The William G. Selby 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, Fla. LSS is a valuable prehistoric site due to its great age and exceptional preservation of ancient organic material.

The spring, located about 10 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, 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, explains 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," says 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."