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Diver Finds Ancient Native American Burial Site On Sea Floor

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

All right. We've got news now of a discovery in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Florida.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Yeah, a diver was looking for shark teeth and fossils and found something much more remarkable - a 7,000-year-old Native American burial site well-preserved below the sea floor.

RYAN DUGGINS: It's a very big deal.

INSKEEP: That's Florida State archaeologist Ryan Duggins.

DUGGINS: We really don't have any other examples quite honestly in North or South America of a prehistoric site with this level of preservation existing offshore.

MARTIN: It is well-preserved because the bodies were buried in peat, which slows down the process of decay. At the time of burial, the site was apparently in a shallow pond. But the shoreline always changes, and it's now offshore, where Duggins dove in and had a look for himself.

DUGGINS: Before I could even, you know, check my watch to start the time of the dive, I looked over and there was a humerus, a human bone, right there on the sea floor.

INSKEEP: Duggins found evidence of six people. He believes they were wrapped in fabric. And all around them were fire-hardened wooden sticks, which may have been used as markers when the people were buried in much shallower water all those years ago.

DUGGINS: To kind of help secure them to the bottom of the pond. My suspicion is that they, more likely than not, did extend above the water level. And in many ways, that would kind of provide a visual marker for other members of the community and family members really not unlike, you know, a tombstone or a headstone that we use today.

MARTIN: That's Ryan Duggins, a Florida State archaeologist. He is working with the Seminole Tribe and law enforcement to figure out a way to protect the open-water burial site.

(SOUNDBITE OF TIGRAN HAMASYAN'S "RAYS OF LIGHT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.