The dark and winding rivers of Florida contain conclusive evidence of early humans in North America. Fifteen thousand years ago, the Great Bend of Florida was pockmarked with sinkholes (Read more about the Ancient River). For the past three decades, river divers have been finding ancient artifacts and animals preserved in these sinkholes.

A flake from the river - 2010 © Jessi Halligan

Over the past four years, the Aucilla River Geoarchaeological Expedition has been conducting underwater excavations in sinkholes on each side of Ward Island, located between two runs of the Aucilla. Wayne’s Sink, in the main run,  was once known as the Spearthrower Site. Over the years, river divers recovered numerous atlatl hooks and antler points from its depths. Lying in the west run of the Aucilla, Sloth Hole was extensively excavated in the 1990s. It contains a potential ivory workshop and more bone and ivory artifacts than the entire catalog from the rest of North America. The bottoms of both sinks are covered with chert flakes discarded by ancient flintnappers. Most of the stone is local material gathered from veins in the exposed bedrock.

Troweling underwater – 2011 © Douglas Inglis

To augment underwater excavation, archaeologists excavated numerous test pits on Ward Island itself and conducted hundreds of auger tests, locating five previously unrecorded sites. To reconstruct the ancient environment, they drove two dozen cores into the river and surrounding landscape, looking for clues in pollen and sediment. Together, the underwater excavations, land excavation and geological cores create an archaeological profile across both island and river.

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