A Small Mystery At Starvation Hill
Feb,2009 By Rene Rogers
I was just over 2-years old in 1929 when my family
moved from Louisiana to Gainesville, Florida.
We lived there for a while with my grandfather, George Foster, at
his place at the top of the hill on Kincaid Road a mile or so South of the
Hawthorne Road. He referred
to the area as The Starvation Hills.
As I later came to understand some of the geology of the area it
had once been a sand dune beach as Florida was being pushed up out of the
ocean due to “Plate Tectonics”.
Another feature of this geology was the sinkhole and as a 3-year
old I recall going to the bottom of one with my older brother near my
grandfather’s place. I
remember that we drank cold sweet water from a spring at the bottom.
I also recall that he found, over time, some small petrified
shark’s teeth and a few pieces of quartz in the gravel beds down there.
The importance of this sinkhole with regard to my
mystery here is that it was also a place where blocks of chert and perhaps
other stones could be harvested. Chert,
like flint, agate, jasper, and obsidian, etc., is useful for making flaked
stone tools. In particular,
chert is a natural glass that forms a razor-sharp edge when broken by a
sharp blow from another stone, or cobble.
This property is of primary importance in the making of stone tools
like arrowheads and knives, etc.
As I understand the geology, chert is formed as
nodules weighing some 20-pounds, much more or much less, in limestone beds
over many eons on the bottom of warm shallow seas.
The limestone is primarily the remains of shellfish like clams and
muscles and oysters, etc. After
the limestone formations have been lifted up off the ocean floor and
forests have developed around about, the rainfall on the dead leaves is
slightly acidic and the runoff in the form of underground streams slowly
dissolves the limestone. In
time the ground above collapses and a sinkhole is formed.
Somewhere along the way I was told that Alachua County, where I
grew up, was named after the Seminole word for “sinkhole”.
In any case there are numerous sinkholes in the area familiar to
curious guys like me. Most
notable is The Devil’s Millhopper, now a park West of Gainesville.
Warren’s Cave nearby is of similar origin, but it has not fallen
The Kincaid Road is now paved, but during my college
days (1946-50) it was still a dirt road.
Some 2-miles past my grandfather’s old place it makes a sharp
right turn for 2+/- miles and there joins the road past Bouleware Springs
at Robinson Heights. Following
this road to the North takes us back to Gainesville past the Evergreen
Cemetery (where my grandfather and my father are buried).
The site of this housing development was a large vacant field in
those days where the occasional arrowhead could be found. Jackson’s Farm was across the railroad (now a bike trail to
Hawthorne) on the edge of Payne’s Prairie.
Jackson’s Farm, in contrast, is a prime hunting ground for stone
Bouleware Springs was the main source of the
Gainesville water supply when I was growing up, but it is now a public
park. The runoff is a creek
that flows to Payne’s Prairie along the North boundary of Jackson’s
Farm, that is no longer used for farming.
When I was in high school, my buddies and I used to camp beside the
creek and hunt for arrowheads on the farm.
We were almost never disappointed… particularly after plowing or
a heavy rain. We also noticed
an abundance of chert debris there but I don’t recall that we ever saw
this as the logical consequences of tool making on a larger scale.
At least I did not until much later.
Now I suspect that Jackson’s Farm was primarily an arrowhead
factory and that the tools were made for trading and commercial purposes
as opposed to hunting and fishing by those making the tools.
I was collecting arrowheads as a more-or-less serious
hobby in the late 1930s and I continued this hobby when I came back from
military service in 1946 and became a student at the University of
Florida. It was probably
during my junior year that I was riding my motor scooter past my
grandfather’s old place on Kincaid Road when I thought I saw an
arrowhead at the far edge of the road grading.
The Kincaid Road was not paved at this time and the county road
grader had passed that way a week or two earlier and a heavy rain had
fallen since. I stopped to
investigate and picked up the arrowhead before I noticed another speck of
exposed rock nearby and gathered up another one about the same size and
style. It was somewhat
unusual to find two arrowheads so close together on the surface, but
nothing to write home about.
A few weeks later, and after a heavy rainfall, I
passed the spot again and stopped to have another look.
This time I was quite surprised to find a piece of a human jaw
bone… almost the same color as the sand, and with the texture of chalk.
It was obviously quite old.
