The closest you might get to a mastodon in modern-day Florida is during a visit to the Dinosaur World theme park in Orlando, but it turns out that 14,550 years ago, people visited Florida to get close to real-life mastodons.
In fact, newly uncovered evidence in North Florida is the oldest known proof of human activity anywhere in the present-day American Southeast. Before the recent findings, there was no evidence of human activity in the region older than 13,000 years.
The evidence was recently uncovered at the Page-Ladson site in North Florida. In the 1980s, archaeologists began searching the 30-foot-deep sinkhole in the middle of the Aucilla River. Since then, they've uncovered both fossilized mastodon bones and the remains of human tools despite the murky water in the precarious sinkhole.
However, archeologists were never able to prove that the mastodons and human coexisted in the area at the same time. That is until the recent findings of mastodon bones, a hunk of fossilized dung, and a remnant of a stone knife
According to Scientific America, the age of the knife proves that not only humans did once coexist in Florida with mastodons some 14,550 years ago, but that the knife is some of the earliest evidence of human activity anywhere in the Americas.
The findings show "that ~14,550 calendar years ago, people butchered or scavenged a mastodon next to a pond in a bedrock sinkhole within the Aucilla River," reports the journal.
It's unlikely that the humans set up a permanent settlement in Florida but instead came here to hunt. But how would they have gotten here in the first place?
"The only logical way people could have come to Florida by 14,600 years ago is if their ancestors entered the Americas by boat along the Pacific Coast," Michael Waters of Texas A&M University tells Discovery News. "They could have traveled by boat to central Mexico, crossed and come along the Gulf Coast. They could have entered the Americas via the Columbia River and then traveled inland to the Mississippi River and followed it down and entered the Gulf Coast, eventually making their way to Florida."
Only a handful of other locations anywhere in both South and North America have borne evidence of human activity before 13,000 years ago.
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The oldest evidence of human activity anywhere on the continent was found in Texas and dates back 15,000 years ago. Similar early evidence of humans has also been found as far south as Chile.
According to the New York Times, evidence of widespread, regular inhabitation of the Americas doesn't exist before 13,000 years ago. That wave of inhabitants has been deemed Clovis
The scant amount of evidence dating back before 13,000 years ago, including this most recent Florida discovery, don't match up with that of the Clovis people.
This earlier group has since been dubbed "Paleoindians," and archeologists still don't know much about them, but now know that these first Americans already participated in the grand American tradition of coming down to visit Florida.