Researcher Leads Underwater Archeological Expedition in Gulf of Mexico in Search of First Americans

July 14, 2008

AUSTIN, Texas — C. Andrew Hemmings, research associate of the Texas Archeological Research Laboratory (TARL) at The University of Texas at Austin, will lead an underwater archeological expedition July 30 to Aug. 12 in the Gulf of Mexico to search for submerged evidence of the first Americans.

Hemmings and James Adovasio, director of the Mercyhurst College Archaeological Institute in Erie, Pa., who serves as co-principal investigator of the project, will study ancient submerged coastlines in the northeastern Gulf to determine where early Americans, known as the Clovis culture, might have lived more than 12,000 years ago when the underwater terrain was dry land.

"The archeological record is out there, it's just underwater," Hemmings said. "The study's findings will contribute to our understanding of early humans in North America, including the timing of their arrival, lifestyles and migration patterns, and could add further proof that the peopling of the western hemisphere was a lengthier and more complicated process than is typically believed."

The expedition has earned more than $200,000 in grant support, including $100,000 from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Additional supporters include TARL, the Gault School of Archaeological Research in Austin, Florida Bureau of Archaeological Research, Florida Geological Survey, Mercyhurst College and the University of South Florida.

Hemmings and the 12-person research team will embark July 30 on the University of South Florida's research vessel "Suncoaster" to explore an area near the Florida Middle Grounds 100 to 200 miles off Florida's west coast at depths of 40 to 110 meters. Archeological finds uncovered by past dredging operations, fishermen and geologists point to the area's potential to have hosted human inhabitants long ago, the researchers said.

In shallow depths, divers will inspect sites to collect artifacts and recover soils for radiocarbon dating. At deeper locations, the research team will use remotely operated vehicles and remote sensing tools to explore submerged sites and search for fossil remains and stone artifacts.

"We will start our investigation in shallow areas available to Clovis people 12 to 13,000 years ago, and then proceed to older, deeper landscapes that could have only been inhabited by people older than Clovis," Hemmings said.

To learn more about TARL's investigation of Clovis culture at other sites in Texas, read the feature story "Can You Dig It?: Archeologist works to overturn long-held theory of when people first came to the Americas."

More information about Clovis people is available at TexasBeyondHistory.net, a virtual museum produced by TARL, in the exhibit "Clovis Reconsidered."

For more information, contact: Jennifer McAndrew; C. Andrew Hemmings, research associate, Texas Archeological Research Laboratory, 620-757-4111.