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Discovery made at Little Salt Spring

Little Salt Spring ranks as one of the major archaeological sites in
the western hemisphere. Even though only 5 percent of the spring has
been explored, divers have found artifacts dating back 12,000 years

NORTH PORT -- After thousands of years underwater, a handful of North
Port's history resurfaced in a Ziploc bag.

"They don't call it hardwood for nothin'!" said Steve Koski to John
Gifford after the two emerged from the Little Salt Spring with a
radiocarbon sample last week.

Koski, an archaeologist at Little Salt Spring Research Facility, off
Price Boulevard, mumbled this to his teammate while the two were 40
feet underwater. But Gifford, research director for Miami University,
was unable to hear as his knife chiseled away at a piece of wood the
team believes to be at least 9,000 years old.

Both men spent 30 minutes in the spring Thursday taking two samples
from a log nearly 3 meters long. One will determine the age of the
wood and the other the species.

"I don't want to get my hopes up, but I'd love for it to be something
great, like a totem," Koski said.

Although a totem pole would be impressive in size, Koski has been
thrilled to find artifacts that fit in the palm of his hand.

Pointing to a wooden stake a little more than a foot in length resting
in a plastic container filled with spring water, Koski picks it up and
examines the pointed tip.

"This small wooden stake took 48 minutes to excavate and bring to the
surface. Its tip was the only thing sticking out of the sandy clay
sediment. Can you believe it's estimated to be 10,500 years old?" he
asked. "With this and other findings, we can look at the distribution
of the stakes identified and perhaps see why they were carved and what
their function might have been."

However, the most interesting fact is that it was found right in the
backyard of "our homes," Koski said.

Little Salt Spring is not just another spring in North Port. Not a lot
of people even know about it or the unique history it contains. Koski
said this spring is one of the greatest archaeological finds in the

Located near Heron Creek Middle School, Little Salt Spring is a 250-
foot-deep sinkhole on 112.5 acres of property owned by the University
of Miami since 1982. The hourglass-shaped spring was first discovered
as an archaeological site in 1959 by local divers.

"There is evidence of visitation and occupation from 12,500-6,000
years ago," Koski said.

Working on the slope of the 78-meter basin-like depression, Koski and
other University of Miami divers are trying to uncover evidence of
previous life.

"We have discovered a wide range of preserved organic materials
including wooden stakes, textile fragments (delite), deer remains and
bone tools. Because there is no dissolved oxygen in the water,
bacteria cannot grow and decompose wood and the other organic
materials, offering unique artifact preservation," Koski said.

In June 2005, Dr. John Gifford of the University of Miami/Rosenstiel
School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and a group of graduate
students discovered two Archaic artifacts, estimated to be 7,000 years
old. One was a greenstone pendant and the other was believed to be
part of a spear-thrower.

Four{*filter*} days out of the year, five to 12 advanced undergraduates and
graduate students from the University of Miami come to Little Salt
Spring. Students participate in daily underwater excavation at 20-40
feet, as well as surface support activities relating to diving.

Last year, Gifford and his colleagues and students also unearthed two
stakes and brought one of the two to the surface, which they estimated
was at least 10,000 years old.

"Since 2004, we have found eight wooden stakes and recovered four of
the eight. We have removed two of them for radiocarbon dating and
we're leaving the other ones," Koski said. "We take a conservation
ethic in our work. We wouldn't have the site anymore if we took
everything we found."

They are also planning an additional excavation on the 27-meter ledge
to uncover extinct Pleistocene fossil remains and 12,000-year-old
artifacts that lay there. However, because funding is so limited,
researchers are able to perform excavations only once or twice a year,
so only 5 percent of the spring has really been explored.

"This is the most important archaeological site in the United States
and it's right here in North Port's backyard. This is also the only
opportunity in the U.S. for college students to do fieldwork in
prehistoric underwater excavation," Gifford said. "We have so much
potential to make this site one of the best archaeological facilities,
but the funding just isn't there. At this point, we don't even have
the most basic necessities like running water."

For more information on group tours or volunteer opportunities, call
Steven Koski at 941-423-0835.

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Sun, 31 Jan 2010 23:49:28 GMT
 [ 1 post ] 

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