Preliminary Assessment of the Archaeological Context of Human Skeletal Remains at Atsena Otie Key, Levy County, Florida

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Title:
Preliminary Assessment of the Archaeological Context of Human Skeletal Remains at Atsena Otie Key, Levy County, Florida
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Technical report
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Sassaman, Kenneth E.
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Laboratory of Southeastern Archaeology, Department of Anthropology, University of Florida
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Gainesville, Fla.
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Abstract:
A human burial eroding from the beach at Atsena Otie Key, Levy County, Florida in November 1999 was removed for immediate reburial by personnel from the University of Florida. Artifacts eroding from the adjacent shell midden place the burial in the range of 2500 to 300 years before present (B.P.). Ongoing boat wake and tidal action continues to erode the 1.5-m thick midden along a 100-m stretch of the beach. At least one additional feature currently exposed at low tide may likewise contain human remains.

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University of Florida
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Preliminary Assessment of the A rchaeological Context of Human Skeletal Remains at Atsena Ot ie Key, Levy County, Florida Kenneth E. Sassaman Technical Report Series, Number 1, December 1999 Laboratory of Southeastern Archaeology, Department of Anthropology P.O. Box 117305, University of Fl orida, Gainesville, Florida 32611

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Preliminary Assessment of the Archaeological Context of Human Skeletal Remains at Atsena Otie Key, Levy County, Florida Abstract A human burial eroding from the beach at Atsena Otie Key, Levy County, Florida in November 1999 was removed for immediate reburial by personnel from the University of Florida. Artifacts eroding from the adjacent shell midden pl ace the burial in the range of 2500 to 300 years before present (B.P.). Ongoing boat wake and tidal action continues to erode the 1.5-m thick midden along a 100-m stretch of the beach. At least one additional feature currently exposed at low tide may likewise contain human remains. On Thursday, November 18, 1999 a team from the C.A. Pound Laboratory of Forensic Science, University of Florida, removed the skeletal remains from a Native American burial that was eroding from the west beach of Atsena Otie Key, Levy County, Florida. In agreement with the Office of Florida State Archaeologist, the Seminole Tribe of Florida, and the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Pound Lab team, under the direction of Dr. Anthony Falsetti, exhumed th e burial remains for the express purpose of immediate reburial. In order to document the greater site context of the burial, Dr. Falsetti enlisted the a ssistance of archaeologists of the Department of Anthropology, University of Florida. This report deta ils the limited mapping and reconnaissance work conducted by the author, Rhonda Quinn, and Christopher Lydick. Atsena Otie Key is the largest of several major islands south of Cedar Key on the Gulf Coast of Florida (Figure 1). As part of the Cedar Key archaeological district, Atsena Otie is home to several archaeologi cal sites, including the remains of the 18thcentury town of Atsena Otie (8LV235), the Eberhard Faber Cedar Mill (8LV237), Cedar Ke y Atsena Otie Key Figure 1. Location of Atsena Ot ie Key, Cedar Key, and other gulf coastal barrier islands of Levy County, Florida 1

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8VO235 8VO236 8VO434 8VO237 Figure 5 Inset N 0 500 m Figure 2. Recorded archaeological sites on Atsena Otie, Levy County, Florida. the Suwannee Mill (8VO236), and at least tw o prehistoric shell middens, only one of which (8LV434) is apparently recorded in the state site files (Figure 2). Survey of the Cedar Key region by archaeolo gists from the University of Florida documented many post-2500 B.P. shell middens eroding along the sea island beaches (Borremans 1991). Weeden Island component s, dating to roughly 1800-1100 B.P., were most commonly observed. Zooarcheological anal ysis of two middens from outer islands in the keys, Seahorse and North Keys, suggest year-round occupation by Weeden Island groups. A Weeden Island cemetery (8LV4) and mound (8LV43) in Cedar Key proper were investigated by C. B. Moore (1918). In addition to Weeden Island components, the region has produced sherds diagnostic of virt ually all cultural phases spanning the past 2500 years; however, the ceramic series of these various phases are not well enough established for the Cedar Keys area to draw de finitive conclusions about specific times of occupation. The reported human skeletal remains we re eroding from the beach along the western margin of Atsena Otie, in the vicint y of the cedar mill site (8VO237). The burial location was some 20 meters north of the docki ng pier that provides visitor access to the island (Figure 3). Prior to the November 18 effort, the P ound Lab team had established that the individual bore biol ogical indicators of Native Amer ican ancestry. Its apparent association with prehistoric shell-midden depos its corrobrated this initial assessment. Paralleling the beach for some 100 meters is an eroded midden deposit as much as 1.50 2