Scraping around with my bare hands in the dirt a bit
produced another piece of bone also shown in Figure 1, but nothing further
at this time. Over the next
year or so I gathered a total of 12 arrowheads from the site and a small
piece of quartz, also seen in Figure 1.
It was quite some time before I recognized the quartz as an
“artifact” along with the bones and the arrowheads.
A close examination of the quartz, however, clearly shows a groove
around the small end that seems most likely designed for wearing the piece
as a pendant or personal decoration of some kind, perhaps in the ear or
nose or lip. Since quartz is
a moderately hard mineral it strikes me that forming this groove during
the Stone Age was not a trivial task.
The arrowheads associated with this site are (mostly)
those shown on the top row of this display below.
(I say mostly because I am not absolutely sure that these are all
the precise dozen. More about
A bit of history at this point seems in order so that
you may better understand why I describe this find as a “small
mystery” and the basis of some speculations I have.
A more complete account may be found at my page on the website of
the Southwest Museum of Engineering and Computing: http://www.smecc.org/r__m__r__new_article_on_aging.htm
As I explain in that article having to do mostly with
measuring the age of flaked stone tools from first principles. I found my
first arrowhead when I was around 5-years old.
By age 8-years I had a small box with maybe a dozen arrowheads
along with some fossils and petrified sharks teeth.
A neighbor took me to the museum associated with the University
where I learned that arrowheads were of near-zero interest to the
archaeologists there while pottery shards, of which I had none, were of
considerable interest to them. Those
artifacts held far more clues with regard to the lives of the primitive
peoples who had lived hereabouts.
Soon after this experience I learned from another
mentor, who was a flying instructor at the airport near my home, that he
knew of no worthwhile person who had the slightest interest in rocks.
I traded all of my arrowheads and fossils to some other kids on the
school grounds and concentrated on the more important matters having to do
with flying. My interest was
considerably revived when I found another arrowhead in the near vicinity
of what is now the terminal building at the Gainesville Municipal
Airport… as I explain in some detail in my website article.
When I was 13 years old I made friends with Snubby
B., a boy my age whose mother was my older sister’s landlady in
Gainesville. He was active in
the Boy Scouts and eventually persuaded me to join his troupe.
I soon learned that earning merit badges was a prime concern there
and that collecting things was one way to do that.
Stamps, coins, seeds, leaves, book matches, bottle caps, almost
anything was collectable as a path to advancement up the ranks.
My first campout with the troupe was at the site of
an “Indian Ceremonial Mound” near Bouleware Springs. This mound was perhaps 10-15 feet tall and around 30-feet in
diameter at the base and reasonably symmetrical. I soon learned that the scouts were permitted to dig into it
looking for artifacts, but the word was that nothing collectible had ever
been found there. Even so,
the scouts could dig if they were so inclined, but they were told to fill
any holes they dug with the dirt removed and to preserve the shape and
appearance of the mound. When
I visited the Bouleware Springs Park around 2003 I looked for the mound
and reckoned that it was located outside of the Northern boundary fence in
a region that was heavily overgrown with brush.
I asked a couple of people who seemed to have some official
position with the park and they had never heard of this mound.
Another member of Snubby’s troupe was Billy H.
He had some arrowheads that he had found at both his
grandfather’s place and at a dairy on the South edge of Payne’s
Prairie that was owned by his aunt. Snubby
also had several arrowheads, but his primary interest was collecting
stamps. Billy’s grandfather
was an avid stamp collector and the 3-of-us visited him several times to
hear stories as to how he had managed to accumulate such a notable
collection. We all got
several arrowheads each from him, but I can’t recall the circumstances.
I think perhaps that he gave them to us.
In any case I recall that he had a multi-colored arrowhead that he
referred to as his “calico” and that he intended to keep that one.
But the rest were of little or no value to him, except that he
would always pick one up if he came across it in his field.
For a while, Billy, Snubby, and I concentrated on
collecting stamps and coins, but after sleeping out a couple of nights at
Billy’s aunt’s dairy and finding arrowheads in some nearby fields we
gradually spent more and more of our free time in this way.
Snubby was very rigorous in following the scout book guidelines
with regard to making a collection. He
made a separate 3 x 5 inch file card for each numbered item with an
outline drawing of the piece along with the time and place and
circumstances of each find. I
tended to follow this same procedure so long as I was with the scout
troupe but I was never as rigorous as Snubby was.
