Sinkhole holds 12,000-yr-old clues to how early Americans lived

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Washington, Feb 19 (ANI): Divers exploring a southern Florida sinkhole have uncovered clues going back to 12,000 years as to what life was like for some of America's first residents.

According to a report in National Geographic News, the sinkhole, which lies in Little Salt Spring, 12 miles (19 kilometers) south of Sarasota, is being explored by a team of underwater archaeologists led by University of Miami professor John Gifford.

Archaeologists have been recovering primitive relics from the spring since 1977, when divers found the remains of a large, now extinct tortoise and a sharpened stake that may have been used by a hungry hunter to kill the animal 12,000 years ago.

In 1986, Gifford and his colleagues recovered a skull with brain tissue from what he thinks was an ancient burial in shallow water near the spring.

He continues to work with DNA samples to determine the date of the find.

Gifford and other archaeologists found more from the tortoise this past July, along with the slaughtered remains of a giant ground sloth.

The discovery of the sloth's bones could indicate that Little Salt Spring was a sort of ancient butcher shop where hunters often killed and their prey and prepared meat when this was dry land.

"This is a warehouse of environmental, natural, historical, and archaeological remains in a very, very well preserved environment," said Roger Smith, Florida's state underwater archaeologist.

"That's why it's a world-class site. I would call it a portal back into time," he added.

When Little Salt Spring was formed during the last Ice Age, sea level was lower and what is now the Florida peninsula was much wider. Sources of freshwater were scarce.

Ancient Native Americans came to the sinkhole to drink the water and perhaps find a meal.

"Florida was much drier than it is today," Gifford said. "Essentially, Little Salt Spring was an oasis," he added.

Gifford and his divers worked last summer on a ledge about 90 feet (27 meters) below the surface where the stake and tortoise remains were found.

Gifford's divers will return to lower depths of Little Salt Spring soon, but will wait until their recent finds have been analyzed.

They hope to eventually uncover evidence of campfires on the ledge.

"There may be lots of stuff-basketry, woven fabrics, wooden implements-that you wouldn't otherwise find in an archaeological context," said Bruce Smith, curator of North American Archaeology at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.

Finding fragile wooden artifacts would "open a new window" of understanding how early Native Americans lived, Smith added. (ANI)

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