Researchers have discovered a prehistoric burial ground in shallow water off of Florida’s shore. The discovery was announced by the Florida Department of State. The site is believed to be a Native American bog burial site. The researchers have found a minimum of six individual sets of human remains to date, but expect to find many more. It is believed that the site is spread across an acre of now submerged land.
A diver searching for fossils off the shore of Manasota Key near Venice, Fl. in the summer of 2016 found a barnacle-crusted human jaw in a dive spot about 300 yards from the shore and 21 feet below the surface. Venice is one of the most popular places in Florida for fossil hunting. Divers and beachcombers have found the palm-sized teeth of the extinct Megalodon shark species in the area.
A picture of the jaw bone was sent to Florida’s Bureau of Archaeological Research. Ryan Duggins, the bureau’s underwater archaeology supervisor, and a team of fellow underwater archaeologists relocated the spot where the bone was discovered and found many more artifacts. They found more human bones, sharpened wooden stakes, and textile fragments at the site. The bones are currently undergoing a slow drying and desalination process at the Forensics Studies Lab at Florida Gulf Coast University.
The burial site dates to 7,000 years ago based on radiocarbon tests on the wood. Ancient Floridians from this time period sometimes buried their dead in shallow, peat-bottomed ponds. Similar burial practices have been found at multiple inland sites, including at Ryder Pond, Republic Groves, and Bay West. In the 1980s, construction workers uncovered an 8,000-year-old peat graveyard containing more than 160 skeletons.
The remains were most likely interred at a time when the site was about 10 feet above sea level and part of Florida’s mainland. Around 14,000 years ago, the global climate began to warm, causing glaciers to melt and sea levels to rise. The burial ground was inundated by sea level rise and is now submerged beneath the waves.
The discovery of the burial ground is unprecedented because it has been miraculously preserved. Countless places where prehistoric people once lived, hunted, and buried their dead have disappeared beneath the waves over the last several millennia. Most of those now-submerged sites would be too fragile to survive the waves and tides of the sea. The vast majority of underwater archaeological projects have historically been focused on shipwrecks.