Diver discovers 7000 year-old underwater graveyard off Florida coast

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An unmarked Native American burial site more than 7,200 years old was discovered a quarter-mile off Manasota Key, Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner announced Wednesday.

"The Florida Department of State takes our responsibility for the preservation, respectful treatment and security of this rare and unique site very seriously", Detzner said in a statement.

The site near Venice was first discovered by an amateur diver in June 2016, who then reported possible human remains on the continental shelf to the Bureau of Archaeological Research. "We are truly humbled by this experience", said Ryan Duggins, underwater archaeology supervisor for the bureau.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the Sarasota County Sheriff's Office are regularly patrolling the area off Manasota Key to protect an ancient Native American burial ground from revelers and looters.

A burial site hidden for some 7,000 years beneath the surface of the Gulf of Mexico likely has archeologists picking their jaws up from the floor. However, the researchers expect to find more, given the size of the site and the fact that investigations are only in their preliminary stages.

As sea levels rose, BAR says the pond was covered by the Gulf of Mexico, but the peat bottom of the pond remained intact, protecting the remains buried there.

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Little is known about the Indigenous peoples of Florida during the Early Archaic period, but research suggests that this time was marked by a transition from hunter-gatherer lifestyles to more sedentary societies.

'Peat slows the process of organic decay, which allowed the site to stay well-preserved'. It is thought to have once been a freshwater pond where indigenous people buried their dead.

The site is protected under Florida law, and it is illegal for anyone not authorized by the state to excavate or remove anything. Heather Walsh-Haney, a forensic anthropologist and associate professor and program coordinator for the department of justice studies at the university, likely will use swine submerged in a cage in Gulf waters to test different kinds of sand and other material to determine which withstand currents and erosion to best preserve the cadavers, she said.

The Manasota Key Offshore site represents the first example in the Americas of offshore preservation of the Archaic Period paleoenvironment, including a prehistoric burial site that survived sea level rise since the last ice age.

Duggins said after encountering broken bones and wooden stakes, they realized they were dealing with a Native American bog burial site that had been miraculously preserved.

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