Mercyhurst considers launch of underwater archaeology field school

Field school

Ninety-five percent of Earth’s underwater world remains unseen by the human eye, but some Mercyhurst University students could get a glimpse of this vast frontier when the university launches its first prehistoric underwater archaeological field school.

Just announced by the Mercyhurst Archaeological Institute (MAI), the field school would require a minimum of eight students – all certified scuba divers – to launch May 20 to June 28. MAI is currently taking applications; the school is open to qualifying Mercyhurst students as well as those from other colleges and universities.The plan is to explore a mile-long stretch of the lower Aucilla River in North Florida, which has proven to be a unique treasure trove of stratified prehistoric records yielding lithics, wood, and other plant remains as well as bones and teeth, according to MAI Director James Adovasio, Ph.D.

The school would utilize much of the underwater exploration equipment that Mercyhurst has amassed in recent years through its collaboration with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on a multi-year expedition led by Adovasio in the northeastern Gulf of Mexico, off the Florida coast. Adovasio achieved world acclaim as an archaeologist in the 1970s with his excavation of Meadowcroft Rockshelter near Pittsburgh, Pa. Meadowcroft has been widely recognized as the earliest well-dated archaeological site in North America, with evidence of human habitation dating to ca. 16,000 years ago.

Adovasio said the field school would one of the few, perhaps even the first, to be focused exclusively on prehistoric underwater archaeology.

When the first Americans arrived in Florida, sea level was much lower and there was more than twice as much dry land as exists today. Early American settlements that have been discovered are typically associated with reliable water supplies such as springs and rives, such as the Aucilla.

Field school students would be trained in the use of induction dredges, floating screen decks, and a host of underwater archaeological tools. Further, they will gain hands-on experience finding, processing and identifying bone, stone, antler and ivory artifacts in addition to the Pleistocene flora and fauna of the region.

View complete details on the program here.
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