Ancient inhabitants of island unlike others of the paleo-indian period.
APRIL FOOL -- Astounding evidence of Longboat Key’s first inhabitants and how they lived more than 10,000 years ago is under study at the University of Florida and other sites following excavations in 2020 at the site of what will one day be the Residences at the St. Regis Longboat Key Resort, scientists said in a news conference on Tuesday.
Stone tablets with pictograph-style markings, the use of a primitive and recently deciphered written language, tools fashioned from bone and sinew for a variety of uses and even the New World’s first recorded recipe were uncovered at 1620 Gulf of Mexico Drive as engineers took soil core samples in preparation for the $100 million construction project.
“The paleo-indian period is a fascinating time in the history of the planet and the Longboat Key chapter is no exception,’’ said Dr. Ohio Jones, an archeologist with the University of Florida’s Ice Age project, which focuses on the state’s earliest inhabitants. “Not cavemen, but not modern man, either. We see wide variations along the coast in terms of development and social organization, but this sort of community was something we’ve never seen before.’’
Much of what was found has been attributed to a small group of individuals that scientists interpreted as “The Obsarvaires,’’ apparently scribes of sorts for the band of people who lived largely in a 16-acre area bounded by the Gulf of Mexico and an upland area.
Discoveries were made in early 2020 and initially kept quiet during the COVID-19 pandemic to keep crowds from forming. Scientists dressed as construction engineers or wayward tourists in Hawaiian-print shirts scoured the site, often with common beach shovels and pails, removing 876 artifacts.
Initially, core sampling turned up a tablet with a pictograph depicting some kind of recreational activity similar to tennis.
Ground-penetrating radar was used to pinpoint the locations of other suspected artifacts, as little as 10 feet below the surface, but up to 80 feet deep, Jones said.
“We’re confident we found everything of significance,’’ he said of tantalizing clues to the lifestyle of what scientists have called “Colony Man.’’
Among the team’s findings:
- Evidence that Longboat Key’s first inhabitants often migrated back and forth from northern climates, though summers around 8,000 BC were cooler and drier than today. Overland journeys to regions such as the northern Midwest and what is now Long Island were the most common, often taking years. There was evidence of a disconnect based on regional dialects and expectations of basic courtesy rituals between natives and those who arrived during the winter. Among them, difficulty moving from one part of the island to the other during what The Obsarvaires referred to as “saesin.”
- A step-by-step procedure to make a citrus-based pie using ancient forerunners to Key limes. Other favored dishes would today be considered paleo, though back then they were simply referred to as "fud."
- A list of men and women who were assigned to cook for the band of inhabitants. The Obsarvaires wrote on one tablet that these ancient chefs often left the tribe to begin cooking for other tribes throughout the area. One of the scribes himself wrote that he traveled “toward setting moon many days and enjoyed dinner unlike before. Then, I go home.’’
- Pictographs showed images of elder-female inhabitants using local tree roots, insect entrails and a paste made of sand and other ingredients to change their facial appearance. A drawing resembling a modern-day cougar accompanied the pictograph, though zoological experts confirm no such large cat would have been seen in the area at that period of history. “Maybe on Long Island,’’ said Emmanuel Belough, an archeological assistant.
- Villagers apparently gathered often along the beach at a shelter decorated by images of an animal that initially confused scientific investigators. First thought to be a monkey or some sort of primate seen sitting off balance alongside a bar or branch, a cross-check with forensic zoologists led scientists to believe the animal was neither man nor monkey. Jones jokingly referred to the site as the "Missing Link Bar."
- Drawings found on site indicated residents lived in multi-level structures, never before seen during the time period, Jones said. One sketch of the village depicted a central lagoon open to the sea in which community members were drawn swimming alongside manatees, rays and other now-extinct saltwater sea creatures. Another tablet told the story of one resident banished forever for attempting to trade trinkets for many of the residents’ dwellings and trying to gather a plan to rebuild the community. At one point, the tablet read, the resident controlled nearly half the property until he was taken by dugout canoe to live on the mainland never to be heard from again.
Study of the so-called Colony Man discoveries will go on for years, Jones said. He said he found it remarkable that carbon dating matched all the artifacts to perhaps a 100 year time frame, though precise timekeeping can not be ascertained, though no other civilization landed there to live permanently until the 1950s.
He said he also found remarkable the detail and breadth of the scribes' work, owing the scientific advancement to their work.
“Clearly, there were more than one scribes or Obsarvaires over the era,’’ Jones said, adding there was evidence other scribes tried to write about broader areas, though no evidence of their work survived. “Some stayed on longer than others.’’
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