VIDEO: 7,000-year-old Native American burial site discovered near Venice

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VENICE, Fla. (WFLA) – A team of underwater divers is revealing their history-making discovery in the Tampa Bay area. Native American artifacts were found about 300 yards from shore and only about 21 feet below the surface. All are part of a 7,000-year-old burial mound off the coast of Venice.

A prehistoric burial site containing the remains of at least six Native Americans was uncovered in the Gulf of Mexico, the Florida Department of State announced Wednesday.

Despite the murky water, several aqua archaeologists measured and marked the ocean floor with the help of laser guided equipment. Each waterproof white tag marks intricate details of this sacred ground below the sea.

The site, which measures roughly 0.75 acres dates back to the Early Archaic period, some 7,000 years ago, a time when Florida’s hunter-gatherers were living a more sedentary lifestyle, researchers say.

According to National Geographic, the “unprecedented” find was first reported in the summer of 2016 when a diver picked up a barnacle-crusted jaw from a shallow spot off the shore of Manasota Key.

After the diver contacted Florida’s Bureau of Archaeological Research, a team of underwater archaeologists relocated the dive spot 300 yards from shore.

“As soon as we were there it became clear that we were dealing with something new,” Ryan Duggins of Florida’s Bureau of Archaeological Research told the magazine.

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.

The site exists in a peat-bottom pond where researchers believe ancient Floridians buried the dead. The peat slows the organic decomposition process, allowing the site to stay well-preserved. Therefore, when sea levels rose, the pond was covered by the Gulf of Mexico and was able to survive natural occurrences such as hurricanes and erosion, research shows.

Duggins said they’ve located at least six individual sets of remains, but “there’s probably going to be a lot more.”

“What we currently are thinking is that when an individual passed, they would have been wrapped in handwoven fibers and sunk to the bottom of the pond,” he explained. “A series of fire-hardened and sharpened stakes would be pounded into the pond bed around the body with the tops of those stakes protruding above the water line.”

The discovery of a submerged offshore burial site is extremely rare.  The only other examples of this phenomenon are located in Denmark and Israel.

We showed the newly released video to Tampa Bay History Center’s Curator of History, Rodney Kite-Powell.

“But I definitely saw a piece of wood that clearly looked to have been worked by a human hand,” Kite-Powell said.

He’s one of the main curators behind the center’s American Indian display.

“All those things that they did, using the environment to their advantage, they were far more advanced than we will ever give them credit for.”

He said one reason these American Indian artifacts have survived this long is actually their non-oxygen environment under water.

“Having it underneath peat, underneath mud, in the water like that is the best way to preserve it,” Kite-Powell said.

He said this expedition is a tremendous step in learning more about those who were here first.

“Documenting it. That is so important for our understanding of history.”

State officials say the site is frequently patrolled by law enforcement and is monitored. They warn that any suspicious or unusual activity will be reported to local and state law enforcement.

Under Florida law, it’s a first-degree misdemeanor to remove artifacts from an archaeological site without authorization and a third-degree felony to knowingly disturb, destroy, remove, vandalize, or damage an unmarked human burial.

This newly uncovered sacred location in the Manasota area will now be preserved and protected by the state and off-limits to recreational divers. If you’d like to visit the Tampa Bay History Center’s Native American exhibit, visit their website at tampabayhistorycenter.org.

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