NORTH PORT — People have been visiting Little Salt Spring in North Port for more than 12,000 years.

These days, it’s a popular spot for college science students, and high school field trips. This was the case Nov. 19, when North Port High School teacher James Noonan took his students there to learn about the spring from Sarasota County Archaeologist Steve Koski, who has studied the site for decades and is in charge of the site’s maintenance.

The 112-acre property that includes the spring is off Price Boulevard in North Port, and is owned by the University of Miami. It’s operated by the university’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science. Bill Royal of Nokomis, an early SCUBA explorer, is credited with performing the first dives at the site in the late 1950s.

The spring was formed 15,000 to 20,000 years ago when the roof of an underground cavern collapsed, leaving its top open,according to the Rosenstiel School’s website. The pond is about 40 feet deep, but a vertical shaft in the middle drops 245 feet. It is hourglass shaped, and many artifacts have been found on its shelf and at the bottom.

Little Salt Spring contains some of the oldest cultural remains in the United States, the website states.

The water has a high mineral content, so it tastes salty. Below 16 feet, the water is anoxic, meaning “it has been underground for so long it loses all its dissolved oxygen, making it impossible for microbes and bacteria to live, so the decomposition of organic material is greatly reduced.” That means it preserves natural material and other organic items like human artifacts that fall into the spring, “including wood, textile fragments, hair, skin and brain tissue dating back to the Late Paleoindian and Early Archaic stages of Florida’s prehistory,” from 9,500 to 7,000 B.C.

“The site has produced the second-oldest dated artifact ever found in the southeast United States — a sharpened wooden stake some 12,000 years old,” the website states.

Little Salt Spring was added to the National Register of Historic Places in July, 1979. The site is not open to the public.

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