Florida’s Bog Mummies

In January of 1982 a backhoe operator at Windover, Florida was just about to prepare a new road in a swampy area called the Windover Bog near Titusville when he noticed that the backhoe was turning up human skulls mixed into the black peat. Jim Swann, chief developer of the project, realized that he was dealing with ancient remains from the coloring of the bones and decided to call in archeologist Glen H. Doran, a professor and chair of anthropology from Florida State University. As the human remains kept coming up from the shallow graves Doran noticed the extreme wear on the teeth and the complete lack of ceramic materials, indicating an ancient grave site older than 3,000 years. As a trained anthropologist with extensive experience he also realized that the skulls he was dealing with were not what we call “native Americans.”

SkullWhen the first carbon dating was completed, the age of the remains was found to be older than 7,000 years. It was clear from this moment on that Windover was the richest archeological site of that time period in America. It has since provided an unprecedented opportunity to learn about the ancient population of the area.

Because the whole site was under water, a large area of the bog had to be drained in order to recover and preserve everything properly from the site. In 1984 130 wells were sunk into the peat, pumping out a thousand gallons of water per minute, 24/7. As the water was drained, an ancient underwater cemetery became visible, an extraordinary archeological find by all means. 168 well preserved skeletons of men, women and children were recovered, providing a rich window into the lives of a people we barely knew existed.

Tools made of bones and even wooden objects and fabric survived in good condition because of the low acidic balance of the water that preserved it. Fungus and bacteria growth was simply locked out by the peat covering the bodies and the usual process of decay was brought to a standstill. In 91 of the skulls, even soft brain tissue was present, offering a rare opportunity for analysis and easy DNA tests.

Out of the 168 individuals whose remains were recovered by the researchers, 67 were younger than 17 years of age. They were placed into the shallow graves 7,000 to 8,000 years ago. A high mortality rate for children is normal for a prehistoric tribal society. Some bodies were covered with woven fabric varying from coarse matting to fine weave.

The bodies were often held to the shallow bottom with wooden stakes driven through the fabric covering the bodies. The stakes probably also served as markers, their tops likely visible above the water at the time of the burial. There was an orderly placement of the bodies where prior burials were not disturbed by the newly arriving bodies.

Floral seeds, sometimes intermixed with finely ground fish bone were often found next to the bodies. These people were buried with flowers and often with their favorite tools and toys. The artifacts recovered from the graves were made of bones, antler, animal teeth, stones and shells. Feminine items were exclusively associated with female burials: Incised bird bone tubes, polished bone pins and beads made of drilled fish vertebra. Males were buried with carnivore radius awls, antlers and hooks.

BonesCloseDifferent hand-woven fabrics made of many different materials of great varieties were recovered showing sophisticated weaving techniques. This activity is consistent all over the world connecting together ancient cultures. Special technology had to be developed for preserving pieces of these fabric samples as they immediately decomposed after drying. Similar fabric was also found in the Black Desert area in western Nevada from 9,000 years ago.

The Windover population is the earliest population group large enough from which statistical conclusions can be drawn concerning life expectancy. We have all indications from preserved stomach contents that these people had ample food resources around, living off hunting/gathering/fishing and were not forced to live a nomadic lifestyle. The area at the time was a wooded marshland. Their teeth were worn heavily, but had very few cavities, a testimony to the advantage of living without refined sugar products.

The total group of 168 individuals included 40 adult males and 43 adult females. A Windover child at birth could expect to live around 27 to 30 years on the average but if he/she made it to age 25 he could have expected another 22 years. Some individuals were living into their sixties and two out of the 168 made it to 75 years. Women in their early childbearing years were at greater risk of dying because of the associated risks with child delivery, but after the age of 25 their life expectancy was about the same as men’s.

After recovering over ten thousand bones and hundreds of tools the site was returned to the original condition to the credit of the team working there in 1987. Half of the site was left undisturbed for future generations of scientists.

Professor Doran dedicated 14 pages and numerous pictures and tables of his book to the methods and studies of the DNA of the Windover people. His final conclusion is:

“Since the haplogroup frequency distribution of the prehistoric Windover population is unlike that of any known surviving or prehistoric group, they may represent the only demonstrated instance of the recent extinction of a group of Native Americans with no close surviving relatives.”

Dr. Joseph Lorenz from Cornell Institute for Medical Research was also searching hard for the DNA markers typical of “Native Americans” in the DNA samples taken from the bones of five individuals from Windover. He did not find what he was looking for but he did not stop. After comparing the Windover DNA to present European people’s he said:

“I went back to the screen and I looked at the sequences again, the first person’s DNA looked European. When I looked at the second one it looked European. When I looked at the third, fourth and fifth they were slightly different from the first two but they looked European.”

The Learning Channel had a program titled “Secrets of the Bog People: Windover” where Dr. Gregory from Cornell also stated that DNA samples taken from the brains of the Bog People show European origin.

From this it seems plausible that stone age Europeans found their way across the Atlantic and settled in Florida in the 5,000 to 6,000 b.c. time frame. If this can substantiated, it would make Windover the most important archeological find in U.S. history, and would make us have to rethink a lot of what we think we know.

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