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19 July 2008
Search for first Americans to plunge underwater

C. Andrew Hemmings, research associate of the Texas Archeological Research Laboratory (TARL) at The University of Texas at Austin, will lead an underwater archeological expedition in the Gulf of Mexico to search for submerged evidence of the first Americans. Hemmings and James Adovasio, director of the Mercyhurst College Archaeological Institute in Erie, Pa., who serves as co-principal investigator of the project, will study ancient submerged coastlines in the northeastern Gulf to determine where early Americans, known as the Clovis culture, might have lived more than 12,000 years ago when the underwater terrain was dry land.
     Before heading inland, paleo-Indians probably hugged the American coastline, congregating around freshwater rivers, Adovasio said. At the time, much of the world's water was locked up in glaciers, causing ocean levels to be lower and exposing more of the continental shelf. As the earth warmed and water levels rose, evidence of such settlements fell deeper and deeper below water. "There is no question in almost all archaeological minds that the earliest examples of North American occupation are underwater," said Dave Watters, curator and head of anthropology at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History.
     The study's findings will contribute to our understanding of early humans in North America, including the timing of their arrival, lifestyles and migration patterns, and could add further proof that the peopling of the western hemisphere was a lengthier and more complicated process than is typically believed," Hemmings said.
     Hemmings and the 12-person research team will embark July 30 on the University of South Florida's research vessel 'Suncoaster' to explore an area near the Florida Middle Grounds 100 to 200 miles off Florida's west coast at depths of 40 to 110 meters. Archeological finds uncovered by past dredging operations, fishermen and geologists point to the area's potential to have hosted human inhabitants long ago, the researchers said.
     In shallow depths, divers will inspect sites to collect artifacts and recover soils for radiocarbon dating. At deeper locations, the research team will use remotely operated vehicles and remote sensing tools to explore submerged sites and search for fossil remains and stone artifacts. "We will start our investigation in shallow areas available to Clovis people 12 to 13,000 years ago, and then proceed to older, deeper landscapes that could have only been inhabited by people older than Clovis," Hemmings said.
     But the real work will begin next year, if the team finds enough evidence to convince someone to fund a longer expedition. "We're going to work for two continuous weeks, as many hours each day as we possibly can," Adovasio said. "If we find something, you better believe we'll go back next year."

Sources: The University of Texas at Austin (14 July 2008), Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (15 July 2008)

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