Billy and I gradually slipped away from involvement with the
scouts, but I think that Snubby stayed on and got his Eagle rating.
The point of all this is to say that I was never
rigorous with numbering my artifacts and keeping the proper records.
I did, however, come under the influence of others from time to
time who urged the practice on me and at times I made an effort to catch
up. But in general one can
never take the numbers on any of my artifacts as solid evidence with
regard to when or where it was found.
When I was much younger I believed that I could remember the
circumstances of acquiring each item, but that is no longer the case. Maybe my heirs and their friends can take a lesson from me
for there are times when I wish that it had been otherwise.
Billy and Snubby and I would often come to Snubby’s
room after a campout and a successful hunt and make our collection cards
there. We also noticed that
Snubby made an entry, however brief, in his journal every night before he
went to bed. I visited him at
his home many many years later and he told me that he had never lost that
habit. He had a foot or so of
space on a bookshelf covered with the collection.
He took one down and recalled a few entries recounting when Billy
and I had been in his room making file cards for some arrowheads that we
had just found.
We were not the only arrowhead collectors in town and
we soon learned a variety of locations where artifacts of various kinds
might be found. One of our
friends was Elmer E. who collected porcelains.
Bits of “modern” cups and saucers and dinner plates were often
found when we were looking for arrowheads… and visa versa from Elmer’s
viewpoint. We would each
gather up all such items and later get together and make the swap.
We also learned from fellow collectors, as well as
some people at the museum, the location of a half-dozen or so burial
mounds in and around Gainesville. The
museum had a number of restored clay pots on exhibit and the man who did
the restorations told us of several burial mounds where the shards were
more or less abundant. He
said that it was customary among many of the aboriginal people to break
all of a person’s possessions when they died and bury the debris with
the person. In some mounds
the dead person would be placed in the fetal position with the potshards,
etc., and covered with sand as fine and as white as could conveniently be
accumulated. In other mounds
the dead person would be placed face down and similarly covered with fine
Snubby and I spent perhaps 2 or 3 Sunday mornings
digging in one of the larger burial mounds near the Kincaid Road.
We found a few potshards and a few bone fragments but it seemed
likely to us that others had been here before.
I saved the potshards and later offered them to the guy at the
museum, but he declined saying that he had more backlog than he could
reasonably deal with. On my
final dig at this mound I found a candy bar wrapper perhaps 3-ft below the
surface. Snubby did some
minor digging in at least 2-other mounds we knew of, but neither of us nor
anyone we knew ever found a stone tool in one.
I never dug in one again.
One time a kid I knew in high school gave me a couple
of arrowheads and told me that I could find more in his mother’s garden
if I would agree to be very careful of her vegetables.
I went to visit her soon afterward and she was quite agreeable.
Their home and garden were on the West side of Prairie Creek just
South of Newnan’s Lake. I
found no arrowheads in her garden, but I did notice some fish bones.
A path lead down to the edge of the lake and beyond.
The ground was mostly covered with vegetation of some kind, but a
land-terrapin (gopher, in Florida slang) had dug a hole near the path and
the mound of dirt it pushed out showed a number of fish bones and bits of
stuff that looked like charcoal from a campfire.
As a general rule the dirt removed from a gopher hole is a good
place to watch for artifacts, but one should be alert to the fact that
rattlesnakes often share the hole with the terrapins.
Back at the museum I shared this experience with the
pottery restorer and he told me that a number of arrowheads had been found
in that general area when the Hawthorne Road was paved there. He also told me that all of the dugout canoes on exhibit in
the museum were from the edge of Newnan’s Lake in that general area.
A severe drought a few years ago (1990+/-) also exposed a modest
explosion of dugout canoes buried in the mud and much speculation that
these had been made for commercial purposes by the aborigines.
A faint two-rut dirt road went through some heavy
undergrowth from the Hawthorne Road to Newnan’s Lake roughly parallel to
Prairie Creek and Snubby and I took the hike one day after we had looked
through the lady’s garden on the opposite side of the creek, finding
nothing but fish bones there. We
decided to set aside some time to dig in a patch of earth where the road
department had reportedly taken some fill dirt and the vegetation had not
yet reclaimed it fully. I
told my mother and father of this plan and they asked to be invited.
My father even made a small dirt sifter for the occasion.
When the day came we all rode our bicycles some 6-miles from our
home to the site, expecting to find Snubby already there.