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Figure 3. View from pier at Atsena Otie looking east. Figure 4. View from pier of location of human skeletal remains eroding from beach at Atsena Otie. 3

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m thick. The burial laid at the high tide marg in of the beach, several meters seaward and perhaps 90 cm lower than the base of the e xposed midden (Figure 4). Despite the spatial displacement of the burial from the int act midden, the burial pit was in a position consistent with the projected slope of the base of the midden, and its fill was generally consistent with the midden soil. Because the Seminole Tribe had arranged for immediate reburial nearby, without scientific analysis, assessment of the cultural affiliation of the burial hinges on the larger site context and it s position relative to the midden deposits. Mapping of the site proceded by establis hing a temporary datu m on the top of the eroded midden profile, several meters north a nd east of the burial. A Nikon Total Station was used to establish a base line along the top of the eroded midden, oriented roughly with magnetic north. Transit shots were take n of the highand lowtide water lines, the base and top of the midden, the burial pit, a dditional features and artifacts eroding on the beach, and miscellaneous topographic shots. Tw o existing benchmarks in the vicinity of the midden were shot to establish permanent reference points for the current topographic data: a cement survey marker (#2979) in the tidal flat ca. 44 meters north of the burial, and a metal survey marker sign (#1092) on the upper edge of the beach ca. 29 meters north of the burial. Arbitrary elevations established at transit stations were converted to actual values by calculating the median topograp hic line between highand low-tide lines and setting it at 0.0 meters above mean sea level. All transit read ings are appended to this report and are available from the author in a variety of electronic formats. A preliminary topographic map of these da ta is provided here as Figure 5. The most prominent topographic feature of the site is the shell midden itself, in particular the erosional escarpment that parall els the beach line for some 100 meters. The scarp is steepest in the vicinity of the e xposed burial, where midden deposits exceed 1.5 meters thick. (Respecting the wishes of the Seminole Tribe, no photographs were taken of the burial and its immediate surroundings.) North of the burial location the midden thins gradually (Figure 6), leaving a poorly defined, shallow profile that is actively eroding with tidal surges and boat wakes. Sh ells and an occasiona l artifact are strewn along the beach north of the midden for some 120 meters. South of the burial location the midden is poorly defined due to land altera tions from mill operations and more recent activities. Without subsurface testing, we were unable to establish the southern edge of the midden; it clearly continues well to the south of the limits imposed in Figure 5. Likewise, the landward (eastwar d) extent of the midden was not determined for lack of subsurface testing. The topography in this area of the site is more varied than shown in Figure 5. A cursory inspection of the eroded midden profile and adjacent beach revealed several prehistoric ceramic sherds. Most notable was a check stamped rim sherd in the profile near the base of the midden north of th e burial location (Figures 7, 8 [top]). This item is either a Deptford-period sherd ( ca. 2500-1800 B.P.) or an example of Wakulla Check Stamped (ca. 1500-1000 B.P.; Wille y 1949:437-439; George Luer, personal communication, 1999). One other sherd of pr obable Deptford cultu ral affiliation was observed on the adjacent beach. These items place the onset of midden formation no 4

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Figure 5. Topographic map of the eroded preh istoric shell midden on the western shore of Atsena Otie Key, showing burial location, hi ghand low-tide lines, and other features 5

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Figure 6. View of eroded shell mi dden at north end of the deposit. Figure 7. Reverse view of check stampe d rim sherd at base of shell deposit. 6

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Figure 8. Deptford Linear Check Stamped or Wakulla Check Stamped (top), St. Johns Check Stamped (middle), and Lake Jackson Incised sherd (bottom) from eroded midden at Atsena Otie Key. 7

