2017-06-01 / Arts & Entertainment News

Searching Florida’s 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, Fla., 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?

And 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 die-hard fanatics, professional rivalries, hometown boosters and local kids with nothing better to do than search for Ice Age tools, fossils, bones and other evidentiary signs of life, both individual and communal.

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

Mr. Johnson divides his book into two parts. The first 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. Unfortunately, this justification came long after the dismissal of Mr. Sellards’ 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 learn about major findings nearby and far away that rival the Old Vero site’s claim for attention.

JOHNSON JOHNSON Part two of the book focuses on the resurgence of interest, the development of the Vero Beach/Indian River area, the renewal of local archaeological interest and education and the formation of civic organizations dedicated to continuing the work Mr. Sellards started so long ago.

This is a story of public pride and a sense of responsibility. It’s a story of raising funds, organizing and bringing the best of current expertise to the Old Vero enterprise. Ultimately, it’s a success story, but an open-ended one in that the project goes on — and on.

The main player in the renewal of activity has been the Old Vero Ice Age Sites Committee, whose website features the opening of the fourth season of activity since the committee’s initial plans were put into action. See www.oviasc.org.

The committee engaged prominent and committed professionals to build upon the past and insure the future. These include Andrew Hemmings and James Adovasio of the Mercyhurst Archaeological Institute, who carried the scientific ball forward while locals Susan Grandpierre, Sandra Rawls and others did much of the organizing. The committee’s motto “Dig Old Vero” says it all. The organization, with its unpronounceable acronym OVIASC, is now a community treasure, a glowing example of citizen activism.

Mr. Johnson provides chapter notes (including interview references), a glossary, a bibliography and an index.

This lively and fascinating book is an intelligent examination of how scientific endeavor operates over time and how community life can be focused and energized. It’s also filled with portraits of colorful personalities.

About the author

Rody Johnson is the author of several books, including “Chasing the Wind: Inside the Alternative Energy Battle,” “The Rise and Fall of Dodgertown: 60 Years of Baseball in Vero Beach” and “Different Battles: The Search for a World War II Hero.” He holds engineering and MBA degrees and made his career in aerospace project management before he became publisher of a community newspaper. He lives in Vero Beach. ¦

— Phil Jason, Ph. D., United States Naval Academy professor emeritus of English, is a poet, critic and freelance writer with 20 books to his credit, including several studies of war literature and a creative writing text.

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