University-owned archaeological site receives $100,000 grant

SINKHOLE SITE: Because Little Salt Spring has a source of water that lacks oxygen, organic materials like wood, textile fragments, hair skin and brain tissue have been preserved there. Courtesy RSMAS.

A sinkhole containing several rare and endangered plant and animal species dating back as far as 12,000 years has recently received a much-needed donation.

The William and Marie Selby Foundation donated $100,000 in support of Little Salt Spring, one of the least explored archeological sites in Florida. The University of Miami was notified about the donation in late September 2008, but the official announcement was made Jan. 12, 2009.

It will be used toward the $1 million pool the university needs to start developing the Little Salt Spring Archaeological Project.

David Conklin, a graduate student at the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science (RSMAS), said that future funding will have a huge impact on the site.

“It will allow us to meet our goals of having a worthy research facility to further study the spring and preserve the archaeological material,” he said.

Little Salt Spring, which covers approximately 111 acres in southern Sarasota County, contains artifacts that date back to early prehistoric times and can aid researchers in learning more about the earliest inhabitants of Florida.

The Selby donation will pay for a multipurpose building on-site with a classroom, laboratory and storage facility for artifacts.

John Gifford, an associate professor at the RSMAS and the principle investigator for the project, said the Selby Foundation money is only the beginning.

With more permanent buildings at the site, faculty and students will have easier access to the spring and the information it holds.

“Our goal is to pass this information on to the public,” Conklin said.

Douglas Ray, who played a central part in getting the Selby Foundation grant, said the donation will make an enormous difference to the University of Miami and to the scale of archeological investigation at the site.

“I have been planning for the past 25 years [for the spring to become] a major research center for prehistoric underwater archaeology in the Western Hemisphere,” Gifford said.