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later than ca. 2500-1800 radioc arbon years ago (B.P.). Ot her diagnostic artifacts collected from the beach include a St. J ohns Check Stamped sherd (post 1200 B.P.; Figure 8 [middle]), a plain rim sherd of probable Weeden Island age (1800-1100 B.P.) and a Lake Jackson Incised rim sherd, a small limestone-tempered specimen with an embossed node or lug (Figure 8 [bottom]). Lake Jackson Incised is associated with both Safety Harbor phases (post 1100 B.P.) and Fort Walton phases (post-1000 B.P.). According to George Luer (personal co mmunication, 1999), the limestone temper may suggest a local origin in He rando, Citrus, and Levy counties. The Cedar Key region lies to the north of the clus ter of gulf coastal sites classified as Northern Safety Harbor and is generally not as well known, especially duri ng late prehistory, as areas farther south (Milanich 1994:393). Still, the St. Johns and Sa fety Harbor sherds can be used to infer site occupation in the interv al of 1100 B.P. to contact (Milanich 1994:389). Thus, the accumulation of midden at Atsena Otie may have spanned as much as 2200 years, ca. 2500-300 B.P. The contact between midden and underlying substrate is very distinct. The midden consists of a dense accumulation of oyster, clam, and large univalves (whelk/conch) in a matrix of dark brown fi ne sandy loam. The substrate is relatively clean sand. Clearly the midden formed when s ea level was lower than present. Indeed, at about 2500 B.P., sea level was at least 0.9 and as much as 3 meters below present levels (cf. Stapor et al. 1991; Tanner 1991). It rose th ereafter but was interrupted on several occasions by transgressions caused by cooler climate. What little evidence we have for the chronology of occupation conforms nicely to episodes of depressed sea level. Certainly better dating is need ed, but it appears that the mi dden began to form when sea level was at its lowest poin t in the past 2500 years and ab andoned sometime after about 700 B.P., when sea level had risen sufficiently to submerge and erode the seaward margin of the midden, as it continues to do today. The location of the eroded burial west of the midden escarpment and roughly at the depth of stratigraphic c ontact between midden and submidden sand makes it most likely no earlier than Deptford age (i.e., 2500-18 00 B.P.). Likewise, the burial may have been placed in a grave pit emanating fr om the upper portion of the now-eroded midden, dating as late as the Contact Period. The fu lly extended treatment of the individual is consistent with one of the alternative mortuary treatments known from the nearby Weeden Island period cemetery (8LV4; Moor e 1918), including its placement in sand and shell-midden fill. Alternatively, the grav e may have been a shallow feature placed in the sand after the midden eroded. However, gi ven that the eroded burial was surrounded by matrix consistent with the midden matrix of shell and loam, it was almost certainly placed in a shallow pit at the base of the mi dden. Again, the agreement not to analyze the burial context for scientific evidence preclud es a more definitive description of the feature. Two other features to the immediate north of the eroded burial (Figure 5) provide some corroboration of the inferences made a bove. One is an oblong deposit of clay-rich 8

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midden-like soil similar to the burial feature in orientation and size. It may very well contain human skeletal remains. The other is a circular stain of charcoal-rich clay loam approximately 90 cm in diameter. Both of thes e features lie at the projected stratigraphic contact between beach sands and midden and most likely emanated from a surface within the now-eroded midden. Charcoal collected from the oblong feature is curated at the Laboratory of Southeastern Archaeology for po ssible future dating. If nothing else, the feature dates a sea level stand of at least 25 cm below the present level. It almost certainly could be used to cross date the reinterred burial if one so desired. In sum, preliminary archaeological assessm ent of the greater context of a human burial eroding from the west beach of Atsena Otie Key suggests an age of between 2500 and 300 B.P. Given the stratigraphic position of the burial pit rela tive to eroding midden, its location in the present tidal zone, and indirect archaeological evidence, the burial most likely dates to the Weeden Island period, ca. 1800-1100 B.P. The shell midden eroding from the beach face is apparently unrecorded in the state site files (or at least the Florida Geographic Data Library version of recorded sites), and will require subsurface testing and more thorough mapping to document adequately its extent and inte rnal configuration. The U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife is advised to conduct a comprehensive assessment of all its properties in the Cedar Key area to enable a more proactive approach to site management. Future incidences of e xposed and/or vandalized burials can be more thoroughly documented for scientific as well as repatriation purposes if more time is allocated for recovery and analysis before reburial. Acknowledgments. Rhonda Quinn and George Luer read a draft of this report and provided comments that improved its content and grammar. I am esp ecially grateful to George Luer for help in identifying some of the sherds observed at Atsena Otie and for sharing his knowledge of coastal geomorphology. 9

