Budget Ends Excavations at Florida’s Prehistoric Little Salt Spring

I would be remiss if I let this story of my college mentor’s, John Gifford, Ph.D., prehistoric excavation closing down due to a shrinking budget. Little Salt Spring in Sarasota County, Florida is an important Paleo-Indian site and on the National Register of Historic Places. Archaeological Investigations over the last 21 years have yielded key information to understanding the peoples who lived in this region thousands of years before Columbus.

Little Salt Spring, courtesy of Wikimedia

Little Salt Spring, courtesy of Wikimedia

The 111 acre sink hole in Central Florida drew Floridians as early as 12,000 years ago. They used the site as a fresh water source but also as a trap for larger game, drowning them in the deep water and then removing the carcass to clean and eat. The material found at the site has been important and only just touched the surface.

Sadly, recently budget evaluations have determined the sites closing and, as such, Dr. Gifford will be retiring his archaeological career at the University of Miami’s Rosenthal School of Marine and Atmosphere Science.

“…because of this, I’m retiring after this semester. The reason I was hired in 1983 was to work at Little Salt Spring. My job was to do underwater research in Little Salt Spring.” — John Gifford, Ph.D.

The closing of the site has sent ripples throughout the archaeological community.

“It’s a rare site. It is one of Florida’s most puzzling and enigmatic archaeological sites. It is significant, based on what has been found there; the rich archaeological evidence of the earliest period of human occupation in Florida. It’s a time period of which we know very little.” Brent Wiseman, Ph.D.

To learn more about the Little Salt Springs excavations and its closing, see the article at Tampa Bay Online.

6 thoughts on “Budget Ends Excavations at Florida’s Prehistoric Little Salt Spring

  1. Jim Wheeler

    A Big Mac
    A restaurant meal.
    An automobile.
    A vacation.

    These things are valuable, but they are commodities, and replaceable. Knowledge is forever, and its opportunities perishable.

    1. Jennifer Carey Post author

      And sadly, this site is unique and has provided so much information about Paleo-Indians. It also has so much more to teach us. At the very least, I hope it continues to be preserved as an historical site.
      Archaeology is Anthropology and the Governor of Florida has made clear his thoughts on Anthropologists…

  2. Ian Michael Rogers

    Hi Jennifer,

    I graduated from UM in 2011 with a minor in marine archaeology. I took all of Dr. Gifford’s classes, even his graduate courses on underwater archaeology as a senior. I am very, very saddened to hear about this. Dr. Gifford’s passion for LSS rubbed off on my and so many other students. Just a few years ago, Dr. Shalala was quoted saying how important LSS was to not only UM but South Florida as a whole. It really saddens me that UM, which prides itself on being a top tier research and in particular, its prominent marine school will sell this site. UM can’t afford 100,000 dollars a year? Do we know if this is a permanent decision? I intend to contact UM about this. Dr. Gifford spent thirty years at UM and his work has brought much recognition to RSMAS and UM. Very sad to hear about this all.

    1. Jennifer Carey Post author

      It is very sad indeed that the state and the university cannot find the money to continue funding this important project. UM is losing out by losing Dr. Gifford.

  3. Ian Michael Rogers

    I agree. I am writing a letter to Dr. Shalala asking for more information about this. It really seems odd to me that they would close this site, which only requires 100,000 a year to maintain. That is very little to keep a major marine archaeology site open and a hallmark of RSMAS. Equally sad to me is how UM is losing Dr. Gifford. This is a no win situation. Did you study under Dr. Gifford?

    1. Jennifer Carey Post author

      Yes, he was an advisor/mentor of mine as an undergraduate. His loss is such a huge hit to the University. There are so few nautical archaeologists. Couple that with the fact that there are few archaeologists with their own digs (most tag along on others). His presence was such a plus for the Anthropology Department as well as the University as a whole.


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