By STEVEN ISBITTS
The Tampa Tribune ÃÂ
NEW PORT RICHEY – A tireless prophet with a salt-and-pepper beard and an inviting grin, John Saxer knows that mainstream archaeologists, journalists and folks in Tarpon Springs think heÃ¢â¬â¢s nuts. They reject his Greek mythology- and archaeology-based theories that Tarpon Springs is the center of the biblical Garden of Eden and the Tampa Bay area coastline was the seaport of Atlantis.
ItÃ¢â¬â¢s been a tough sell, acknowledges Saxer, a 55-year-old bicycle mechanic and bartender who was homeless for much of 2004.
Saxer has been ignored by archaeologists nationwide for the past 18 months, despite offering evidence of what he claims are 6,500-year-old stone ark anchors abundant on land near shorelines in New Port Richey, Holiday and Tarpon Springs. Ã¢â¬ÅIt gets scary when youÃ¢â¬â¢re in front of the field,Ã¢â¬Â said Saxer, an amateur archaeologist since his college days at the University of Wisconsin. Ã¢â¬ÅYou donÃ¢â¬â¢t want to be out there alone. You start to question yourself.Ã¢â¬Â
Last week, Saxer had a breakthrough. He found a believer, the type he had sought for years, an archaeologist with credentials and financial backing. Bill Donato, 55, a California archaeologist known for his underwater work near the Bahamas with the Association of Research and Enlightenment, came here to study SaxerÃ¢â¬â¢s finds. The maverick archaeologist was lured by pictures of stones Saxer sent him and SaxerÃ¢â¬â¢s telephone descriptions.
Ã¢â¬ÅI donÃ¢â¬â¢t believe any of the Garden of Eden theories, or most of JohnÃ¢â¬â¢s views of Atlantis, which I did my masterÃ¢â¬â¢s thesis on,Ã¢â¬Â Donato said before his trip here. Ã¢â¬ÅIÃ¢â¬â¢m interested because the pictures are similar to anchors found at Bimini last year and to [5,000-year-old] finds in the Middle East.Ã¢â¬Â Finally, Saxer had found an expert willing to study the stones, which range in size from fragments light enough to be held, to rocks with multiple holes weighing more than a ton. Ã¢â¬ÅHeÃ¢â¬â¢s the best I could have found. I commend him for thinking outside the box,Ã¢â¬Â Saxer said. Ã¢â¬ÅIÃ¢â¬â¢ve wanted a team of archaeologists, people a lot more knowledgeable than me, to study the undeniable evidence and make their own conclusions.Ã¢â¬Â
Fresh off a red-eye flight to Tampa, Donato, armed with cameras, GPS equipment and sampling tools, had Saxer give him a tour of the alleged anchors. Under sunny skies in Tarpon Springs, they looked at stones in wooded areas, on the sides of roads and on church property. At first, Donato was not impressed. Ã¢â¬ÅThis is a natural formation,Ã¢â¬Â Donato said beside a large rock, as Saxer quietly disagreed.
But Donato perked up outside Mark SzerlagÃ¢â¬â¢s small house on Firecreek Court in Holiday. On the front lawn, near the sidewalk, sits a roughly 4-foot-by-5-foot rock, about 18 inches thick, with a symmetrical hole near the top.
Ã¢â¬ÅItÃ¢â¬â¢s possibly a modified rock, an anchor with multiple rope grooves,Ã¢â¬Â Donato said.
The stone is similar in design to a sandstone anchor recovered in India by the Centre for Underwater Archaeology of Tamil University in India, as shown in a 2004 university report published in Current Science. That anchor, the report says, is from the 13th century. Donato and Saxer proceeded to the intersection of Grand Boulevard and Dailey Lane in New Port Richey. There, wedged deep in the grass of the median on Dailey Lane, about 150 yards from the Pithlachascotee River, sits a massive stone with two holes, both 17 1/2 inches in diameter.
