(ORDO NEWS) — It wasn’t until it was determined that the bones were very old and not the result of a massacre that the 167 bodies found in a pond in Windover, Florida began to attract archaeologists’ interest.
Researchers from Florida State University arrived at the site, believing that more Native American skeletons had been found in the swamps. They assumed that the age of the bones is 500-600 years.
The bones were then radiocarbon dated. The age of the corpses varied from 6,990 to 8,120 years . The scientific community went into ecstasy. The Windover Swamp has proven to be one of the most significant archaeological discoveries in the United States.
In 1982, Steve Vanderaght, the man who made the find, used a backhoe to clear a pond while building a new community located about halfway between Disneyland and Cape Canaveral. Vanderjagt was puzzled by the large number of rocks in the pond, since this area of Florida was not particularly rocky.
Stopping the excavator, Vanderyaght went out to look at the “stones” and almost immediately realized that he had unearthed a huge pile of bones. He immediately called the authorities. It was only thanks to his curiosity that this place was saved.
After forensic experts found them to be ancient, specialists from Florida State University were called (another brilliant move by Vanderyaght – too often objects are destroyed due to the fact that experts were not called).
Deeply intrigued, EKS Corporation, the developer of the site, funded the radiocarbon dating. As soon as the startling dates were discovered, the State of Florida provided a grant to carry out the excavations.
Unlike the human remains found in the European swamps, the bodies from Florida are only skeletons – there is no flesh left on the bones. But this does not negate their importance.
Nearly half of the skulls contained medulla. Most of the skeletons were found lying on their left side, their heads turned to the west, possibly towards the setting sun, and their faces to the north.
Most of them had their legs drawn up, as if in a fetal position, but three of the corpses were lying straight. Interestingly, each corpse had a kind of “cage” of thick rods on top of the corpse, stuck into the bottom layer of dense tissue, presumably so that they would not float to the surface of the water when they decomposed when they filled with air.
This practical step ultimately protected the bodies from scavengers (animals and grave robbers) and kept them in their intended position.
The find provides an unprecedented insight into the hunter-gatherer community that existed 3,500 years before the construction of the pyramids in Egypt. Skeletons and artifacts found with them have been studied almost continuously for decades after their discovery.
Research paints a picture of hard but good life in pre-Columbian Florida. Although the people lived mainly by hunting and gathering, they were sedentary, which suggests that all the difficulties they could face were insignificant compared to the advantages of the area they chose to settle.
It was an incredibly caring community. Almost all of the children’s bodies found had small toys in their hands. One elderly woman, perhaps 50 years old, was found to have several broken bones.
The fractures occurred several years before her death, which means that, despite her disability, other villagers cared for and helped her, even when she was no longer able to contribute significantly to the work.
Another body, of a 15-year-old boy, showed that he was the victim of spina bifida, a crippling birth defect in which the vertebrae do not properly fuse around the spinal cord.
Despite many deformed bones, evidence suggests that he was loved and cared for throughout his life. These finds are amazing when you consider how many ancient (and even a few modern) societies reject weak and deformed people.
The contents found inside the corpses, as well as other organic remains found in the swamp, are evidence of a richly diverse ecosystem. Paleobotanists have identified 30 species of edible and/or medicinal plants; berries and small fruits were especially important in the diet of the community.
One woman, possibly 35 years old, was found with a mixture of elderberry, nightshade and holly in what would have been her stomach, suggesting that she was eating medicinal herbs to try to combat the disease.
Unfortunately, this combination didn’t work, and what hit the woman ended up taking her life. Interestingly, the elderberry woman was one of the few bodies that was stretched out rather than coiled up, with her face pointing down. Elderberry has been used in other Native American traditions to fight viral infections.
Another striking difference between the Windover Swamp people and their European counterparts is that none of the inhabitants of Florida died a violent death.
Among the corpses are men, women and children. Approximately half of the corpses were under 20 years old when they died, but some were over 70 years old. This is a pretty good mortality rate for that place and time.
The presence of medulla in 91 bodies indicates that they were buried quickly, within 48 hours of death. Scientists know this because, given Florida’s hot, humid climate, brains might liquefy in bodies not buried quickly.
Surprisingly, DNA analysis of the remains showed that these bodies were not biologically related to the more modern Native American groups that lived in the area.
Recognizing the limitations of modern technology, about half of the Windover site has been left untouched as a protected National Historic Landmark, so that in 50 or 100 years, researchers can return to the swamp and unearth the untouched remains.
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