Throughout the world there have at times been found mysterious remains that have been left where they lie for hundreds or thousands of years, and which serve to baffle and confuse all who look upon them, leaving few clues as to their fates or why they are there where they are. These might be within tombs locked away underground, mummies scattered about deserts, within jungles or atop the highest mountains, and they always leave mysteries swirling about them. Some of the oddest such discoveries have been made underwater, and here down in the depths below the waves are those who have sunk here along with whatever secrets they carried in life.
One of the stranger discoveries of a mysterious watery grave comes from Lake Okeechobee, in the U.S. state of Florida. Covering 730 square miles and sprawling across five counties it is the second largest freshwater lake completely within the United States, and even its name comes from the Native Hitchiti words oki, meaning “water,” and chobi, meaning “big.” In modern days it is known for its splendid scenery and outdoor recreation such as fishing, but beneath its veneer of beauty lies a darker side. It was long hidden away within the Florida interior, ensconced within thick jungle and steeped in native lore and legend, and the lake remained completely uncharted and unexplored by outsiders until the 1880s, when the area began to be developed and settled by the whites. In around 1910, these pioneers to this land of thick cypress stands, clouds of mosquitos, menacing swamp, reeds, and forest began to bring back spooky stories from the muddy shores of the lake. Fishermen in the area told of bringing up human skulls instead of fish, and local folklorist Charlie Carlson explained of this, “Several old catfishermen told of `catchin’ human skulls’ in their nets. One early settler claimed that there were so many skulls in the shallows that, `During low water it looked like a pumpkin patch.’”
These spooky tales escalated when a surveyor who was looking to clear land at a place on the lake called Glassy Island claimed to have unearthed an estimated 50 skeletons buried in shallow graves within the wet sand. In 1918 there was also the gruesome discovery of hundreds of human skeletons lodged in the silt along the north sides of Ritta and Kreamer Islands during a period of low water. In 1953 a fisherman named Willis Crosby stumbled across nearly a dozen human skulls staring back at him through the murky water, and he would say of his grim and startling discovery, “There were a bunch of other bones scattered all over the bottom, I guess they were human. Everybody said they were Indian bones, it was pretty much common sight when the water was down.”
There were many other accounts of finding human bones and skulls littering the bottom of the lake, often made visible when water levels dropped, which was not really good for the various tourist businesses and real-estate brokers who flocked to the area looking to develop it into some sort of resort. Such macabre findings have gone on right up to the present, when during a drought in 2006 and 2007 there were revealed large portions of the muddy bottom, which was found to contain innumerable Native artifacts and thousands of human skeletons. Interestingly, there have been claims that some of the enigmatic remains found at the time were of individuals far taller than any Natives of the area, with some skeletons supposedly found of those who would have measured over 7 feet in height.
Whether the stories of giant skeletons found here are true or not, there have definitely been a lot of bones found at the lake, and the really strange thing is that no one really knows where all of these skulls and bones came from. It has been suggested that they were of the victims of massive hurricanes that hit the area in 1926 and 1928, which killed thousands of people, but most of these were gathered and buried on the mainland, and it would still not explain all of the remains found here before those dates, and there is also the fact that in the early 1900s this was a very sparsely populated region, meaning that it seems strange there should be such large amounts of human remains all in one place if this was due to any sort of disaster.
Another theory is that these remains come from some massive battle that took place here, namely the 1837 Battle of Okeechobee, which was fought during the Seminole War, but this is estimated to have resulted in only a few dozen deaths, and so could not explain the finding of hundreds of mysterious skeletons or more down in the muck of the lake. Other theories are that they are a mass burial site for Natives of the area or that they are evidence of some lost tribe, but there is no evidence that points to this, as the remains are spread over such a large area and there are absolutely no other artifacts found near the bodies, just those bones. Additionally, they don’t seem to be the doing of conquistadors, and the folklorist, Carlson, has said of the mysterious bones, “Historians have found no connection to the early Spanish, and some believe the bones may be more than a thousand years old.”
Another idea is based on a persistent piece of local lore that says that in 1841 several hundred Seminole warriors chose to commit mass suicide at the lake rather than be captured by the enemy, slitting their own throats and flinging themselves into the murky waters as their adverseries closed in all around them, but there is very little in the historical record to show that this ever really happened. There is also the lore that says that the Seminole put a curse upon the lake, and that this curse is actually responsible for a lot of deaths and accidents here, such as the tragic airline crashes of Tristar Flight 401 in 1972 and ValuJet Flight 592 in 1996, both of which plummeted into the area costing hundreds of lives. For now no one knows, and the mysterious skeletons of Lake Okeechobee remain a mystery.
