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IU scientists make archaeological discovery in Caribbean
08-19-2009, 07:55 PM,
IU scientists make archaeological discovery in Caribbean
IU scientists make archaeological discovery in Caribbean

Kris Kirschner/Eyewitness News

Bloomington - It may be the most important archaeological discovery in the Caribbean and it was made by scientists and students from Indiana University.

The find was made in an underwater cave along the coast of the Dominican Republic. Not far from where Columbus first set foot in the Americas, an academic dive team from IU made its own discovery.

"We're looking at some of the earliest extinctions of animals when man came into the Caribbean. It's what they represent," said Charlie Beeker, the director of IU's Office of Underwater Science.

The rare finds are being studied in a lab on the Bloomington campus. The bones and artifacts date back thousands of years, earlier than any ever discovered before.

"People are finding pieces of skull, a jawbone or teeth, what we managed to recover here are two complete sloths," Beeker said.

The discoveries came just weeks ago in a remote underwater cave in the Dominican Republic called Padre Nuestro.

"It's just unheard of to be able to have these things intact," Beeker said.

But what has the director of one of the country's oldest academic diving programs really pumped is that his crew may have also unearthed the touchstones to a new civilization.

"These stone artifacts, these tools, are very indicative of a much earlier presence in the area," said scientist Fritz Hanselmann.

"That's what's exciting. To see this site with extinct faunal remains and human contact in the same place," Beeker said.

Long before Columbus ever stepped foot in the new world, the IU group now has evidence of human life.

"This cave's going to tell us things no other cave will tell," Beeker said.

The missing pieces of a prehistoric puzzle may, with the help of Hoosiers, allow scientists to see the bigger picture.

Before this discovery, the IU archaeology team studied Caribbean fossils and artifacts dating back 500 years - about the time of Columbus. The new finds date back anywhere from 4,000-10,000 thousand years.

The scientists and students say they are looking forward to their next trip to the cave, which may be this week.
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