Jefferson County’s wild lands hold secrets

July 21st, 2015 by Red Hills

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published in Tallahassee Democrat 9/4/14

The flatwoods of Jefferson County Florida are a world out of time. This remote and mysterious area seems somewhat undiscovered except by local hunters, fishermen and scientists.

The tangled woods and swamps are bordered on the east by the Suwanee River and on the west by the Wakulla. The area is split by the mysterious, disappearing Aucilla River and graced by the spring-fed Wacissa and the lost Pinhook. The flatwoods of southern Jefferson County stretch down to the edge of the Apalachee Bay.

Public lands include Aucilla Wildlife Management Area, Letchworth-Love Mounds Archaeological State Park and a portion of St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge.

These woods and swamps boast as diverse a collection of botanical specimens as any place in the world, not unlike a rain forest. Sinkholes pierce the porous limestone underlying the jungle-like growth of oak, pine and palm, adding to the ancient mystery.

The treasures of this vast crescent — reaching almost 100,000 acres — lie deep. They are hidden from all but scientists, trained divers and those with special equipment. The knowledge hidden here is covered by a blanket of rotted plant life to a remarkable depth; the covering provides anaerobic security for the remains of humans and animals waiting through centuries to tell the story of the settlement of North America.

The region has been of great interest to anthropologists, archaeologists and other scientists for many years. The evidence they have gathered through several “digs” suggests eons of settlement by humans, possibly some of the earliest settlement in North America.

The pressing question developing as all of this evidence accumulates is whether or not the first settlement in North America came from the east or from the northwest. Could the first North American settlers have come across the ice from Europe? The answer lies in the flatwoods under a deep blanket of plant waste, protected by a lack of oxygen and waiting to be uncovered.

Anne Holt is the executive director of Main Street Monticello.

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