North Central Florida has long been a known hotspot of pre-contact underwater archaeology. The Suwannee River, in particular, has produced many ex situ isolated Paleoindian artifacts, but few sites. In the summer of 2019, a team of archaeologists working with the Center for the Study of the First Americans at Texas A&M University excavated a site that may be a rare exception: the Lewis-McQuinn site (Figure 1).
The Lewis-McQuinn site (8DI112) was found by avocational divers in the 1980s and reported to the state of Florida. Lewis-McQuinn has potential to be unique because the Suwannee River, which is adjacent to the site, contains diagnostic artifacts spanning over 13,000 years from the Early Paleoindian through Historic periods. The location and context of the site is significant because intact, stratified cultural deposits are very rare in the Southeast United States but are found along the Suwannee. Reliable radiocarbon ages on Paleoindian sites are scarce because organic material rarely survives in Pleistocene-aged sediments on land. However, underwater archaeological sites, where organic material is more likely to survive 10,000 years or more, can provide archaeologists with datable material that will give us a better understanding of the cultures of the First Floridians. Therefore, the Lewis-McQuinn site is one of few sites in Florida that could produce stratified cultural deposits from the Late Pleistocene and Early Holocene that could be reliably dated. However, the Lewis-McQuinn site is badly eroding into the Suwannee River as a result of constant boat wakes and natural riverine processes, such as floods. In the past decade, over 30m2 of sediments has been stripped from the site by cultural and natural factors. Because the site is eroding, an archaeological team led by Morgan Smith, a PhD candidate at Texas A&M University, excavated an intact portion of the site to determine the true significance of the Lewis-McQuinn site before it is lost forever.
In May of 2019, a team of archaeologists relocated the Lewis-McQuinn site in Dixie County, Florida. Armed with a water induction dredge, diving equipment, and an expertise in submerged geoarchaeology, the team decided to place 1m x 1m units at the site’s suspected location. A datum was set on top of the eroding levee, 4 m above the river level. Unit A was the first unit set and excavated. Divers efficiently excavated through different colored fine-grained sandy sediments until ultimately arriving at a hard-brown clay roughly 4.5m below the datum. As the team excavated units, they worked north, slowly completing a 3m x 3m block by the end of the four-week excavation. During the geoarchaeological excavation, where recreating and understanding the geological process at play on the site is a principal focus, a Middle Paleoindian Point was found in situ as divers carefully removed sediment with trowels in 10cm levels. This diagnostic artifact, a Suwannee Point, is an ancient Floridian tool making tradition, roughly 12,500-10,500 years old, and was the first Paleoindian point to be discovered during a controlled underwater excavation in Florida (Figure 2).
Underwater cameras were used to take a series of photographs that could be stitched together with computer software to make a 3-dimensional photogrammetric model of the Suwannee Point in situ. Quite frequently, flakes or debitage were encountered during the excavation, but early in June of 2019, as the team dug closer to shore, a Paleoindian or Early Archaic endscraper was found in-situ at the Lewis Mc-Quinn site (Figure 3).
Artifacts were also found in situ that were representative of Archaic Cultures (about 10,500-3,000 years ago). For instance, a Newnan point was found above the river on the petrocalcic horizon about 5m away from the excavations. Another Archaic point was discovered in situ during the underwater excavations and photographed for purposes of 3D modeling (Figure 4). Archaeologists explored the river and its environs to discover another Archaic point eroding out of the shoreline roughly two miles downriver of Lewis-McQuinn. When archaeologists investigated the springhead at Fletcher Spring, they encountered roughly rectangular pits in the ground where looters had illegally dug sediment in pursuit of artifacts. The archaeologists met several local collectors from Dixie County, who shared their collections and local knowledge of the area.
Preliminary results indicate that at least three intact components still exist at the Lewis-McQuinn site, including a Middle Paleoindian Suwannee component, Middle Archaic Newnan component, and a Woodland component, likely Deptford. The project, directed by Dr. Michael Waters and Morgan Smith, included an undergraduate student from Florida State University and graduate students from the University of West Florida, and Texas A&M University. This work was supported by the North Star Archaeological Research Program and was completed in coordination with the Florida Division of Historical Resources. The Lewis-McQuinn excavation was accomplished as a part of the larger Submerged Paleo-Landscapes Archaeological Survey and Heritage project. SPLASH will also be conducting testing at a possible new underwater archaeological site on the Silver River in late July and early August of 2019.