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References Cited Borremans, Nina T. 1991 North Peninsular Gulf Coast, 500 B.C. A.D. 1600. In Floridas Comprehensive Historic Preservatio n Plan (draft, 18 March 1991), pp. 8188. On file, Bureau of Archaeologica l Research, Florida Department of State, Tallahassee. Milanich, Jerald T. 1994 Archaeology of Precolumbian Florida University Press of Florida, Gainesville. Moore, C. B. 1918 The Northwestern Florida Coast Revisited. Journal of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia 16:513-581. Stapor, F. W., Jr., T. Mathews, and F. E. Lindfors-Kearns 1991 Barrier-Island Progradation and Holocen e Sea-Level History in Southwest Florida. Journal of Coastal Research 7(3):815-838. Tanner, W. F. 1991 The Gulf of Mexico Late Holocen e Sea Level Curve and River delta History. TransactionsGulf Coast Associ ation of Geological Sciences 49:583-589. Willey, Gordon R. 1949 Archaeology of the Florida Gulf Coast Smithsonian Miscellaneous Collections 113. Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. 10

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Transit point Northing (m) Easti ng (m) ArbElev (m) AbsElev (m) Benchmark 1092 118.75 107.63 6.21 1.59 Benchmark 2979 133.96 101.37 4.91 0.29 Bot. Midden Profile 80.69 97.69 5.53 0.91 Bot. Midden Profile 73.39 97.67 5.49 0.87 Bot. Midden Profile 65.78 97.10 5.49 0.87 Bot. Midden Profile 57.46 96.69 5.48 0.86 Bot. Midden Profile 49.33 94.91 5.58 0.96 Burial Square (NE) 91.65 93.44 4.77 0.15 Burial Square (NW) 91.90 91.51 4.61 -0.01 Burial Square (SE) 89.77 93.31 4.82 0.20 Burial Square (SW) 90.02 91.33 4.60 -0.02 Cranium 91.43 93.10 4.64 0.02 Distal Femur 90.57 92.23 4.71 0.09 Base of Burial 91.01 92.64 4.65 0.03 High Tide Line 62.56 91.06 5.05 0.43 High Tide Line 71.06 92.08 4.99 0.37 High Tide Line 78.32 92.86 5.01 0.39 High Tide Line 85.74 94.13 5.03 0.41 High Tide Line 95.04 95.72 5.06 0.44 High Tide Line 103.79 96.17 5.00 0.38 High Tide Line 113.49 98.54 5.01 0.39 High Tide Line 122.82 101.43 4.99 0.37 High Tide Line 130.12 104.05 5.01 0.39 High Tide Line 137.36 106.70 4.99 0.37 High Tide Line 146.11 110.26 5.02 0.40 High Tide Line 155.82 114.16 5.02 0.40 High Tide Line 164.00 118.31 5.04 0.42 High Tide Line 174.88 123.30 5.00 0.38 High Tide Line 183.20 127.31 5.01 0.39 High Tide Line 190.58 130.99 5.01 0.39 High Tide Line 197.82 135.43 5.04 0.42 High Tide Line 206.09 140.33 4.99 0.37 High Tide Line 213.46 144.58 5.02 0.40 High Tide Line 37.11 84.89 4.97 0.35 High Tide Line 45.72 87.73 4.98 0.36 High Tide Line 57.59 90.45 5.04 0.42 Loose Femur 128.38 99.73 4.67 0.05 Low Tide Line 225.86 140.16 4.21 -0.41 Low Tide Line 215.38 135.51 4.26 -0.36 Low Tide Line 201.08 127.24 4.25 -0.38 Low Tide Line 191.08 122.75 4.24 -0.38 Low Tide Line 182.56 118.68 4.23 -0.39 Low Tide Line 173.92 114.81 4.27 -0.35 Low Tide Line 165.07 110.54 4.24 -0.38 Low Tide Line 156.43 106.46 4.25 -0.38 Low Tide Line 147.42 102.41 4.26 -0.36 Low Tide Line 139.47 98.10 4.25 -0.38 11

