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The Windover Archaeological Site is an Early Archaic (6000 to 5000 BC) (un-calibrated Radio Carbon years B.P.; ~8000 to 6000 cal-BC) archaeological site found in Brevard Countymarker near Titusvillemarker, Floridamarker, USAmarker, on the central east coast of the state. Windover is a muck pond where skeletal remains of 168 individuals were found buried in the peat at the bottom of the pond. The skeletons were well preserved because of the characteristics of peat. Radiocarbon dating on two bones excavated from the pond yielded dates of 7,210 years and 7,320 years before the testing date in 1982 (approximately 5,230 and 5,340 BC). In addition, remarkably well-preserved brain tissue has been recovered from many skulls from the site. DNA from the brain tissue has been sequenced. The collection of human skeletal remains and artifacts recovered from Windover Pond represent among the largest finds of each type from the Archaic Period.

Discovery and excavation

The site was discovered in 1982 when work began on building a road across the pond in a new housing development, Windover Farms. A backhoe operator noticed several skulls in the bucket of his machine. The sheriff and medical examiner determined that the burials were not recent. The developers, Jack Eckerd and Jim Swann, halted construction at the pond and called in archaeologists. The developers also changed their development plans in order to leave the pond intact, paid for the first radiocarbon dating, and donated $60,000 worth of pumping equipment to drain the pond for excavation.

Funding to excavate the pond was acquired in 1984. The buried bones were or deeper beneath the surface of the peat at the bottom of the pond, under 3 to of water. Researchers used a network of 160 wells around the pond to lower the water table enough to permit excavation of the peat. The workers used shovels and hand tools to remove the peat until the level of the burials was reached. One of the lead archaeologists compared excavating the peat to trying to dig chocolate mousse under water. Only half of the pond was excavated, with the remainder left undisturbed for future investigation.

Human remains

The remains found included bones of males and females of all ages. The average height of adult males was five feet nine inches. Skeletons showed the effects of disease and healed wounds, allowing forensic studies. Many bones of children showed interrupted growth, perhaps due to severe disease or malnutrition. Osteoporosis was evident in older women. Adults of both genders exhibited a high incidence of osteoarthritis, also a continuing problem for humans. Some skeletons showed wounds that were likely the cause of death. The pelvis of one man had a bone spear point embedded in it. Others had severe skull fractures.

Children and teenagers were buried with more grave goods than were adults, indicating the high value placed on children. Skeletons included one of a boy aged about 15 who had spina bifida. All of his bones were found to have been fragile. One of his feet was missing and the stump of his lower leg had healed. As his spinal condition almost certainly meant the boy was paralyzed below the waist, this find was important for assessing the society's commitment to ensure his survival for 15 years in a hunter-gatherer community.

While some of the remains were mixed, about 100 undisturbed burials were found with fully articulated bones, in roughly the correct position and relationship in the body. Most were buried in a flexed position, on their left sides, and with their heads toward the west. The bodies were held down in the graves by sharpened stakes. The bodies were buried in clusters, in five or six episodes of short duration that were scattered over a thousand years. Thirty-seven of the graves contained woven fabrics, indicating that the bodies had been wrapped for burial.

In late 1984 the archaeologists discovered that brain tissue had survived in many of the skulls. Lumps of greasy, brownish material was found in several skulls when they were opened for examination. Suspecting that this was brain tissue, the researchers sent the intact skulls for X-ray, CAT scans and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), which showed recognizable brain structures. In addition, cell structures were seen under a microscope.

By one account, an archaeologist accidentally discovered the brain tissue while analyzing a skull. The tissue was identified only after it fell to the ground. Thus, the brain sample that landed on the ground marked the discovery of the oldest remains of brain tissue. At least 90 of the recovered bodies had brain tissue that survived, due to the preservative effects of the peat. The state of preservation of the brain tissues indicated that the bodies were buried in the peat within 24 to 48 hours after death. This preservation allowed researchers to sequence DNA from the brains.

Gut contents were found with many of the burials. These included seeds of wild grapes, elderberries and prickly pear fruit, often in large quantities. The people's teeth were worn down early in life, presumably from sand in food, but very few had cavities.

Artifacts

Many artifacts that were deposited with the bodies were also preserved. Archaeologists at this site were able to recover a total of 86 pieces of fabric from 37 graves. These included seven different textile weaves, which appeared to have been used for clothing, bags, matting, and possibly blankets and ponchos. Numerous other artifacts, such as atlatls and projectile points, were also found at Windover. The occupants of Windover hunted animals, fished, and gathered plants. They used bottle gourds for storage, which comprise the earliest evidence for vegetable container storage discovered in North America. Animal bones and shells found in the graves indicated that the people ate white-tailed deer, raccoon, opossum, birds, fish and shellfish.

References

Sources

  • Fagan, Brian. 2005. Ancient North America. Thames & Hudson, Ltd.: London.
  • Brown, Robin C. 1994. Florida's First People. Sarasota, Floridamarker: Pineapple Press, Inc. ISBN 1-56164-032-8
  • Milanich, Jerald T. 1998. "Chapter 1: Ancient Floridians." Florida's Indians from Ancient Times to the Present. University Press of Florida. ISBN 0-8130-1599-5


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