Equally as spooky is a trove of mysterious human remains found submerged in a sinkhole in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, which also just happens to be supposedly cursed and haunted. The place known as Sac Uayum is what is referred to as a cenote, which is a pit which is formed when limestone bedrock collapses to expose the groundwater beneath. Well-known for their stunningly crystal clear water, these cenotes are scattered all about the Yucatan Peninsula, with around 6,000 of them known so far and many of which have dark histories as places of ritual sacrifice for the ancient Mayans. The cenote Sac Uayum was never used for such purposes, as it was feared by the Mayans as a cursed place guarded by demons, and Natives of the area have to this day steered clear of it, saying it is haunted by angry spirits.
Sac Uayum lies just outside the ruins of the ancient Maya city of Mayapánreaches, reaches a depth of around 115 feet, and it was long completely unexplored until a recent survey delved into its depths and found some strange things indeed. Down there through the strikingly clear water it was found that the bottom was divided into two chambers that were littered with numerous human remains that no one can quite figure out, with archeologist Bradley Russell saying of their initial dives there, “It was genuinely strange the first time we saw it. From the very first dive, we had seen skulls. At the time of this dive, we were still doing an initial assessment and putting together a plan of action for mapping the cenote.”
Among the many remains the researchers have found within the cenote’s two submerged chambers are those of a woman with a skull that was intentionally flattened at birth for unknown reasons, the remains of cows, and skulls possessing teeth that are in remarkably good condition, suggesting they had been young at the time of death. As to why all of these bones are here, no one really knows. They do not display any sort of trauma, meaning that they were likely not sacrificial offerings, and many of the remains seem to be from people 18 years old or younger. There are also no signs of any relics or artifacts buried with them, meaning that they were not some sort of society elite getting a special burial. They could have been victims of disease that were tossed down here and there is no way to know that, but it would explain why many chose to stay away from this place and could have given rise to the legends of the curse, combined with the fact that the sinkhole lies to the south of Mayapánreaches, with south being the traditional Mayan direction of the underworld. In the end no one knows, and those bodies remain forgotten down in those clear azure waters, as mysterious as they have always been.
A fairly grim discovery was also made in the country of Sweden in 2009, when archeologists uncovered a treasure trove of the macabre while excavating a remote lake bed on the eastern shore of Lake Vattern. The researchers were able to find numerous skulls dated to around 8,000 years old, from men, women, and children, many of which were either gruesomely mounted atop stakes or had once been, making it all the creepier. The so-called “Tomb of the Sunken Skulls” is now not underwater, but at the time that these bodies were interred here it would have been, and to make it all the more bizarre, most of the skulls were missing their jawbones.
There have been the remains of 11 individuals found here, with only one retaining the jawbone and seven of the adults displaying some form of blunt trauma to the skull, made all the odder that this trauma did not kill them, as there were signs that the skulls had healed afterwards, for reasons we will probably never know. The strange remains are tethered to a mysterious underwater burial site that measures 39 feet by 46 feet (12 by 14 meters), encircled by stones and with a flat surface upon which the skulls were staked and set into the earth beneath. The remains were interspersed with animal bones that seem to have been intentionally arranged in a specific pattern, with the south end holding brown bear bones, the remains of big game animals on the southeastern part, and the human bones in the center of it all. One of the researchers studying it has said of it, “It’s a very enigmatic structure. We really don’t understand the reason why they did this and why they put it under water.”
All of this was preserved phenomenally well, due to the low-oxygen conditions and alkaline water composition, creating an unearthly and rather surreal atmosphere for it all. As to why these remains are here there are only guesses. They could have been the victims of battle, their heads kept as trophies and staked for display. It might also have been some sort of burial site, possibly for those of some stigmatized group which would explain the strange circumstances of their internment, or a place of ritual sacrifice. A researcher of the site has said of it:
The people who were deposited like this in the lake, they weren’t average people, but probably people who, after they died, had been selected to be included in this ritual because of who they were, because of things they experienced in life.
In the end we have what is left of these enigmatic individuals floating about in the gloomy depths of their final resting places, forgotten and left to their mysteries they took with them to their deaths. They float about their in the depths, their dark empty eye sockets staring up through the water at the light of what once was, their stories unknown and their deaths unexplained. What happened to these people? Who were they? Why were they buried here in their watery graves and how did they end up here? We can only speculate, and the answers may forever elude us.