Renewed interest in ‘Vero Man’ prompts protection, seminar

VERO BEACH – Historical groups and local governments are taking a deeper interest in the historic “Vero Man” site near the Vero Beach Municipal Airport, asking for city and county leaders to work together to protect the area.

The county’s Historic Resources Advisory Committee today agreed to ask the Board of County of Commissioners to approve a resolution of support for protection and cooperation with the City of Vero Beach. The city already has expressed support for protecting the area, located between US 1 and the County Administration complex, according to county historian Ruth Stanbridge, who recently met with City Manager Jim Gabbard.

“It all kind of erupted at once,” Stanbridge said of the city’s support, an archaeologist’s plans to walk the site for evaluation, and a seminar planned soon to discuss the findings.

Stanbridge said Thursday that Gabbard had committed to installing fences around the city’s portion of the site.

When the fences would go up remains unknown. Assistant City Engineer Bill Messersmith said he does not know when the installation would be scheduled. Gabbard was out of town Thursday and unavailable for comment, according to his secretary.

The committee also discussed a seminar that will be held in March pertaining to the area’s archaeological finds. The event will be held at the Emerson Center March 4 starting at 5 p.m. with Fossil Road Show followed at 7 p.m. with a discussion with Barbara Purdy, an archaeology professor at the University of Florida.

The Fossil Road Show will be similar to the popular Antiques Road Show, serving as a time when residents can bring their artifacts to the Emerson Center to have scientists evaluate and figure out what they have.

As for the “Vero Man” site, scientists hail it as an important archaeological find – only one of two in the western hemisphere – where human remains were found along side those of “megafauna” now extinct.

Such animals found include a mastodon, predecessors of tapirs, sloths and horses, a mammoth and a saber-toothed cat.

Between 1913 and 1918, the Vero Man site was known as “Tarzan Park” – a tourist attraction where people could see and buy some of the excavated bones, Stanbridge told the committee.

And while the site is known for the Vero Man, Vero Woman was the first one found, Stanbridge said, not far from the male remains. However, scientists still dispute the genders of the remains.

Dr. Purdy is expected to come to Vero Beach next week to walk the site and examine other areas where the historical groups believe there could be other remains.

“It’s like shipwrecked gold,” Historic Resources Advisory Committee member Chris Crawford said. “These artifacts, these findings tell us about these times, these eras.”

While the first step for the historical committees has been to get the site protected, their next step will be raising an estimated $500,000 for site excavation and artifact analysis.

Stanbridge said various groups, including the Indian River County Cultural Council, will be involved in the effort. However, no details have been worked out in terms of which group would be responsible for the funds.

Anyone wishing to learn more about the Vero Man site or help with the fund-raising can call the Indian River Historical Society at (772) 778-3435.

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