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Low Tide Line 132.65 93.45 4.23 -0.39 Low Tide Line 126.36 88.74 4.25 -0.37 Low Tide Line 122.56 84.29 4.20 -0.42 Low Tide Line 120.41 84.38 4.22 -0.40 Low Tide Line 113.63 82.79 4.26 -0.36 Low Tide Line 105.30 81.54 4.25 -0.37 Low Tide Line 96.99 82.78 4.22 -0.40 Low Tide Line 87.90 83.20 4.26 -0.37 Low Tide Line 79.40 81.24 4.22 -0.40 Low Tide Line 67.20 79.05 4.21 -0.41 Low Tide Line 57.64 77.11 4.22 -0.40 Low Tide Line 49.17 76.21 4.21 -0.41 Low Tide Line 41.83 75.31 4.45 -0.17 Low Tide Line 35.19 71.23 4.20 -0.42 Low Tide Line 22.44 61.61 4.20 -0.42 Marsh Grass Line 26.53 71.29 4.44 -0.18 Marsh Grass Line 31.14 75.72 4.49 -0.13 Marsh Grass Line 36.57 80.92 4.68 0.06 Marsh Grass Line 33.38 86.68 5.18 0.56 Marsh Grass Line 35.52 90.77 5.50 0.88 Misc. Topo. 100.96 104.75 6.66 2.04 Misc. Topo. 98.07 105.87 6.65 2.03 Misc. Topo. 95.46 107.23 6.66 2.04 Misc. Topo. 98.31 110.52 6.64 2.02 Misc. Topo. 95.52 112.01 6.69 2.07 Misc. Topo. 93.82 110.46 6.71 2.09 Misc. Topo. 92.99 114.14 6.80 2.18 Misc. Topo. 91.03 113.46 6.81 2.19 Misc. Topo. 88.19 105.04 6.82 2.20 Misc. Topo. 92.29 102.30 6.81 2.19 Misc. Topo. 91.45 100.63 6.82 2.20 Misc. Topo. 88.28 102.07 6.84 2.22 Misc. Topo. 85.44 102.31 6.92 2.30 Misc. Topo. 103.94 110.43 6.70 2.08 Misc. Topo. 107.95 109.07 6.55 1.93 Misc. Topo. 110.10 107.53 6.42 1.80 Misc. Topo. 112.53 108.90 6.47 1.85 Misc. Topo. 112.57 111.52 6.56 1.94 Misc. Topo. 106.06 104.73 6.46 1.84 Misc. Topo. 103.64 103.98 6.70 2.08 Misc. Topo. 101.41 102.63 6.79 2.17 Misc. Topo. 83.59 100.04 6.76 2.14 Misc. Topo. 72.28 100.77 6.72 2.10 Misc. Topo. 69.71 104.92 6.74 2.12 Misc. Topo. 65.15 109.90 6.87 2.25 Misc. Topo. 61.93 106.79 6.82 2.20 Misc. Topo. 60.84 101.69 6.95 2.33 Misc. Topo. 55.86 101.61 6.52 1.90 Misc. Topo. 56.24 103.27 7.25 2.63 12

