Mercyhurst Archaeological Institute

Officials finalize plans for ice age site dig in Vero Beach

Dec 02, 2013 | Posted in News

VERO BEACH — Officials from Mercyhurst University in Erie, Pa., finalized Monday their plans for an archaeological dig at the Old Vero Man site that will begin in January.

Dr. Thomas Gamble, Mercyhurst president, said the dig will involve at least a dozen scientists from the Archaeological Institute and will include volunteers from the community interested in learning more about the site.

“We’re very excited,” said Randy Old of the Old Vero Ice Age Sites Committee. “This is something we’ve been working on for a long time now, and we’re glad it is finally moving forward.”

Old said the site, near the Vero Beach Municipal Airport along the Main Relief Canal, could be one of the most important ice age historical sites in the world: In 1915, a fossilized skeleton was found there, possibly the oldest human remains ever found in North America. Remains of extinct animals including mammoth, mastodon, saber-toothed cat and ancient species of tapir, horse and sloth were also found at the site.

At the time, experts disagreed about the age of the bones and whether they proved man and animal existed in the area before the ice age.

Archaeologist Andrew Hemmings, who was hired by the Old Vero Ice Age Sites Committee to lead the dig, said the excavation will draw a lot of attention in the scientific world. The committee is paying for the $450,000 excavation in partnership with Mercyhurst. The Institute is contributing $200,000 plus all of the analytical work at a reduced cost.

“We are going to see a lot of news about Vero Beach and Indian River County,” Hemmings said.

After erecting a plastic, Quonset-style structure at the excavation site to protect the dig from the elements and the public, Mercyhurst archaeologists hope to slowly and methodically uncover plant, animal and human remains not found at any other archaeological site in the world.

Dr. James Adovasio, who heads-up the Mercyhurst Archaeological Institute, said the project allows scientists to look at the origins of early man from a different perspective.

“We can look at with fresh eyes whatever we can extract from Vero Beach,” Adovasio said. “This project is a unique way to examine how the first humans percolated in this area.”

Old said he estimates 40,000 to 50,000 tourists might visit the site annually.

“They’ll put money and resources right here in Vero Beach,” Old said. “The site is certainly important for Vero from a tourism point of view.”

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