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 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.
It’s against the law to disturb any unmarked human burial sites, so underwater archaeologists had to use techniques such as sonar and magnetometry to investigate. After a year and a half of investigating, they could firmly say that the area that measures less than an acre was an inland, peat-bottomed, freshwater pond used for burial from the Early Archaic Period.
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“Our hope is that this discovery leads to more knowledge and a greater understanding of Florida’s early people,” Detzner said.
Officials called the discovery “unprecedented.” Florida has a number of pond burial sites from the Archaic Period, including Little Salt Spring in Sarasota County. But it’s the first discovery of underwater preservation from the Archaic Period in the Americas, having made it through sea level rise in the last ice age. During this time period, the pond sat 9 feet above sea level.
The bureau is working to create a long-term management plan for the site, and researchers intend to reconstruct the landscape of the area to figure out how it was able to survive rising tides. This will include a geophysical survey, sediment sampling and site testing as well as maintaining contact with the Seminole Tribe of Florida.
“We are happy to be working, shoulder to shoulder, with the Bureau of Archaeological Research and the residents of Manasota Key to identify a preservation plan that will allow the ancestors to continue to rest peacefully and without human disturbance for the next 7,000 years,” said Paul Backhouse, tribal historic preservation officer of the Seminole Tribe of Florida.
The bureau worked with Florida Gulf Coast University, the National Park Service, Florida Public Archaeology Network, Sarasota County Historical Resources and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, as well as local and state law enforcement and the Gulf Coast Community Foundation.
“Seeing a 7,000-year-old site that is so well preserved in the Gulf of Mexico is awe inspiring. We are truly humbled by this experience,” said Ryan Duggins, underwater archaeology supervisor for the bureau. “This will forever change the way we approach offshore archaeology.”