Abstract: The First Floridians: Early Humans on the Submerged Gulf Coast of Florida
Geoarchaeological exploration of the inner-continental shelf in the northeastern Gulf of Mexico has generated a tremendous amount of side-scan sonar and sub bottom profile data, including nearly 2000 targets of interest. In 2009, many of these targets were directly examined and/or sampled by technical diving archaeologists. Highlights of the 2008-2009 field seasons include the documentation of two lengthy paleo river systems and the identification of numerous intact, infilled karst features. A variety of samples were diver-collected from sites 13-40 m deep and up to 150 km offshore. Of particular importance to our understanding of this inundated Pleistocene landscape is the delineation of the relict Suwannee River channel. This feature has been located in nine separate areas extending nearly 160 km into the Gulf of Mexico on the southeastern edge of the Florida Middle Grounds. The terrestrial expression of this river is replete with Paleoindian sites and it is assumed that the paleo-channel is, likewise, flanked by early occupations. Perhaps most interestingly, during the 2009 project, scuba divers recovered bedrock limestone samples from several locations immediately adjacent to the buried Suwannee channel, three of which contain desilicifying chert. Like their terrestrial counterparts, such areas would have been magnets for the prehistoric utilization of this vast submerged landscape. The results of our current analyses are detailed and plans for future exploration are articulated. It is anticipated that the results of this research will substantially enhance our understanding of the anthropogenic utilization of coastal environments in the late Pleistocene and, more broadly, the early colonization of the New World.