Volunteer: Underwater Archaeology in Florida. Part Two

Answering My Questions?

The ancient inhabitants of Florida were just like us.  They enjoyed being near the water, feeling ocean breezes, and in certain centuries, the warm climate.  Discovering their lives is like discovering our own past.  In cultures that do not have a written language that we can recognize, we must dig to find the answers.

Did the Floridians at Windover cross the Bering Strait/Land bridge?

Windover an amazing exhibit of people who lived 8,000 years ago in Florida.

After DNA analysis of brain material found in skeletons at Windover Archaeological Dig,  the scientists could not verify that the people at Windover had the same DNA as most ancient Americans.  Some White Supremacists groups have argued that the DNA is the same that is found in Europe.  They argue that this proves that light-skinned people colonized the East coast of the United States thousands of years ago.

But, other scientists argue that the match is not definitive.  (It is difficult for people not to believe in the Bering Strait theory.) Archaeologists at Windover have stored the brain matter and will analyze it again when better tools are developed.  The Florida State University PaleoAucilla Prehistory project also argues that the ancient peoples in Florida did not come from the vicinity of Alaska.

As an aside, long ago when visiting Mayan sites in Belize our guide was vehement about his people not crossing the Bering Strait.  He kept saying, “Look at me, I am very short with slim limbs and body.  My skin is reddish brown.  Have you ever seen someone from China with reddish brown skin and black hair?”

It is also brings up the persistent questioning of whether or not ancient peoples could have crossed the Atlantic ocean.  Some researchers today argue that they did.  What is now the United States may have been colonized by peoples from around the globe long before our records.

Why wasn’t the flesh preserved on the skeletons at Windover?

Reproduction of a skeleton found at Windover.

Here is a photo of a bog body from northern Europe. Notice the rope around his neck.

Most bog bodies are/were found at the bottom of watery peat bogs in Europe.  The skeleton is usually dissolved by the acidity of the peat water.  But, because of the low temperature, acidic water, and lack of oxygen, skin may be preserved.  Some of these bog bodies date back to 8,000 BCE, or 10,000 years ago.  Most of them were killed or sacrificed and deposited with no clothing.

The skeletons discovered at Windover did not retain their skin because Florida is too hot!  There is no tannic acid  in the water to preserve the skin.  The bones were preserved because at certain levels in peat, there is no oxygen.  That lack of oxygen preserved the bones and other finds in the dig.  One unusual find was the brain material in many of the skeletons. William Royal also found preserved brains in his dives.

At other ancient sites in the United States, skeletons were buried without their skin.  It is said that men from the Choctaw tribe would come and take the skin off skeletons for families before the person was buried.  Some of those burials resulted in bound bundles.

Bundled skeletons.

Were people sacrificed at the Windover mortuary site?

Archaeologists do not think so.  They have studied many of the skeletons and discovered broken bones and other diseases that killed both old and young.  One skeleton had a blown out eye-socket, others had indentions in their skulls or bones that were from blunt force.  There was  an embedded antler in one skeleton’s  behind which probably killed him.  The conclusion is that many people suffered through different types of physical violence, but they were not systematically murdered.

Why did people use this same site to bury the dead for a thousand years?  Did they find evidence of occupation around the site?

No one really knows why people were buried in the same site.  It did not make sense to me that the people who used this burial pond were hunter-gathers that traveled most of the time.  A thousand years is a long time and people must have lived permanently in the area.  When Windover was discovered most of the ground around it had been disrupted.  I read in one journal article that there was evidence of fire pits.  But, the archaeologists did not explore the countryside around the cemetery.  A housing development was in progress at the time.

I know that in other parts of the world that families have places where they bury their kin.  And, you can find grave sites or caves with multiple skeletons.  Near the Mississippi River in what is now Missouri, it appears that people were buried at certain heights in the landscape.  Archaeologists theorize that there was a class system that dictated where a person could be buried.

Where I grew up in Roseville, Michigan, the Roman Catholics had their cemetery.  The Jews had their cemetery and the wealthy had theirs.  The common folks were buried in public cemeteries.  And, we have found areas all over the United States where light-skinned people and dark-skinned people had separate cemeteries in very small towns. Archaeologists have not yet deciphered if there were separate family graves, etc. at Windover.

I wonder if burying in shallow water had anything to do with their religious beliefs in an afterlife?  If so, then they might believe that they would be together in death?

Were there other pond sites?

