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Springs Yield Evidence of Sarasota County's Earliest Settlers

Articles: Sarasota History

Author: (see footer)
Photo Credit: Science Magazine, Feb. 1979, Vol. 203, No. 4381
Credit: Science Magazine

Sarasota History - Springs Yield Evidence of Sarasota County's Earliest Settlers photo

In 1959, Sarasota County's Dr. Eugenie Clark (of Mote Marine Lab) and retired Air Force colonel Bill Royal excavated human skeletal material and artifacts from sediment located in a shallow "cave" some 35 to 40 feet underwater. The cenote-like solution feature they dived in to make the discoveries is known as Warm Mineral Springs and is located in the southern portion of Sarasota County near Northport. A sample of the excavated material returned a radio-carbon date of 10,000 or so years before present (BP) or 8,050 B.C.; the earliest evidence of man in Florida.

Yet, researchers and archaeologists held out that the evidence was contentious. Therefore in 1970 and 1971, Doris Davis (former historian of the Sarasota County Historical Commission) and George Wheeler Jr. (general manager of the spring) made requests to the Florida Bureau of Historic Sites and Properties for an underwater archaeologist to conduct further investigations at the site. Archaeologists excavated a small test pit in January 1972 following other work that took place at the site in 1971. The primary purpose for the excavation was to obtain additional samples for analysis and to supplement the geological data previously gathered.

The evidence recovered in this go-around yielded the same date that the 1959 data had. "Two human bones recovered from submerged deposits in Warm Mineral Springs, Florida in January 1972 and dated by radiocarbon method as 10,000 years old, would seem to represent the earliest scientifically verifiable evidence of the presence of man in Florida and the Southeast;" or so it seemed...

Less than two miles to the north and east of Warm Mineral Springs, explorers (Bill Royal among others) also in the 1950s, discovered another true sinkhole extending downward over two hundred feet and began "excavating" well preserved wood artifacts and human remains ranging from 7,000 to 10,000 years old. Since then, scientists have scrutinized the archaeological and geological record at Little Salt Springs. Beginning in 1992, researchers from the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science (RSMAS) at the University of Miami have conducted interdisciplinary field schools in underwater archaeology for graduate and undergraduate students every year. Their research has yielded incredible artifacts and discoveries that date the site to comparable ranges as Warm Mineral Springs. One find in particular has had researchers clamoring over a return that pushes back that range to some 12,000 years BP.

An impaled tortoise shell on what is known as the 27-meter ledge (a shelf 90 feet below the surface) discovered by State of Florida archaeologists in 1979 has also been highly contentious. However, lead archaeologist, Dr. John A. Gifford of RSMAS, defends the contextual association of the stake and the tortoise and is convinced that the stake was indeed used to pierce the tortoise's shell so it could then be cooked on site. Other artifacts recovered from Little Salt Springs include a 7,000-year-old greenstone pendant and a neatly-carved atlatl (used to throw spears) believed to date to around the same time frame or possibly earlier. The proof is in the springs! Some of Florida's earliest evidence of man is located right here at two first-class archaeological sites in Sarasota County.

References used:
1975 Clausen, Carl, J., H.K. Brooks, and A.B. Wesolowsky
"Florida Spring Confirmed as 10,000 Year Old Early Man Site," Florida Anthropologist, ed. Ripley P. Bullen, Vol.28, No. 3, Part 2.

1960 Royal, William and Eugenie Clark
"Natural Preservation of Human Brain, Warm Mineral Springs, Florida," American Antiquity, Vol.26, No.2, pp. 285-287.

2008 Wisner, George
"Diving into Paleo Florida," Mammoth Trumpet, Vol. 23, No. 1, pp. 8-11.