He was not, so my father and I started digging and sifting while my
mother took a walk through the scenery.
We started finding fish bones and small bits of charcoal
immediately and after a short while we had a beautiful arrowhead and a
small piece of bone that looked like, possibly, deer antler.
Unlike the human bones found in the white sand burial mounds that
were soft and chalk-like, this bone was dark brown and hard.
The dirt here was also black and hard and full of small roots.
Something the pot-restorer at the museum said led me to believe
that such earth was entirely unsuitable for burying family members.
Snubby showed up in the middle of the afternoon
saying that he had been pressed into service unexpectedly by his employer
and this was why he was late. By
this time my father and I had sifted the surface over a couple of square
yards and had 3 or 4 whole arrowheads spread out on a log nearby for his
inspection. He was duly
jealous, but he soon found several beauties himself and was in great
spirits. I am not absolutely sure, but I think he found a very well
shaped bone awl on this occasion, probably made from deer bone, along with
several pieces that were quite clearly deer antler.
I have a number of these bone awls and I am unaware of any others
being found anywhere else. Again,
large numbers of fish bones and bits of charcoal were found however deeply
we dug. My guess is that we
didn’t go deeper than a few inches on this occasion.
I can’t recall any occasion where either Snubby or I worked over
this ground for an hour or more and failed to find some evidence of
ancient human habitation, including human bones on occasion.
The general opinion at the museum was that these bones were strong
evidence of cannibalism because aboriginal people would never bury their
family members in black muck beside fish bones, deer bones, and the
charcoal from campfires.
One of the members of the scout troupe I had been
friends with had gone arrowhead hunting with us a couple of times, but
then he told me that he was simply too busy otherwise and gave me the
half-dozen or so arrowheads he had gathered so far.
He and I were in the high school band and orchestra at this time
and I knew his 2-sisters from those activities as well.
Their father, an Army Chaplain, had recently been assigned to the
ROTC functions at the University. One
day, after a very productive dig at the Prairie Creek, I dropped by these
friend’s house to share my finds of a couple of arrowheads along with a
rare potshard or two and a couple of bits that were clearly human bones.
Their father came over to have a closer look and, after hearing my
explanation of how I happened to have them, he told me that I was nothing
but a goddamned grave robber and that I was not welcome in his house.
His children were still as friendly as ever, but I’d had
confirmed some suspicions as to how some of the other local folks might
view my hobby. I then tended
to keep a low profile in this regard.
I turned 18 in 1944 and was fortunate to find myself
accepted in the US Navy RADAR School.
This lasted about a year. The
war was over by then, but many people in high places expected war with the
USSR to break out momentarily. I
was sent to Arizona where military aircraft were being “pickled”
(preserved) in the desert to be ready for action should the need arise.
I soon made the acquaintance of a lady archaeologist at a museum in
Phoenix. She had a need for
volunteer diggers and I was delighted to serve in that way when I had
liberty on the weekends. She
was in charge of the excavation of a pre-Columbian site on the grounds of
a hospital in Phoenix that was being expanded.
I worked some at the site for perhaps 3 or 4 weekends with the
bulldozers getting closer and closer.
The site had once been an adobe living quarters… at least some
“walls” were apparent… but the earth was solid everywhere.
Mostly well-decorated potshards were found, but there were several
small (2-inches across+/-) baked clay items that were like a child’s
replica of a face as well.
Most impressive, however, were several turquoise
“amulets”. These were
beautifully carved in the likeness of animals like coyote, a bird, and
maybe a lizard. I can not
recall the precise details, but I can report that the archaeologist was
most excited to find them. She
had seen other examples, but these were the first that she had found
personally and she was most excited by the size (2-inches more or less)
and quality of the work. As I recall, there were 3 or 4 in total number and at least
one was whole while another was broken.
When I first met this lady I told her about hunting
for arrowheads in Florida and asked her about good places where I might
look locally. She told me in
no uncertain terms that she didn’t approve of amateurs horning in on her
territory in any way. The
damage done to “real” archaeology by “pot hunters” was nothing
short of scandalous and she and her professional and licensed colleagues
were very active in trying to get laws passed to make amateurs into
criminals as well. The bulldozers took out the “pueblo” before the
archaeologist had completed her excavations, but overall she seemed quite
pleased with what she had found. We
parted company with the understanding that I would probably be available
if or when she had further need for a digger, but she never called.
