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Pre-history explored at Wakulla Springs

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By NICOLE ZEMA
nzema@thewakullanews.net

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When contemplating the human history of Wakulla Springs, most people think of Ed Ball and his Lodge embodying his idea of quiet elegance in the 1930s.
But a group of historians and archaeologists are stepping back in time – way back – to unearth the stories of Native American cultures that lived and hunted on the land that is now so popular with locals and tourists alike.
The archaeological investigation, called Wakulla II, will be ongoing at Wakulla Springs State Park until Sept. 12. The project’s Principal Investigator is Dr. Jim Dunbar, and the Volunteer Coordinator is Madeleine Carr. Sponsors are the Friends of Wakulla Springs State Park, Aucilla Research Institute (Monticello), and the Panhandle Archaeological Society at Tallahassee.
“We are looking for the remains of two Creek Indian villages, from 1798 to 1818,” Dunbar said. “Artifacts from both sites have been found to suggest their presence. We are finding evidence of Creek or Seminole pottery.”
Their other main focus is a very old timescale, when Paleo-Indians in Florida hunted mastodon, horse and bison. Artifacts indicating two Creek occupations are located in the springs property, and include both Native American and early European pottery, a musket ball, and other remains.
 “My area of research interest is with the very early human occupation of Florida when now-extinct mega mammals coexisted with the Paleo-Indians who hunted them,” Dunbar said. “Madeleine Carr is an historian who is keenly interested in the late Creek occupations. And in the sediment column, between the Paleo-Indian and Creek sites components, lies evidence of other human occupations some 3,000 to 7,000-year-old range. As in real-estate today, it is ‘Location, Location, Location,’ and at what better place than Wakulla Springs with its mysterious waters in our own backyard. We want to solve those mysteries – it’s why we are here.”
Carr said upon the request of park management, Friends of Wakulla Springs State Park are funding this initial survey of two 10-plus acre areas within the park.
“Our organization hopes to receive funding for additional areas through a small grant from the Florida Department of State,” Carr said. “If funded, those additional areas will yield more information about the presence of Lower Creeks, some of whom were officers in Andrew Jackson’s war on the Seminoles.”
Dunbar said, “A disadvantage on land – is that you do not often find bone preservation of mammals and skeletons because the soil is too acidic. Nevertheless we recovered what appears to be a fragment of burned horse tooth. Burned or calcine bone tends to survive much longer compared to bone that has not been burned. With this grid testing over 20 acres we’re just trying to get a handle on where the artifact concentrations are located.”
To do this, a crew of professionals and volunteers are digging tests in the sediment as much as 6-feet deep with posthole diggers. These test units will identify areas of artifact concentrations and provide a better idea of where sites of human activity are located. This site, which is not currently open to the public, is located in the woods near the Lodge. Excavations on state-owned lands can only be conducted with a research permit issued by the Florida Division of Historical Resources.
“If we get all the funding we hope to from a number of granting venues including the Division of Historical Resources, the research will become much more ambitious and we will be here a number of years,” Dunbar said. “For the future we hope to understand the connections between submerged, wetland, and terrestrial site components. On the young end of the time scale we hope to identify old landings that are associated with the Creek occupations on land. On the old end of things we hope to understand the human use of the uplands versus the wetlands and what that might tell us about the habitats Paleo-Indians once exploited to make a living.”
Dunbar said ultimately, the discoveries will help define archeological components in a way that has not been done before anywhere else.
Dunbar said down the road, this preliminary science could generate a museum or interpretive site. The importance of this work is rooted in heritage.
“Our heritage stretches back to the most ancient time in the Americas,” Dunbar said. “There is a story to be told, but we carefully approach it, and bring the right tests. When that happens, you get enlightened on how people lived in the past. We actually get to see where we came from, and maybe in some small way, where were going.”