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Misc. Topo. 54.80 104.86 7.27 2.65 Misc. Topo. 52.36 102.16 6.48 1.86 Misc. Topo. 48.55 102.59 6.48 1.86 Misc. Topo. 50.12 103.97 7.47 2.85 Misc. Topo. 46.05 103.94 7.60 2.98 Misc. Topo. 47.64 108.86 7.53 2.91 Misc. Topo. 45.66 113.36 7.65 3.03 Other Pit Feature 97.65 92.69 4.69 0.07 Other Pit Feature 97.29 93.46 4.76 0.14 Other Pit Feature 97.85 94.09 4.80 0.18 Other Pit Feature 98.30 93.41 4.73 0.11 Other Pit Feature 98.88 93.24 4.73 0.11 Other Pit Feature 99.43 93.98 4.83 0.21 Pier 62.28 90.22 6.14 1.52 Pier 61.14 82.94 6.15 1.53 Pier 60.00 75.67 6.14 1.52 Pier 58.87 68.38 6.15 1.53 Pier 57.71 61.21 6.14 1.52 Pier 41.47 -42.53 6.12 1.50 Pot Sherd 125.20 107.64 5.47 0.85 Pot Sherd 115.48 106.73 6.07 1.45 Pot Sherd 135.66 102.12 4.65 0.03 Pot Sherd 139.55 104.31 4.69 0.07 Pot Sherd 147.76 107.87 4.68 0.06 Pot Sherd 170.02 118.99 4.79 0.17 Pot Sherd 178.26 122.34 4.72 0.10 Top Midden Profile 48.16 99.01 6.12 1.50 Top Midden Profile 55.56 98.88 6.15 1.53 Top Midden Profile 63.86 99.48 6.21 1.59 Top Midden Profile 70.58 99.32 6.26 1.64 Top of Midden Profile 83.93 99.56 6.72 2.10 Top of Midden Profile 85.33 99.49 6.67 2.05 Top of Midden Profile 86.82 98.76 6.80 2.18 Top of Midden Profile 89.37 99.41 6.66 2.04 Top of Midden Profile 91.77 99.26 6.81 2.19 Top of Midden Profile 94.87 98.39 6.76 2.14 Top of Midden Profile 97.38 99.15 6.69 2.07 Top of Midden Profile 102.89 101.34 6.62 2.00 Top of Midden Profile 103.91 102.04 6.51 1.89 Top of Midden Profile 104.18 102.19 6.39 1.77 Top of Midden Profile 105.45 102.56 6.33 1.71 Top of Midden Profile 106.71 102.02 6.19 1.57 Top of Midden Profile 107.52 103.71 6.32 1.70 Top of Midden Profile 109.18 104.53 6.24 1.62 Top of Midden Profile 111.22 105.64 6.24 1.62 Top of Midden Profile 114.96 106.63 6.27 1.65 Top of Midden Profile 117.89 107.66 6.23 1.61 Top of Midden Profile 121.64 107.80 6.07 1.45 Top of Midden Profile 124.33 108.64 5.91 1.29 13

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14Top of Midden Profile 127.16 109.20 5.69 1.07 Top of Midden Profile 130.29 110.40 5.66 1.04 Top of Midden Profile 133.88 112.55 5.78 1.16 Top of Midden Profile 138.06 113.06 5.61 0.99 Upper Beach Line 171.19 128.34 5.53 0.91 Upper Beach Line 164.39 125.26 5.35 0.73 Upper Beach Line 157.74 121.86 5.42 0.80 Upper Beach Line 150.23 118.54 5.35 0.73 Upper Beach Line 142.96 115.33 5.55 0.93 Upper Beach Line 140.61 114.39 5.56 0.94 Upper Beach Line 137.83 112.86 5.50 0.88 Upper Beach Line 133.88 112.26 5.50 0.88 Upper Beach Line 131.20 110.42 5.53 0.91 Upper Beach Line 126.79 108.81 5.54 0.92 Upper Beach Line 123.29 107.62 5.55 0.93 Upper Beach Line 120.74 107.28 5.49 0.87 Upper Beach Line 116.94 106.52 5.65 1.03 Upper Beach Line 112.72 105.16 5.63 1.01 Upper Beach Line 109.33 102.88 5.53 0.91 Upper Beach Line 107.63 100.41 5.46 0.84 Upper Beach Line 102.26 98.58 5.20 0.58 Upper Beach Line 97.30 98.26 5.19 0.57 Upper Beach Line 94.37 98.34 5.25 0.63 Upper Beach Line 90.49 98.67 5.55 0.93 Upper Beach Line 86.74 97.74 5.46 0.84 Upper Beach Line 83.57 98.52 5.53 0.91