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Native American Burial Site Found In Gulf Waters

EDITOR'S NOTE: After being contacted by a representative of the Seminole Tribe of Florida, WGCU would like to make clear that the second to last sentence of this story in no way indicates that human remains are being excavated by the Seminole Tribe. 

A 7,000-year-old indigenous burial site was discovered in the Gulf of Mexico near Venice. The finding shows this kind of preservation can exist on the continental shelf, surviving hurricanes and sea level rise.
About two years ago in gulf waters, a recreational diver found the Native American burial site now being called Manasota Key Offshore, or MKO. The Florida Department of State just announced the discovery and the research. Ryan Duggins is the underwater archaeology supervisor with the department. He says this area seems to have been a freshwater pond more than seven thousand years ago.

"I’ve seen many archaeological sites and this is the only one that still kind of… I have to take a deep breath before I splash every time because while it's only in 21 feet of water, it's not a very deep site, it's unlike anything I’ve ever seen before," says Duggins.

He says there are wooden stakes in the exposed peat bottom, and human skeletal remains are both stuck in the peat and also loose, tumbling around. He says these organic materials preserved after thousands of years are unprecedented due to the Gulf of Mexico’s sandy bottom, but…

“It now demonstrates that thousands of years of hurricanes and the violent effects of sea level rise even as drastic as that can be doesn’t mean that the archaeology on the continental shelf has all been destroyed,” he says.

Florida law protects the site from being disturbed by divers or any unauthorized people. Duggins says he and his team are working with many local partners, including Florida Gulf Coast University and the Seminole Tribe of Florida to excavate the site. And they’re also trying to figure out the best way to continue preserving it.

Hear the full conversation between WGCU's Jessica Meszaros, State Dept.'s Ryan Duggins and FGCU researcher Heather Walsh-Haney