manifest talent made the yearly issues so informative and well presented.

The final ARPP field season will be conducted May 4th through 31st 1999. However, because all field roster positions have been filled by returning veterans, no “Call for Volunteers” or “Volunteer Application Form” appears at the end of the “Life in the Field” section of this magazine. Field crew volunteers have been a renewable resource of skill and enthusiasm from the very first field season in November 1983. (All volunteers since 1995 can expect to receive a “Volunteer Appreciation Package” as the ARPP’s parting acknowledgment of their outstanding avocational contribution.) Opportunities for students and volunteers to participate in similar underwater archaeological research programs remain available via the ARPP’s sister project sponsored by Florida State University’s Program in Underwater Archaeology. Information regarding the PaleoAucilla Prehistory Project’s 1999 summer field season (June 28th through August 6th) can be accessed at http://www.anthro.fsu.edu/research/uw/.

Once the May ‘99 ARPP field season is completed the fifteen yearlong windfall of Aucilla River fossils. artifacts. sediments and paleoenvironmental samples accessioned into the FLMNH collections will cease. However these field specimens will remain available for research in perpetuity, and interpretive exhibits for public display and education will continue to be assembled for years to come. Photo and video documentation accumulated throughout the seasons of field operations will incorporate the moment of discovery into these exhibits also. The definitive written document of the project’s research, currently being assembled into First Floridians and Last Mastodons will live on in the literature of scientific discourse.

As I navigate my own personal passage from the Aucilla River Prehistory Project to the PaleoAucilla Prehistory Project I celebrate four relationships (one institutional and three personal) that are my considerable inheritance from this tumultuous Florida experience in underwater archaeology. In 1981, after eight years and eight overseas engineering assignments, I established my newly chosen stateside residence in Florida, where I continued lifelong avocational interests in fossils and artifacts. Having discovered the Florida State Museum (now FLMNH) soon thereafter, I volunteered for the first (1982) Thomas Farm fossil dig open to amateurs. What an enlightened institution, to be so productively harnessing the latent energy and talent of volunteers in such worthy causes. The Museum has also been the support platform from which fifteen years of ARPP field expeditions were planned and launched, as well as the repository for the tens of thousands of fossils and artifacts that were recovered from the Aucilla.

Having met Dr. S. David Webb at Thomas Farm (and having made no secret of my passion for combining paleontology and archaeology with SCUBA diving) I was delighted at his subsequent invitation to participate in the newly constituted “Half-Mile Rise Project” on the Aucilla River in 1983. What an adventure that was, as I grew to appreciate the scientific value represented by the sedimentary context in which fossils and artifacts are discovered. Although there was no prescient grandiose design for this project to span any more than one season, by 1987 I found myself once again back at Half-Mile Rise, diving alongside a graduate student from the University of Arizona who proposed looking for archaeological sites offshore in Apalachee Bay. After five subsequent field seasons out on the submerged continental shelf with Dr. Michael Faught, I remain forever indebted to him for planting the seed back in 1987 that the relict karst river channels offshore of northwest Florida are indeed very promising places to explore for intact Pleistocene sediments that survived the marine transgression.

By 1995 the ARPP was growing into its destiny, conducting cutting edge research that attracted dozens of student and avocational adventurers each field season. Diving instructor Bill Gifford came to the project with a no-nonsense attitude toward field operations safety and efficiency, as well as a commitment to helping each diver grow to his or her fullest potential. (Bill was also the only staff member willing to tolerate longterm close quarters confinement and primitive camping conditions onboard the operations vessels with me, as we provided overnight security at the site camp every subsequent field season.) I wouldn’t have missed even one of those hundreds of hour-long, midnight, flashlight, white knuckle, shoot the rapids, bump in the night canoe passages we made between base camp and site camp.

And finally, it has been my distinct privilege and pleasure to have been associated with so celebrated a scientist, educator and humanitarian as Dr. Webb for these past fifteen years. Never have I more thoroughly enjoyed working so intensely on so many creative, diverse and simultaneous assignments with such demanding deadlines for such a marathon endeavor. Thank you for the opportunity and the friendship of a lifetime.