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How an arrowhead revealed Deal Tract’s past

By Sandra Chafin Special to the Star

In 1999 the state of Florida purchased a major archaeological site and adjacent wetlands from Mr. Troy Deal for preservation as part of the St. Joseph Bay State Buffer Preserve. This interview documents the property’s historical and ecological significance through Deal’s reflections on his years of stewardship.

The interview was conducted by students of Dr. Nancy Marie White of the University of South Florida.

Our exploration of the Troy Deal Tract continues… and, as it turns out, it’s very interesting!

Mr. Deal invited Dr. Hale Smith, a Florida State University professor, down to research his property. As he was beginning his research, one of Deal’s daughters remarked that she found some pottery from the tip of the spit (peninsula). Smith became very interested in finding the location where the pottery was found.

The Deal Tract tower

Dr. Hale Smith was the head of the anthropology department at FSU. He and Deal communicated throughout the years following his request to do research on the property. He communicated to Deal that he had found evidence the peninsula had been inhabited continuously for 9,000 years.

At the beginning, Smith thought there was no evidence of Indians from the outside ever being in the area. However, after examination he said he did find evidence the peninsula had been inhabited continuously for 9,000 years.

The Deal Tract dock

Fast forward to 2017, a visitor from Tennessee stopped in at the Buffer Preserve with an object that looked like a perfect arrowhead. His question for us was “Is this real or did it come from the dollar store and a kid just dropped it on the beach?” We said we didn’t know and agreed it looked too “new” to be really old.

We encouraged him to contact White at the University of South Florida, a longtime researcher at the Buffer Preserve. After a series of correspondences with White he found the answer to his question.

To our great surprise, this is the answer he received from Dr. Nancy White: First, the point looks to be a classic example of a Bolen Beveled projectile point as described in Ripley Bullen’s 1975 book A guide to the Identification of Florida Projectile Points. This type is from the Early Archaic time period and has now been solidly dated in the Aucilla River Valley and elsewhere in the South at 8,000 to 9,000 years old (Yes, that long ago!)

Even more interesting is that the Early Archaic, most often represented by this diagnostic point type, was the time of the first global warming humans have lived through, the beginning of the Holocene or Recent Age, after the end of the Pleistocene or Ice Age. So, this artifact, which is very different from Pleistocene points (which were long, lance-shaped Paleo-Indian points like Clovis types), represents people’s successful new adaptations to changing environments (big game like mammoths, mastodons, horse, camel forms all became extinct; deer was largest species left).

It is still a spear point, like its older predecessors (bow and arrow did not emerge until thousands of years later), but its different style (notched, beveled) might have been for some improved function; on the other hand, it might have been just new fashion (like clothing styles).

Bolen points come in beveled and unbeveled forms, and many experimental archaeologists have tried to replicate them and see what new property the beveling gives (making it spin or whatever), but there is no conclusive determination. By the way, the beveling seems always to be on the left side of the blade, maybe tied to how the majority of people are right-handed, or maybe just fashion.

The black chert (“flint” is technically not the correct term for this stone) may be foreign to the area, from farther up in Alabama, or may be black because of some chemical patina the stone took on over time.

White states that the chert was probably dropped where it was found, the land was far away from the coast. During the Pleistocene, sea level was some 300 meters lower and the Florida coastline was way out in what is today the Gulf. After the ice age began melting, sea level began rising, but it was still not at modern levels until recently. So, the point may have dropped near what was once the river valley (we know the Apalachicola once flowed farther to the west from where it is today) or a small stream or spring/sink. As it got covered with sand, and then the barrier islands and peninsula formed about 4,000 years ago, it was well hidden until coastal erosion exposed it again, by chance, just when the visitor was walking by. Amazing!

To summarize, yes, your find was significant! Yes, it would be great to have it preserved and displayed for everyone to appreciate and learn from. It is on display thanks to the generosity of the Tennessee visitor to our area.

Now, to return to the research done by Dr. Hale Smith, who found shards from the earliest periods called Deptford and Swift Creek. He also found evidence from earlier times. Smith thought this site was a prehistoric site that had been a lot higher. Deal told the researchers that was the first thing he told him.

The Apalachicola River used to be closer to the area, and the mouth of the river used to be not too far away and was probably at Indian Pass. Smith’s thoughts were that traveling down the Apalachicola River when this area was a high bluff indicates the probability the area was continuously occupied.

Deal discovered what he decided must have been a factory for making tools out of conch shells. There were all kinds of leather-piercing tools, fishhooks, and tools used every day.

Smith relayed to Deal his theory; he believed the peninsula was an outpost of the Mayan Indians from the Yucatan. There have been questions for many years from anthropologists wondering how the Middle Western Indians got conch shells that they used for wampum (beads used for trading, ceremonies,) because there are no conchs north of us. And the theory was…

How could they get it all the way from the Keys because that was the only land connection that had conchs? In Smith’s opinion, this was sort of like Ft. Knox. The Yucatan Indians had a manufacturing place there where they manufactured wampum and traded it to the North American Indians for goods. And they had trading canoes. Incidentally Columbus, on his second voyage, found one of the 20-man trading canoes out in the middle of the gulf….

…..20 Indians in this 20-man canoe paddling and this is my theory --- not Dr. Smith’s, who thought it was an outpost.

Troy Deal’s theory was that the Yucatan Indians got in the Gulf Stream, which makes a big circle, and it comes right around there, and this big peninsula sticks out, and, at that time it stuck out more than it does now. So that’s where they set up their trading post and they’d ride the Gulf Stream on back around again. They get a free ride that way in these big canoes. If that should be the case it would be a very historical and significant thing.

Deal tells the researchers that when he came to his land the bay was loaded with conchs. Horse conchs and queen conchs and others also. But people started coming and taking the conchs out as souvenirs and now they are very hard to find.

Deal had this to say about St. Joseph Bay - It’s the only bay I know of that has a shallow bay where the water temperature was such that….

He talked about the salt content --- that’s even more important because it has no river flowing to it like Pensacola Bay, or Panama City. They all have rivers flowing in that reduce the salt content. But this, had a very high salt content and it was warm because it was shallow. And that’s why the conch were there. I don’t know of any other bay that had a heavy population of conch like that.

One of the last questions asked of Deal was if he had ever known the Stump Hole to wash out during any of the hurricanes? His answer was: I’ve never… the hurricane cut – it made lighthouse bayou and pig bayou – comes right through Stump Hole. Because it’s deep water that comes right through there. Of course, that’s where the cut started at this last hurricane. But in the years, I’ve been here, I’ve never seen a cut… other than the time that we had this big hurricane and it picked up the road and moved it 18 feet over/up. It actually added about 10 acres to the property. Picked up sand from the beach.

In reflecting on his property, Mr. Deal says his biggest concern was keeping the place in the shape it was. He worked hard for 40-something years to keep it just like it was when he bought it. “I didn’t do any timbering, didn’t do any cutting. There was some turpentining done before I got the property.”

Deal proposed to the state, when first asked if he would sell the property, that they make St. Joseph Bay a state park, like Pennekamp. Due to local opposition, they couldn’t do it. The state agreed to set up a buffer zone and that’s how the buffer zone got started. St. Joseph Bay is unique. There’s not a high salinity, comparable, pristine bay in the entire Gulf Coast like that one.

The information for this article was taken from an interview with Mr. Troy Deal on Jan. 9, 2001 from his central Florida home.