Images from the "Bringing Priscilla Home" Event Aucilla Research Institute of Monticello, Florida March 4, 2023 Click on the image to enlarge
Images by J. David Neck, Photographer and drone images by Kash Connell
The Aucilla Research Institute's mission is to do world-class scientific and historical research in the Big Bend Region and to provide and promote the education of students and the general public. As a part of our educational mission, we are pleased to present one of the "crown jewels" of our collections for students, educators and the community in this area and elswhere - the mastodon "Priscilla", discovered in Jefferson County on the Aucilla River.
ARI of Monticello, Florida
PRISCILLA FROM THE AUCILLA The Story of a Mastodon By Dr. James Dunbar, Chair, Aucilla Research Institute Board of Directors
The late Don Serbousek was well acquainted with the Aucilla River and the fascinating features hidden below its waters. Along the river’s route to the Gulf of Mexico, there are many land-locked surface channels where dark water upwells to the surface on one end and siphons underground on the other, returning its waters to subterranean conduits. Most interesting to Serbousek at the time, and to Aucilla Research Institute researchers today, is the outstanding quality of preserved late Pleistocene plants, animals, and artifacts left behind as evidence of this area’s inheritance. One of Don’s legacies is discovering, copying, and reassembling Priscilla the Mastodon’s skeleton.
Don investigated of the Priscilla site in the late 1960s. Twenty-five years later, when paleontologist Dr. David Webb of the University of Florida wanted to study the area, he asked Don to guide the new group of researchers. Don agreed, and to our surprise, his grid stakes were still in place even though a large hardwood tree had fallen onto the grid lines. Testing of the area revealed a gray silty clay above a dense, highly compacted organic peat. An unusual aspect of the peat stratum is that we found a similar compact peat deposit at the Page-Ladson site. Our brief inspection of the Priscilla site was completed, and in hindsight, we should have collected samples for radiocarbon dating.
Last year, ARI board member Andy Hemmings acquired funding and permission to secure a Priscilla bone sample from the Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville for carbon dating. To everyone’s surprise, the bone date from Priscilla was older than we had thought: 21,880 calendar years Before Present (cal BP) during the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM). That age is the youngest of two other dates from North Florida that fall within the LGM—a period that spans from 22,900 cal BP to 17,480 cal BP1 .Another surprise was that the older dates gave evidence of a radically lower water table. In contrast, the Priscilla date gave evidence of a near-present higher water table some 520 years later. Priscilla appears to have become stuck in the mud, which also buried the skeleton, leading to its outstanding preservation.
1 Rasmussen, S. O. et al., A stratigraphic framework for abrupt climatic changes during the Last Glacial period based on three synchronized Greenland ice-core records: refining and extending the INTIMATE event stratigraphy. Quaternary Science Reviews, 2014. 106: 14-28.