Aucilla River archaeological site officially validated

Screen Shot 2016-05-19 at 2.11.45 PMIt seems that the Page-Ladson site in Jefferson County is the gift that keeps on giving, in terms of the attention it brings to the area and the opportunities that some see as inherent in that attention. The Page-Ladson site, for any who may not know, is the now world-renown archeological site in the Aucilla River — one of a handful of sites in the Western Hemisphere actually — that puts into question, if it doesn’t upend, the long-held theory of how and when men first came to the Americas. That longstanding view, based on artifacts of Pre-Clovis culture found in New Mexico in the 1920s and 30s, held that early men arrived in the Americas about 13,200 years ago by way of the Bering Strait from Siberia and migrated southward across the continent and into South America. In recent years, however, artifacts suggesting a much earlier presence of men in the Americas have surfaced at sites Screen Shot 2016-05-19 at 2.11.54 PMin both North and South America, the Page-Ladson site among them. What makes the Page-Ladson site so much more now is that it has been demonstrated conclusively that humans resided in this area 14,550 years ago — or 1,350 years earlier than previously believed. Hence the hoopla about the Page-Ladson site in the last week, evidenced by the many articles appearing in such prominent and prestigious publications and media outlets as Science Magazine (billed as the peer-reviewed academic journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and one of the world’s top academic journals), the Guardian, New York Times, National Geographic, Washington Post, BBC and Fox News, to name a few. Scientists — anthropologists, archeologists and paleontologists — have known for decades that the Page-Ladson site contained bones and artifacts dating back thousands of years, largely revealed by the excavation work in the 1980s and 90s of Dr. James Dunbar, a former senior anthropologists with the Division of Historical Research, Bureau of Archeological Research, and Dr. S. David Webb, a UF professor and paleontologist. In fact, a running theme of many of the presenters at the two First Floridians/First Americans conferences here in 2012 and 2015 was the significance of the Screen Shot 2016-05-19 at 2.11.34 PMbones and artifacts uncovered at the Page-Ladson site, in terms of putting into doubt the prevailing theory of how and when men first arrived in the Americas. What just happened is that the age of some of the materials found at the Page-Ladson site has now been proven conclusively to the satisfaction of the scientific community. The credit for that proof goes to the joint efforts of Jessi J. Halligan, formerly a postdoctoral student at the Center for the Study of the First Americans at Texas A&M University and now Dr. Halligan at FSU, and the center’s director, Dr. Michael R. Waters. The two were able to document through painstaking research and radiocarbon dating that a tool fragment uncovered at the Page-Ladson site, along with its surrounding sedimentation and organic material (mastodon dung), dated to 14,550 years ago. So what does all this have to do with Jefferson County, other than a geographic coincidence? A lot, say members of the Aucilla Institute (ARI) — a county-based organization that aims to attract more research into this area plus leverage the site’s archeological significance and renown into an engine for a “greener” or more eco-friendly form of economic development. They see the site’s scientific validation and accompanying spate of publicity as godsend. It also doesn’t hurt that Dr. Dunbar, whose name is cited in many of the recently published reports, is the ARI chairman. An enthusiastic Jack Carswell and Dr. Anne Holt, premier organizer of the First Floridians/First Americans conferences, call Dunbar “a rock star”, in terms of the national publicity he was receiving. As for the Page-Ladson site: “It’s been accepted officially,” Dr. Holt said of the work of Doctors Halligan and Waters. “Scientists can’t say it was fluke. The Page-Ladson site has become a very important world archeological site.” “It’s so famous it’s almost sacred,” Carswell said. “The First Floridians conferences and the Page-Ladson site are going to make this county famous. We’ve planted the ARI in fertile ground.” The two went on to talk enthusiastically about the foreseeable benefits that Jefferson County is sure to reap from the site, in their enthusiasm talking over each other and often completing the other’s sentences. “This gives us the horsepower to keep the things in our county that we love,” Carswell said, with Dr. Holt adding words in-between. “We get to keep the clean air, clear streams, the lifestyle, wildlife…” Established in 2014, the ARI is a nonprofit with long-term plans to partner with individuals, foundations and organizations that are willing to foster and support the development of a major earth sciences research institute near the Page-Ladson site. The ARI envisions ultimately building a permanent world-class research facility that will attract and promote original scientific research in the Jefferson County and the Northwest Florida area. It further envisions the facility serving as an economic incubator generator, as well as an incubator of innovative thinking.