First humans in Florida lived alongside giant animals
Recent research has confirmed an old theory that the first humans in Florida lived alongside giant animals that have since become extinct. A geologist made the proposal a century ago following the discovery of numerous fossils at Vero Beach in the early 1900s, but this theory was met with resistance until it was recently proven by bone analysis.
Findings in 2014 at the most extensive prehistoric excavation in North America, the Old Man Vero site, show that humans and late Pleistocene animals, some of them gigantic, lived contemporaneously in the same vicinity. The latest evidence confirms a 2012 study of bones at the Vero site.
Archaeologists from Mercyhurst Archaeological Institute didn’t find actual human remains in the dig’s first round in 2014. However, they did find artifacts they identified as burned fragments of bone, some with cut marks, which could only be the work of human beings, the institute’s director, James Adovasio, told PastHorizons: Adventures in Archaeology .
Illustration of mammoth or mastodon tusk with marks presumed to have been made by humans found by E. H. Sellard at Vero man site in 1916 ( Wikimedia Commons )
E.H. Sellards, Florida’s geologist in the early 1900s theorized the giant animals, now extinct, and humans lived there at the same time. His theory met resistance until it was confirmed by bone analysis in 2012. Workers found human skull bones there in 1915, which have come to be known as ‘Vero Man’.
“It’s taken more than 100 years, but we now know that Sellards was right,” Advovasio said. He added that new technology and rigorous excavation protocols enabled investigators to proceed with a precise understanding of the site’s geology. Sellards did not have such technology.
National Geographic published a report showing humans first settled the Americas beginning 15,500 years ago and were in Florida 14,400 years ago. National Geographic says archaeological evidence and a genome sequencing of an ancient Native American show humans were here earlier than 13,000 years ago, which had been theorized relatively recently.
When people finally arrived in the Americas, they co-existed with what are called megafauna and megaflora, huge plants and animals that died out 10,000 to 13,000 years ago. Some people have speculated the first people here hunted them to extinction, but this has not been confirmed. Other scientists say climate change, a disease carried to the Americas by humans or a comet may have killed the megafauna.
Artist's conception of Pleistocene Vero man and cave bear Arctodus. In Fossil Mammals of Florida by Stanley J. Olsen, Florida Geological Survey Special Publication No. 6, 1959 ( Wikimedia Commons )
Pleistocene animals in North America then, though not all necessarily present in Florida, included giant sloths; short-faced bears up to 12 feet (3.66 meters) tall; dire wolves 25 percent heavier than modern wolves; 9-foot (2.75-meter) saber-tooth salmon; the American lion; 1,000-pound (454 kilograms) saber-tooth cats; tapirs; peccaries; giant condors and other birds now extinct; at least two species of bison, one of which could weigh more than 4,400 pounds (2,000 kilograms); oxen; llamas; horses; mastodons; giant armadillos; giant tortoises; Miracinonyx, or American cheetahs that are not true cheetahs; and 14 species of pronghorn, of which 13 are extinct.
“In 1913,” Discovery.com said , “construction of a drainage canal turned up fossils in Vero Beach, Fla., about 90 miles north of West Palm Beach. When geologists followed up, they unearthed the bones of all sorts of ancient animals that lived during the last Ice Age, including jaguars, capybaras, bison, peccaries, mastodons and other creatures, large and small. Alongside the animal bones in the same layer of soil lay human skeletons.”
There had been controversy about whether people in Florida and Pleistocene animals lived at the same time, but analysis of bones by a University of Florida paleontologist in 2012 showed they did indeed live contemporaneously there, Discovery.com said.
Studies have shown that in Montana, New Mexico, Arizona, Ohio and elsewhere, people also lived alongside mammoths, mastodons, and other massive mammals more than 10,000 years ago, Kenneth Tankersley, an archaeological geologist at the University of Cincinnati, told Discovery.com.
Stone Age man and saber-tooth cat. Source: BigStockPhoto
The Mercyhurst Archaeological Institute dug at Vero Beach from January to May 2014 at the invitation of the Old Vero Man Ice Age Sites Committee. They began just in time because the local government is planning to build a stormwater treatment facility on the site, using 200 tons of concrete. New archaeological excavations will start in early 2015.
Archaeologists and students will concentrate their second round in a buried soil layer dating back 19,000 years. Adovasio said if they find evidence of humans in that layer, it would be the earliest in the Americas yet.
The scientists hope future investigations will show how humans, animals and plant populations interrelated at Vero. Adovasio said they hope “to distinguish lifestyles of the folks who might have lived at Vero in terms of how much they match or don’t match other behavioral models from other sites ,” he told PastHorizons.
Mercyhurst Archaeological Insitute will work with Florida Atlantic University scientists to analyze ancient DNA found at the site. The idea is to better understand life forms in Florida at the end of the last Ice Age.
Featured image: Mammoth hunting scene [Credit: Indian River Community Foundation]
By Mark Miller