By Tamara Stewart
In 1916, as Florida State geologist Elias Sellards stood on the bank of Van Valkenberg Creek, which has run along Florida’s eastern coastal region for the last 14,000 years, he observed ancient strata where Pleistocene animal bones appeared to be associated with artifacts and a human skull and 44 other bones that came to be known as Old Vero Man. It was a shocking idea at the time, but Sellards nonetheless persisted in his interpretation of the site, inviting scholars from various disciplines to come view the evidence.
Naysayers, led by Czech-born anthropologist Aleš Hrdlička, founder of the Department of Physical Anthropology at the U.S. National Museum (now the Smithsonian Institution), cast doubt on the site’s human associations, questioning Sellards’ stratigraphic interpretation and claiming the human remains resulted from recent burials. People weren’t ready to accept Sellards’ conclusion, and those human bones became scattered among various institutions, and some of them were eventually lost. With no direct dating methods yet available, Sellards’ interpretation of the Old Vero Man site was left in question.
When the development of a wastewater treatment plant threatened the site several years ago, Barbara Purdy, professor emeritus of anthropology at the University of Florida, helped remind people of its importance through discussions with the public and the media. The discovery of what may be an ancient carved image of a mammoth on a fossilized bone was recently found in the vicinity, creating additional interest in the site. Now, nearly a hundred years since the initial discovery, a group known as the Old Vero Ice Age Sites Committee (OVIASC), is spear-heading another investigation of the site, which is located in Vero Beach, Florida. Having raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to fund the excavations and secured the necessary permissions from the landowner, OVIASC hired Paleo-Indian researchers from Mercyhurst Archaeological Institute (MAI) in Pennsylvania, who began fieldwork at the site last year.
Summary. Read more in American Archaeology Vol. 19 No. 2, Summer 2015
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