SARASOTA COUNTY, FL (February 19, 2009)—The Gulf Coast Community Foundation of Venice has awarded the University of Miami (UM) $250,000 toward expansion of research and educational facilities at the underwater archeological and ecological preserve, Little Salt Spring (LSS), in North Port, Sarasota County, Florida. The site is of enormous archeological and anthropological value due to its antiquity and exceptional preservation of ancient organic material.
The gift was announced earlier this year, during a reception in Naples, Florida, to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the University's exploration of the preserve. The site is a national archeological treasure, said Teri A. Hansen, president and CEO of Gulf Coast Community Foundation of Venice.
"Little Salt Spring is arguably one of the most important archaeological sites in the country, and it's right here in southern Sarasota County," said Hansen. "By supporting the University of Miami's work at the spring, we can help create a significant archaeological research facility in North Port while also providing public access and educational opportunities at this fascinating preserve."
The project to expand the facilities includes construction of a hurricane-protected research, training and outreach facility complete with a visitor's center. There will be classrooms for public school visits and safe storage for the priceless artifacts. The project is expected to cost $1 million. To date, the University has received $350,000 toward this goal including $250,000 from the Gulf Coast Community Foundation of Venice and $100,000 from the Selby Foundation of Sarasota.
Development of the 110-acre preserve will allow the University to increase site research and excavation. It provides UM the opportunity to share this important archaeological resource with the community, while developing an important scientific and educational hub for university students, researchers, and other academics.
"The University of Miami takes its stewardship of Little Salt Spring very seriously," said Donna E. Shalala, president of the University of Miami. "The project to expand our work at the preserve will give our scientists the tools they need to open a doorway to pre-historic Florida and bring the site's treasures to Florida's Southwest community."
The spring located about ten miles from the Gulf of Mexico consists of a sinkhole fed by an aquifer that is thousands of feet deep. All the dissolved oxygen in the Spring's water is absorbed before it enters the bottom of the sinkhole, thus preventing agents of decomposition such as bacteria and microbes to survive. This unusual feature has allowed the preservation of a great deal of organic material deposited there thousands of years ago, explained John Gifford, associate professor at the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and principal investigator for the project.
"Little Salt Spring is unique in its ability to preserve prehistoric artifacts and organic matter," said Gifford. "Excavation and careful study of environmental samples and other materials recovered from the site will help us discover if there were people here earlier than we had believed; it will help us understand who these people were and what way of life they practiced."
The preserve was donated to the University in 1982. In 2005, UM began an ongoing partnership with the Florida Aquarium (Tampa) who provides volunteer SCUBA divers to assist in the underwater research. In 2008, researchers from Washington State University and Pennsylvania State University began long-term collaborative projects studying the botanical remains, vertebrate paleontology, geology, and DNA of plant, animal and any human remains that might be found at the site. Last year, the National Geographic Society awarded funding to the University to explore the 90-foot-deep ledge deposits at LSS.
Objects excavated to date at LSS include deer antler tools, green stone pendants, bone tools and wooden relics, fossils of extinct prehistoric creatures, a 7,000 year-old skull with brain tissue who's mitochondrial DNA revealed a genetic lineage not previously identified in the Americas.
To watch a video of an underwater expedition at Little Salt Springs, go to: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dhJWzwFJHDY
About the Gulf Coast Community Foundation of Venice:
The Gulf Coast Community Foundation of Venice builds strong communities through leadership, partnership, and endowed philanthropy. A public charity committed to improving the quality of life in the communities it serves, it is the largest community foundation in Florida and has awarded more than $80 million in grants in the areas of arts and culture, health and human services, education, civic affairs, and the environment. For more information, visit gulfcoastcf.org.
About the University of Miami:
The University of Miami's mission is to educate and nurture students, to create knowledge, and to provide service to our community and beyond. Committed to excellence and proud of the diversity of our University family, we strive to develop future leaders of our nation and the world. www.miami.edu