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After a long long wait, the periodic heavy rains that have repeatedly pushed the water level of the Peace River up and out of range for Florida fossil hunters, our "dry season" is finally starting to act like the non-rainy part of our year. Tammy and I got out two weekends ago with a group of SCUBAnauts from the Tampa/St. Pete area. While checking the levels right before that trip, I visited one of my favorite spots along the river to see if it would be accessible for the group. The water two weeks ago was nearly a foot higher than at present but even with the higher level the locality worked for the group (11 canoes of kids and their accompanying adults). I like this site because it has more chunky gravel which results (on rare occasions) in finding larger items. I've pulled substantial chunks of mammoth molar from this site several years ago--as well as a gold wedding band (no inscription) and a gold tie tack (no Jimmy Hoffa jokes, please). The main draw though is dugong. Though fossil hunters who've spent any amount of time on the Peace generally have their share of the solid rib bones from these cousins of our modern-day manatee, newbies to the concept of fossil hunting in Florida never fail to enjoy these large and substantial items. Tammy and I went back this weekend without the crowd of two dozen we were guiding on the river at the end of March. We went on a Sunday and the river was reasonably quiet and peaceful. We met another couple on the bus ride up to the put-in and gave them some tips on hunting the river as it was their first time. They were the recipients of many fossils and fraglodons that (while interesting) would probably would have either ended back in the river or handed out to kids in passing canoes. I was prospecting around my "dugong" site (that's what it is called in my GPS ) and could feel with my feet the little pits and piles of chunky rubble left over from our last visit stripping out countless dozens of dugong ribs now scattered in the nascent collections of those we took down the river on our previous visit. Most of the site is still too deep to get to even with the river 10" lower than last time. The air and water temps were much more pleasant than last time and it didn't take as much motivation to walk into chest-deep water. I dug for about 4 hours and had little to show for it other than a bag of nice specimens of dugong ribs (to reload my "paleo paperweight" gifting stockpile). After a break back at the canoe for a drink and some more salty snacks, I ventured off in the direction where I used to dig but which was now probably too deep to dig. En route to that spot I passed a rise in the bottom that was so steep that it looked like I was walking up submerged steps till I was only thigh deep in the river. My trusty probe--which I carry like a walking cane, probing the sand with each step to test the subsurface composition of the river bottom--detected the delightful crunchy sound indicating some substantial gravel deposits not far below the sandy covering along the bottom. I did a test screen from this spot and was rewarded with a nice little Whitetail Deer (Odocoileus virginianus) molar. These are not as common (in my experience) as the Equus horse molars that are occasional finds in the Peace. This one came complete with a reasonable portion of the roots intact and will bolster my meager number of these in my collection. A few screens later would end up bringing in my trip-makers and the high point of the afternoon. While picking through the contents of that screen I spotted the very distinctive shape of a peg-like tooth from a member of the order Xenarthra ("strange joint") aka Edentata ("toothless"). I have just a few similar but larger teeth from ground sloths which are highly valued by Florida collectors. A few years back I found a similar but smaller peg tooth that turned to be from the armadillo Holmesina floridanus. I assumed this tooth might be from a larger individual but was pleased to learn more in a quick response to my query from Dr. Richard Hulbert from the Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville, FL. Richard confirmed that the peg tooth was from a Holmesina but that it was from the larger (2 meter long) species, Holmesina septentrionalis, that roamed Florida from the middle to late Pleistocene (500,000 to 11,000 years ago). The smaller H. floridanus that preceded it was in Florida from the late Pliocene to the early Pleistocene (2.5-1.5 mya). Contained in that screen was a very oddly shaped bone with curved parts and flat articulating surfaces. I assumed this was one of those odd bones in the leg like the navicular bone that I hear about but haven't seen enough examples of to fully understand or recognize. Richard commented that, the odd-shape bone that appeared in the same sifting screen was, coincidentally, from the same species (H. septentrionalis) and that it was an astragalus which articulates with the navicular so I get points for being close. Then he added something that made my whole morning: This is actually a rare find, especially in the southern half of Florida, for which we do not have a single H. septentrionalis astragalus in our collection. Please consider donating it. I quickly replied that I'd set this aside and would bring it up with me next time I visit Gainesville (where Tammy and I are looking for our next house). You can bet I'll be keen to get back up to the Peace to see if any other Holmesina bits might be hiding in the gravel nearby. These two items are likely not associated and it was probably just luck that I'd come across two very different items from the same rare species in a single sifting screen. If the two pieces were closely related in the skeletal structure I'd believe that they might from the same individual but I believe this is probably just a happy coincidence. A couple more hours of digging in the same area turned up no further identifiable bits from this species but you can be certain that I'll devote some extra effort to that spot next time on the river. Enjoy the wrinkly finger tips in the in-river photos below. Cheers. -Ken