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12,000 - 14,000 Epic Carving On Fossil Bone Found In Vero Beach, Florida

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Author Topic: 12,000 - 14,000 Epic Carving On Fossil Bone Found In Vero Beach, Florida  (Read 534 times)
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« on: June 05, 2009, 09:48:32 am »

Vero Beach is already one of the best known and most discussed fossil sites in Florida, producing two fossilized partial skeletons, the older of which became known as Vero Man.

Isaac M. Weills and Frank Ayers found the fossil human bones here nearly 100 years ago where the Indian River Farms Company was constructing a drainage canal that intersected the old streambed of Van Valkenburg Creek.

The site is near U.S. One and the new county administration complex. A great number of extinct mammal bones were also found along the old creek-bed, including the first find of a sub-species of North American tapir that would be named after its location: Tapirous veroensus.

Years of contention about the age and nature of the partial sets of human bones followed.

Although the anthropologists and paleontologists who study the Pleistocene have long agreed about the co-mingling of early human groups and extinct mammals in Florida, questions lingered over the old local finds.

Back in 1915 some scientists questioned whether the bones of Vero Man were carried into deposits older than the bones actually were, by accidental mixing of ground layers or other means. Skull measurement techniques, since discredited, were used by one scientist to estimate the age of the bones, and contradict a Florida geologist who said Vero Man was much older, a premise now widely held.

The bones and skull were dated at the time by acclaimed state geologist Elias Sellards as being at least 10,000 years old. The bones’ antiquity was questioned by Ales Hrdicka of the Smithsonian Institution who believed they were much younger. He asserted the heavily mineralized human bones, clearly fossils, were of recent origin. His view was the fossilization had happened quickly and humans never lived here in the Pleistocene.

Over the next 30 years the bones and skull were housed by numerous persons and institutions. There was even some evidence the bones had actually belonged to a woman and not a man. The skull was cast in cement, damaged, and then disappeared. Femurs and the other remaining bones today are scattered at different state institutions and at the Smithsonian in Washington D.C.

Although Sellard’s assessment is now generally accepted, there are still those who have questioned the presence of man living here with the great mammals long gone. James Kennedy’s discovery appears to offer unequivocal evidence that human beings lived in our area during the Pleistocene, and that Sellards analysis was likely correct.

Barbara Purdy has spent years studying and analyzing the earliest Floridians and the evidence they left behind. Her most recent book, “Florida’s People during the last Ice Age,” released last year, offers an overview of the last 100 years of research into Florida’s earliest people.Fossil sites and finds in Vero Beach and Melbourne are among the many she describes in detail.

Purdy would like to see a new, more complete excavation of the old Vero site that has continued to yield fossil animal bones and human artifacts like spear points. She calls for a new “well-designed project incorporating the expertise of individuals from various disciplines using 21st century techniques.” She estimates a thorough scientifically executed excavation would cost around $150,000.

“What we need down there requires going down eight feet or more into the deposits,” she says. “All material needs to be screened with fine mesh. It all needs to be carefully done, not contract archeology, but a painstaking University-type project.”

The question of pre-historic man living here during the late Pleistocene now may be resolved, but scientists wonder what other finds might be discovered. The famous site of Vero Man, where human fossils were first found, will likely be disrupted this year due to expansion of the Vero Beach water plant. Other scientists interested in the age of bones and the surrounding sediments found there plan to begin work in June. Any excavation will be the last opportunity to properly examine the site before the water plant project.

Sometimes people do find the thing that dreams are made of. For Barbara Purdy and James Kennedy, the image under the light in February revealed a once in a lifetime discovery. The elephant carving will bring new interest in the geology and fossil beds of Indian River County. Hopefully the bone will find a permanent home at the Natural History Museum of the University of Florida.

This extraordinary and rare piece of human history will put Vero Beach in textbooks for years to come. Stories will be written and more extensive explorations will certainly follow. Barbara Purdy dedicated her recent book to Elias Sellards whom she calls “a visionary.”

Today, with amateurs and pros looking at an old bone and an ancient hand’s depiction of an awesome beast, he would certainly be smiling.
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