Donato said it clearly was an artificial formation with distinct rope grooves running through both holes and other properties that show it may have been used as an anchor or mooring stone. Ã¢â¬ÅThe size is astounding,Ã¢â¬Â Donato said, Ã¢â¬Åfar bigger than anything IÃ¢â¬â¢ve seen. It may have been a mooring stone. The Romans used circles set this way. ItÃ¢â¬â¢s a similar shape to Carthaginian findings. Ã¢â¬ÅThe size, and the fact that itÃ¢â¬â¢s found away from water, might make it ancient,Ã¢â¬Â he said. Ã¢â¬ÅYou canÃ¢â¬â¢t rule it out.Ã¢â¬Â
Thomas OÃ¢â¬â¢Neill, New Port RicheyÃ¢â¬â¢s director of public works, said the stone has been in the median since the road was constructed in the mid-1970s. Ã¢â¬ÅIÃ¢â¬â¢m assuming itÃ¢â¬â¢s a lime rock boulder that was excavated when the area was developed and placed or left there for decoration,Ã¢â¬Â OÃ¢â¬â¢Neill said.
Saxer spotted the stone while driving a limousine about 10 years ago. Ã¢â¬ÅI didnÃ¢â¬â¢t realize what I was looking at,Ã¢â¬Â said Saxer, who began honing his Garden of Eden theory 12 years ago. Ã¢â¬ÅIt hit me about a year and a half ago after I had done years of Internet research on anchors.Ã¢â¬Â Saxer says there are at least 50 Ã¢â¬Åfirst-classÃ¢â¬Â stone anchors with holes from St. Petersburg to Hudson. He found most near water, but some miles inland. There are more than 200 anchor pieces, Saxer said.
Roger Smith, FloridaÃ¢â¬â¢s state underwater archaeologist, said, Ã¢â¬ÅStone anchors have not been discovered in Florida.Ã¢â¬Â Ã¢â¬ÅIÃ¢â¬â¢m not surprised at all what might turn up, though,Ã¢â¬Â he added.
The state routinely gets all kinds of queries from people with archaeological claims, said state archaeologist Ryan Wheeler, but few are investigated. Ã¢â¬ÅWe hear from a lot of interesting people. Mr. Saxer had some real far-out stuff,Ã¢â¬Â Wheeler said. Ã¢â¬ÅMost archaeologists are interested in working to preserve sites. Modern archaeology has sort of swung away from these kinds of wild things. Ã¢â¬ÅWe donÃ¢â¬â¢t have a fleet of trucks and staff who go out and look.Ã¢â¬Â
People who think they made an archaeological find should document it and try to have an article published, Wheeler said. Ã¢â¬ÅThatÃ¢â¬â¢s essentially where things are introduced, debated and determined,Ã¢â¬Â he said. Michael Faught, a former Florida State University archaeology professor who worked alongside Donato at Bimini, said mainstream archaeologists rarely get involved with those yearning to find evidence of higher early societies or prove biblical history.
Ã¢â¬ÅIt gets uncomfortable getting stuck between nut balls and academics,Ã¢â¬Â Faught said. Ã¢â¬ÅI believe itÃ¢â¬â¢s important to stay open-minded to new ideas, but thereÃ¢â¬â¢s a limit.Ã¢â¬Â Limits are not part of SaxerÃ¢â¬â¢s approach to archaeology, which melds Bible, mythology and science. Ã¢â¬ÅThe anchors are a link to how we got here on Earth,Ã¢â¬Â said Saxer, who once designed a line of pyramid energy beds sold in stores.
For now, Saxer is enjoying the vindication he feels from DonatoÃ¢â¬â¢s visit. But thatÃ¢â¬â¢s only the first step toward proving his theories. Donato plans to obtain laboratory analysis of stone samples, and he is eager to return with colleagues for further study and underwater dives near Anclote Key. A team of archaeologists investigating, Saxer said, will propel his find to an international spectacle, one that could spark a tourist boom and a book deal for him.
Ã¢â¬ÅI want to wake the world up and let the world know this place was Eden,Ã¢â¬Â Saxer said. Ã¢â¬ÅAnd IÃ¢â¬â¢d like to see the anchors in museums, where people can touch them and take themselves beyond religion.Ã¢â¬Â