University Of Miami Receives $100,000 Gift From The William G.  and Marie Selby Foundation

Challenge grant to help University’s Rosenstiel School further explore
submerged prehistoric site in Sarasota County

John Gifford

SARASOTA, Fla. — The William G. and Marie Selby Foundation has awarded the University of Miami (UM) a grant in the amount of $100,000 to manage and operate the Little Salt Spring (LSS) archeological and ecological preserve in North Port, Sarasota County, Florida. LSS is a valuable prehistoric site due to its great age and exceptional preservation of ancient organic material.

The grant from the Selby Foundation will help support the initial site development and construction of a multi—purpose, hurricane-resistant building for teaching, research, visitors and storage. The new facility will replace the trailers that currently serve to house artifacts and equipment, accommodate educational and research activities, and host visitors.

“Because of the foresight and planning of the University of Miami led so energetically by University of Miami President Dr. Donna Shalala, our capping challenge grant of $100,000 will hopefully encourage other donors to support this archeological jewel,” said Debra Jacobs, President and CEO of the William G. Selby and Marie Selby Foundation. “Once the additional $900,000 is raised, a center will be built to welcome researchers and students of all ages to learn of the ancient history of our land.”

The spring, located about ten miles from the Gulf of Mexico, was donated to the University in 1982. The site consists of a sinkhole surrounded by an undisturbed native hammock containing several rare and endangered plant species. The sinkhole is filled with anoxic water (lacking in dissolved oxygen), which does not allow bacteria and microbes to live. This unusual feature has allowed the preservation of a great deal of organic material deposited there thousands of years ago, explained Dr. John Gifford, associate professor at the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and principal investigator for the project.

“The source of water for this site is an aquifer thousands of feet deep, for that reason all its dissolved oxygen has been absorbed before it enters the bottom of the sinkhole,” said Gifford. “We are hoping this anoxic environment will help us find very early traces of organic material that will tell us when the first people arrived in Florida.”

Since 2005, UM has partnered with the Florida Aquarium (Tampa) to assist in the underwater research. Earlier this year, the National Geographic Society awarded funding to the University, which worked with high skilled-divers from The Florida Aquarium, to explore the marine archaeological site at LSS.   In 2006, researchers from Washington State and Pennsylvania State University also began long-term collaborative projects concerning the botanical remains, vertebrate paleontology, geology, and DNA of plant and animal remains found at the site. Excavated objects to-date include deer antlers, greenstone pendants, bone tools and wooden relics left there by seasonal hunters and gatherers from early prehistoric times, some of which represent their only kind in existence. Other materials found at the site include fossils of extinct prehistoric creatures such as giant ground sloths, mammoths and saber-tooth tigers.

The proposed site development and expansion of the facilities will allow the University to increase site research and excavation and will accommodate many more Sarasota County-based visitors, giving 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.

About the William G. and Marie Selby Foundation:
The William G. Selby and Marie Selby Foundation was created by Mr. and Mrs. Selby in 1955, to help improve the quality of life to Sarasota County and its bordering counties. Over the past 53 years, more than $91 million has been granted to assist nonprofits carryout their missions in Sarasota, Manatee, Charlotte, and De Soto counties

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.

Media Contacts:

Barbra Gonzalez
UM Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science
Marie Guma-Diaz
UM Media Relations Office

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