In the meanwhile I occasionally found myself on
perimeter patrol duty with the Navy.
There was a heavy duty chain link fence topped by barbed wire
around the base and the Navy was always on the alert for evidence that
thieves might break in and steal scrap metal or other valuables from the
aircraft. The 2-rut dirt road was barely evident and there was plenty
of cactus-free surface to be seen beyond the road.
I found it to be ideal for hunting artifacts.
I took my time and wandered as far into the surrounding territory
as I could while still keeping my assigned time schedule. I found several decorated potshards and a few small
arrowheads that seemed to be made from a very poor grade of obsidian as
well as a half-dozen “beads” made of bits of seashell.
Most impressive to me, however, were 2-stone “axes” (clubs?)
that seemed to be made by abrasion somehow.
One was reasonably well polished, while the other was more roughly
hewn somehow. I kept these
finds to myself in view of what the archaeologist had told me.
I was discharged toward the end of summer in 1946 and
found that I had some 4 or 5 weeks of free time before classes started at
the University, assuming that I would be accepted… a far from certain
I camped at the Prairie Creek site around the clock
for several days until heavy rains forced me out.
I cleared the brush away from several patches perhaps a couple of
square yards each and excavated each about a foot deep. These patches were spread out from Hawthorne Road to the lake
and I got the distinct impression that this whole area had been a busy
human habitation for a long time… perhaps several centuries or more.
I found arrowheads, deer antlers, bone awls, a few crude and thick
potshards, a couple of antlers with holes as if for use as a pendant, fish
bones and charcoal in abundance, and several human bones such as jaw,
finger, eye socket, etc. The
human bones as well as the antlers and awls were brown and very solid as
if, perhaps, preserved by the hard black muck.
I certainly suspected cannibalism.
(I never found a thin or painted potshard there like those found in
abundance at the burial mounds).
I also dug deep in a corner of each of these sites to
see if what I had found early on was a general finding that there was a
layer of fine white sand below the mud.
This was the case everywhere I looked and I assumed that this layer
was once the shore of the lake and that perhaps the lake had been spring
fed long ago in geologic time. It
was certainly creek-fed at this time and the water was always very murky
during rainy weather when a dozen or so creeks drained their muddy water
I rarely found any human artifacts in this white sand
layer, but I did on occasion. Later
that year, in fact, I found a totally remarkable flaked tool some 3-feet
below the surface and roughly a foot into the white layer.
This is the finest example of the art of
‘flint-knapping’ I am aware of and it presents me with another small
mystery I have yet to resolve in my own mind.
The Number 284 is a consequence of my association with Barry.
Barry was a Professor (? Maybe Assistant Professor?) at the
university. He taught a
course in sociology and a lady friend of mine was his student. They were both quite interested in my hobby and I took them
to the Prairie Creek site as well as several other likely places.
Barry became so interested in fact that he read several books on
archaeology from the library and the following year he offered a class in
that subject. And he ragged
on me to bring my collection cards and notes up to speed, which I did up
to a point. I also gave him a
box full of potshards, bones, and arrowhead halves and fragments, but none
of my more-or-less whole ones. He
had these items on display in a glass case in his classroom when I left
the university in 1950 and went to graduate school in Ohio, but neither he
nor those artifacts were to be found when I brought my bride to see them
in 1952. I will not leave my
stuff to a museum or anyone other than my children.
What they do is their business.
To summarize, and getting back to my small mystery of
the bones I found on Starvation Hill, I do not believe that those bones
were placed there in anything like a formal burial.
I believe it is highly likely that the person died and decomposed
on that spot and that neither his family nor the people with whom he did
business ever realized what had happened to him.
I also think it highly likely that he (or she, but not likely) was
a merchant in the flaked stone tool trade.
I once saw a TV presentation about a study of the commerce in raw
stone used for making flaked tools in Europe.
The claim was made that at least some of the various quarries where
‘knappable’ stones were to be found could be classified by the color
and the trace elements in the stone and there was considerable evidence
that long distance commerce in those stones was very likely. I find it very likely that my arrowhead merchant was aware of
the sinkholes in the area and the knappable stones to be found there along
with the occasional quartz piece.
I welcome and encourage other scenarios to account
for my evidence.
Rene Rogers, Sunnyvale, CA