Here is that map again.  It may help with pinpointing the sites.

Key Marco

Artist’s conception of Key Marco.

One of the artifacts that survived.

One of the oldest excavated pond sites was at Key Marco.  Around 1896 a rather eccentric F. H. Cushing found thousands of artifacts.  The story is long.  Cushing claimed to be an archaeologist but scientific approaches to digging had not been invented yet.  In a watery burial area he discovered wooden artifacts which is very unusual in Florida.  (Although a huge wooden statue has been found in the river near Hontoon island.)

Cushing and company dug up the artifacts but did not understand that by doing so, they were destroying them.  Many ended up turning to dust.  Some artifacts survived. There was no employment of stratigraphy,  and today, dating of the objects is almost impossible.

Huge statue found in the river near Hontoon.

Below are some of the artifacts that survived.

Few bones have survived, although the pond was a burial cemetery.  Archaeologists suggest that the bones turned to dust also.

Some of the items found on the steamship. This is a fascinating story.

Here in Kansas City, a family spent most of their savings discovering and uncovering a mid-nineteenth century steamboat, carrying supplies to settlers, that sank on the Missouri River.  Today they have placed their finds in what is called, The Arabia Steamboat Museum.  The searchers quickly discovered that boots, cloth items, and more, were turning to dust and needed to be placed in a preservative.

Fort Center

Artist’s conception of ancient Fort Center.

Look at this rendering of Fort Center.  There is a mortuary pond and  above it is a staging area for the deceased.  Notice that on top of the mound is a building and there is a meeting room to the right.  There are carvings of birds around the central platform over the water.

Fort Center was occupied for at least 2,000 years dating back to 450 BCE.  (So it is not as old as the Windover site.) Archaeologists found bird carvings and post holes indicating that there had been buildings in this place.  Within the area they found 150 bundled skeletons (bones in a bag with flexed arms/legs).  They were buried in 4-5 feet of water similar to Windover.  A LiDar sweep of the area discovered 4 circular ditches with an outer circle of 1197 feet.

Here is another drawing of Fort Center.

Manasota Key in the Gulf of Mexico

Artist’s conception of the key.

Manasota key is not on the above map.  It is a new site that has not been totally excavated. This find really opens up possibilities of discovering how peoples lived and died before the ice melt.  Many villages may be on the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico.

In 2016 an amateur diver found human bones in 21 feet of water about 900 feet from shore.  Archaeologists have since discovered jaw bones, teeth, and wood.   They argue that it is a gravesite similar to Windover.  I have been told that archaeologists are prevented from digging in cemeteries in Florida right now because of a new Florida statute protecting dead bodies and skeletons.

Employment of Modern Technology

How do archaeologists find the underwater sites?  Archaeologists employ:

LiDar:  a laser  technology that uses light to measure and uncover artifacts.

Magnetomometry:  This technology helps archaeologists to actually see ino the ground and identify what lies beneath without having to excavate.

Side-scan Sonar:  Sound waves are bounced off the seabed and used to create an image of large areas of the sea floor.

They also use down-to-earth methods of methodically piloting a boat in lines over a section of water using GPS which is then transferred to a map of the area.

According to one article, there are  over 200,000 historical and archaeological sites in Florida.  Amazing!

Other Sites (There are many–a lifetime of sites!)

I haven’t answered all of my questions, so I am still searching.  Along the way, I discovered shell mounds (often termed middens) and began studying them across the United States and around the world.  I will share my research with you soon.

Tom and I are soon to leave for our home in Florida, one of the epicenters of the virus.  We hope that Covid does not find us.  Please wear a mask and social distance.  I was in Walmart last night and a woman without a mask cut in front of me while I was trying to choose a bin of potato salad.  She was about one foot away from my face before I even realized it.  I backed up right away and asked why she was not wearing a mask and social distancing.  She laughed at me!  It is no laughing matter.

Have you been reading about President Woodrow Wilson who cared little for the people in the United States?   He did nothing to help people who were dying from the Spanish flu.  On a cruise across the pond, he and his entire family caught the virus.  Not soon after he had a stroke and went blind, dying three years later.  Is history repeating itself?

Be safe and sane and hopefully we will be able to talk to each other soon.

As always, this post is copyrighted by Marla J. Selvidge

This entry was posted in Archaeology, Archaeology of the Southwest, Florida, Underwater archaeology, Windover Archaeological site and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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