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4 March 2004
The ancient inhabitants of Pasco County, Florida

Pasco County in the state of Florida, USA, has a rich history of ancient habitation. The first people arrived around 10,000 BCE in pursuit of mammoth and mastodon. Over the next few thousand years, the climate became hotter and humid, the sea level rose, the coastline moved inland, and the hunter-gatherers changed their diet to include alligator, snails, turtle and palms.
     These people lived in what has become known as the Archaic Period, which stretched from 7,000 to 1,500 BCE, although little is known about the people themselves. "We don't have any names for them. They were long gone before Europeans came" said Barry Wharton, a Tampa-based historian and former president of the Florida Academy of Sciences. "They were probably part of a large southeastern U.S. cultural tradition. Their projectile points are found shared across large parts of the Southeast."
     Many of the artefacts associated with this habitation has ironically come to light as a result of modern suburban construction. The number of registered archaeological sites in Pasco County now stands at 1,380, although few of the sites are deemed worthy of preservation. Archaeologists have found spear heads, knives and scrapers, usually carved from the local coral rock, as well as stone chips from the manufacture of these tools.
     Few organic materials survive due to the acidic soil, but occasionally some is preserved. "When I look at Pasco County I'm almost certain we're going to find something there," said archaeologist Bob Austin, with Southeastern Archaeological Research in Tampa. "You're talking about 12,000 years of prehistory, so you're going to get a lot of cultural material, particularly stone because it basically preserves."
     In 2001, a drought left water levels low, and at the bottom of King Lake on the Wesley Chapel ranch, farmer George Epperson spotted some wood sticking out of the ground. "It looked like a plank at first, but I realized there was a carved end to it," Epperson said. "It had a slightly elevated bow, a little like a Viking ship."
     In fact, it was an ancient Indian pine canoe, one of three that would eventually be found. Dated to between 500BCE and 1000CE, the canoes are now in a preservation tank of stabilising solution. "It was in very good shape, and I've looked at a lot of these canoes," Weisman, the USF anthropologist, said. "It clearly had to have been a design that worked."
     The canoes are expected to eventually go on display at Lowry Park Zoo.

Source: St Petersburg Times (22 February 2004)

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