In the 1980s, James Dunbar and David Webb investigated what is now known as the Page-Ladson site, which lies submerged under 9 meters of the Aucilla River in a sinkhole. There, the team found eight stone artifacts, which were believed to be associated with nearby butchered mastodon remains. They estimated the remains were more than 14,000 years old, but their research was contested.
Between 2012 and 2014, a team of researchers returned to the site and found that Dunbar and Webb’s initial findings held. Page-Ladson marked the oldest known site of human life in the southeastern United States. The research was published in Science Advances.
Previously, scientists considered the Clovis people among the first to inhabit the region around 13,200 years ago.
“Page-Ladson is the first pre-Clovis site to be documented in the southeastern portion of North American and demonstrates that the earliest people to enter North America were exploring the Gulf Coastal Plain at the same time other areas of the continent were being populated,” the researchers wrote.
Among the artifacts excavated, the researchers discovered a biface—a double-edged knife used for cutting and butchering—and a flake.
University of Michigan’s Daniel Fisher, who is a coauthor on the study, reexamined a mastodon tusk originally found by Dunbar and Webb. Deep grooves, numbering more than a dozen, run between 6 and 8 centimeters along the fossil’s surface. Fisher speculated the tusk may’ve been removed for better access to its internals.
“Each tusk this size would have had more than 15 pounds of tender, nutritious tissue in its pulp cavity, and that would certainly have been of value,” Fisher said in a statement.
According to study coauthor Jessi Halligan, an assistant professor of anthropology at Florida State University, the Page-Ladson site, 14,000 years ago, would’ve been located more than 200 km from the ocean and not connected to the modern river system.
“The deposits along the edge of this pond stayed wet … which allowed the organics to preserve in them,” Halligan said of the artifacts in a video.
Furthermore, the find suggests that humans coexisted and utilized megafauna for about 2,000 years, up until the animals became extinct.
“This record can only be accessed through underwater investigation, which, if undertaken with intensity and focus, should reveal a rich and abundant pre-Clovis record for the American Southeast,” the researchers wrote.
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