Searching the Florida past for the beginnings of human life

An Ice Age Mystery: Unearthing the Secrets of the Old Vero Site, by Rody Johnson. University Press of Florida. 224 pages.  Hardcover $24.95.

For 100 years, the human and other remains of Vero, Florida have engaged the skills and imagination of professional and amateur archaeologists. Just what was the region like during the Ice Age? What grew there? What were the geological features? Did animals thrive? Did humans leave their marks — and their bones – somewhere in the layers of sediment washed by intruding waters? Why are these questions important? 

The history of archaeological investigations of “the Old Vero site” is characterized by sporadic periods of accelerated interest and action separated by longer periods of general neglect. Rody Johnson tells the story in a highly accessible style, even making the forays into science understandable and engaging. It’s a story of diehard fanatics, professional rivalries, home town boosters, and local kids with nothing better to do than search for Ice Age tools, fossils, bones, and other evidentiary signs of life – individual and communal.

Yes, before there was today’s Vero Beach, perhaps 10,000 years before, there was Vero Man – or, more likely, Vero Woman.

Johnson

Mr. Johnson’s book is divided into two parts. The first part begins with the 1916 discovery by geologist Elias Sellards of Ice Age human and animal remains. His interpretation, originally challenged by leading authorities, was eventually supported by radiocarbon dating technology. This justification came long after the dismissal of Sellards’s claims had crushed his career and spirit.

The author traces the ebbs and flows of interest in the Old Vero site, sets this pattern in the context of other Ice Age research sites, and ends this section with reference to a long period of research dormancy.  Along the way, we meet the important players in the field, generation by generation, and major findings nearby and far away that rival the Old Vero Site’s claim for attention. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the May 31, 2017 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the June 1 Naples, Bonita Springs, Punta Gorda / Port Charlotte, and Palm Beach editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Rody Johnson

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