Fossil show offers glimpse of Stone Age


Published: Sunday, January 27, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 27, 2008 at 12:08 a.m.

It's only natural that the Sunshine State Archaeological Society decided on the Alachua Women's Club as the site of its first annual Alachua Stone Age Fair.

The building's exterior is made entirely out of chert, a fine-grained sedimentary rock similar to flint that was often used by native peoples to carve tools for hunting and fishing.

"When I saw this building, I knew it was the perfect place, because it's so appropriate," said Bob Knight, an amateur archaeologist and SSAS president.

The SSAS has hosted an annual fossil exhibit in Gainesville since 2002, but Saturday's show marked the first year its mission was purely educational - no commercial buying or selling of artifacts allowed.

Dozens of collectors - from lauded scientists to self-proclaimed geologists by trade - came together to proudly display their finds and teach the public a little something about these visions of our past.

Some collectors were visibly excited about new research that has the potential to revolutionize the field and how we look at history altogether.

Richard Michael Gramly came all the way from Andover, Mass., to share a collection of stone tools from his excavation of a southwestern Kentucky site.

Rather than using traditional radiocarbon dating, Gramly said he and his team have been able to date their finds with the help of new technology that determines when minerals were last exposed to daylight.

The estimated age of his artifacts is about 16,000 calendar years, Gramly said, which lends credence to the much-debated idea that there may have been human life existing in North America much earlier than what's been hypothesized.

"The mere discovery of this site is almost a piece of luck," Gramly said.

For brothers Harley and Ryan Means of Tallahassee, archaeology might not be how they make their living, but it's certainly a family tradition.

"It started in the '60s with our dad bringing home neat little finds for us," said Ryan Means, a 35-year-old University of Florida alumnus.

Over the last 30 years, the brothers have accumulated hundreds of cases full of artifacts - everything from bear-tooth pendants, arrowheads, fishing hooks and heavy stone daggers to items like hair pins.

"All the things we have in our households today, they had some sort of version of it," Harley Means said. "But the pride and resourcefulness you see in these artifacts is just amazing. Almost nothing went to waste."

Both brothers agreed their main reason for attending the fair was to make the first step toward improving the recently tense relationship between Florida's professional and amateur archaeologists since the state's Isolated Finds Policy was amended two years ago.

The policy was adopted in 1996 to reach a compromise with collectors and stated that divers would be given title to artifacts they recovered from the bottoms of streams and rivers, which are state lands.

In 2005, however, after years of recommendations from professional archaeologists concerned with the problem of looting, the state made the removal of artifacts from river bottoms and other state lands a first-degree misdemeanor.

"This fair could be thought of as the first lightbulb being turned on in the Dark Ages of the amateur-professional relationship," Ryan Means said, adding that he and his brother are working with a number of other archaeologists to lobby the state to reinstate the Isolated Finds Policy.

Despite the ongoing battle to regain diving rights, Knight said it's important to recognize the years of hard work both professional and amateur archaeologists have put into preserving our history.

"We're just flesh and blood," Knight said. "These artifacts will live on forever."

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