Underwater exploration seeks evidence of early Americans

By Debbie Morton - Mercyhurst College

Where the first Americans came from, when they arrived and how they got here is as lively a debate as ever, only most of the research to date has focused on dry land excavations.

But, last summer's pivotal underwater exploration in the Gulf of Mexico led by Mercyhurst College archaeologist Dr. James Adovasio yielded evidence of inundated terrestrial sites that may well have supported human occupation more than 12,000 years ago, and paved the way for another expedition this July.

As part of their 2008 findings, the researchers located and mapped buried stream and river channels and identified in-filled sinkholes that could potentially help document the late Pleistocene landscape and contain artifacts and associated animal remains from early human occupations.

Continued exploration, Adovasio said, will be geared toward assessing a human presence on the now submerged beaches and intersecting river channels.

"There's no doubt that early North American occupations are underwater, but it's like looking for a needle in a haystack," he said. "We have found the haystack; now we've got to find the needles."

That happens July 23-Aug. 7 when Adovasio leads a team of scientists representing leading institutions from government and higher education to St. Petersburg, Fla., where they'll resume their search for evidence of early Americans in an area 100-to-200 miles off Florida's west coast, now about 300 feet under water.

For the second year, Adovasio will be assisted by co-principal investigator Dr. C. Andrew Hemmings of Mercyhurst College and the Gault School of Archaeological Research in Austin, Texas.

This year as last, the primary funding source is the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

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early Americans Gulf of Mexico Mercyhurst College Dr. James Adovasio NOAA