Florida could use some good news these days and this certainly fits the bill – at least for the Gulf Coast city of Venice and archeologists. On February 28, Secretary of State Ken Detzner announced in a press release that a human tooth found by a diver in 2016 has led archaeologists to an unprecedented 7,000-year-old Native American ancestral burial site in the Gulf of Mexico near Venice.
“Research indicates that during this time period [Early Archaic], when sea levels were much lower, a small inland freshwater pond was present and ancestors of Florida’s indigenous people interred their deceased there. As sea levels rose, the pond was covered by the Gulf of Mexico; despite the flooding, the peat bottom of the pond remained intact. Peat slows the process of organic decay, which allowed the site to stay well preserved.”
The burial site covers about 32,000 square feet (3,000 square meters) off the coast of Manasota Key and has been named Manasota Key Offshore. The site is protected under Florida law and it is illegal to excavate and/or remove any material or human remains from the site without authorization. Underwater researchers visiting the site have so far found remains of six people, carved wooden stakes and pieces of clothing and radiocarbon dating shows them to be about 7,000 years old.
How did the graveyard end up under 21 feet of water in just 7,000 years? Good question, but first make the total 30 feet (9.1 meters) because researchers determined that the original burial pond was ten feet ABOVE sea level when the interments occurred. Pond burials were practiced during what is known as the Archaic or Meso-American period in North America’s pre-Columbian history, lasting from about 8000 to 1000 BCE. The culture located in the northern Louisiana, Mississippi and Florida areas buried their dead in the peat at the bottom of shallow ponds, which helped preserve the remains found off the coast of Manasota Key and in other ponds found inland (the Windover site in Titusville is a well-known example). Manasota Key Offshore is the first found underwater, which means more evidence of the land and the culture may have been preserved.
That 30-foot water rise was the result of the global climate change the ended the last ice age beginning 14,000 years ago. At that time, the Florida land mass was much wider than it is today and many native settlements from the Archaic period were eventually underwater. Archeologists generally ignored looking for remnants and artifacts of these settlements, believing that the sea water would have destroyed the human remains and their living areas. Manasota Key Offshore is proof that this isn’t the case and will provide new incentives to look for more evidence of these prehistoric Meso-American peoples.
Not to mention learn what will happen if the rest of Florida ends up underwater.