State Announces Globally Significant Archaeological Discovery Near Venice

Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner announced today that archaeological investigations identified a 7,000-year-old Native American ancestral burial site in the Gulf of Mexico near Venice. The Manasota Key Offshore archaeological site is unprecedented. It is located on the continental shelf in offshore waters, preserved in what appears to have been a peat-bottomed freshwater pond thousands of years ago.

“The Florida Department of State takes our responsibility for the preservation, respectful treatment and security of this rare and unique site very seriously,” said Secretary Detzner. “Our dedicated team of underwater archaeologists has done an incredible job of documenting and researching the Manasota Key Offshore archaeological site, and I am extremely proud of the work. Our hope is that this discovery leads to more knowledge and a greater understanding of Florida’s early peoples."

Detzner continued: "We are thankful for the cooperation of our partners, including Gulf Coast Community Foundation and their CEO, Mark Pritchett, who has provided invaluable support and integration with the local community.”

Protections 

Out of respect for the individuals buried there and their living descendants, divers and other interested individuals are prohibited from disturbing the site. The site is protected under Florida law and it is illegal to excavate and/or remove any material or human remains from the site. Section 267.13, Florida Statutes, makes it a first-degree misdemeanor to remove artifacts from an archaeological site without authorization. Section 872.05, Florida Statutes, makes it a third-degree felony to knowingly disturb, destroy, remove, vandalize, or damage an unmarked human burial. 

Under Florida law, it is the State’s responsibility to manage and protect the Manasota Key Offshore archaeological site and ensure it is treated in a respectful manner. The site is frequently patrolled by law enforcement and is monitored. Any suspicious or unusual activity will be reported to local and state law enforcement.

Research

Reports of the site began in June 2016 when divers identified possible human skeletal material just off Manasota Key. The find was reported to the Department’s Division of Historical Resources (DHR), Bureau of Archeological Research (BAR), which has protective authority over unmarked human remains more than 75 years old. Since then, BAR has been investigating the offshore area and has now confirmed a submerged prehistoric site, measuring roughly 0.75 acres, that existed along the shoreline near Venice during the Early Archaic period, some 7,000 years ago.  

Manasota Key Offshore 1

Research indicates that during this time period, when sea levels were much lower, a small inland freshwater pond was present and ancestors of Florida’s indigenous people interred their deceased there. As sea levels rose, the pond was covered by the Gulf of Mexico; despite the flooding, the peat bottom of the pond remained intact. Peat slows the process of organic decay, which allowed the site to stay well preserved. 

Significance

The Manasota Key Offshore archaeological site demonstrates that submerged offshore archaeological sites have survived natural occurrences, such as erosion and hurricanes. Submerged offshore prehistoric burial sites are exceedingly rare; some of the only other examples are located in Israel and Denmark. As the State of Florida continues to document and research the site, we will gain a deeper understanding of Florida’s early history and its inhabitants. 

Moving Forward

BAR has conducted geophysical survey work, sediment sampling, and site testing that has helped identify the soil composition of the site and provided information on the past environment and nature of the cultural deposit. BAR is using these data to reconstruct the prehistoric environment when the site was in use more than 7,000 years ago. BAR is currently developing a long-term management plan for the site that focuses on protection and preservation.

Local Partners

Archaeological endeavors have been assisted by Florida Gulf Coast University, the National Park Service, Florida Public Archaeology Network, Sarasota County Historical Resources, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Law enforcement partners include the Sarasota County Sherriff’s Office and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Additionally, the Venice-based Gulf Coast Community Foundation has helped engage numerous local partners in and around Sarasota County to involve community stakeholders, assist in site protection, and plan for educational opportunities. Most importantly, DHR has conducted every step of this project and planning process in communication with the Seminole Tribe of Florida’s Office of Historic Preservation. The highest priority of all involved is to honor tribal beliefs and customs with respect to this ancestral resting place.

What They Are Saying

Dr. Timothy Parsons, Director of DHR and State Historic Preservation Officer, said, “March is Florida Archaeology Month; the MKO archaeological site is a revelation for the world of archaeology. As important as the site is archaeologically, it is crucial that the site and the people buried there are treated with the utmost sensitivity and respect. The people buried at the site are the ancestors of America’s living indigenous people. Sites like this have cultural and religious significance in the present day. The discovery and on-going efforts to research and preserve the MKO site would not have been possible without the support and commitment from the local community. Everyone from the dive shops to the nearby homeowners to the local organizations and county government played a critical role in this project.”

Dr. Ryan Duggins, Underwater Archaeology Supervisor for BAR, said, “Seeing a 7,000-year-old site that is so well preserved in the Gulf of Mexico is awe inspiring.  We are truly humbled by this experience.  It is important to remember that this is a burial site and must be treated with the utmost respect. We now know that this type of site exists on the continental shelf.  This will forever change the way we approach offshore archaeology. As we continue to learn as much as possible from the site, we look forward to sharing that knowledge with the people of Florida.”

Dr. Paul Backhouse, Tribal Historic Preservation Officer, Seminole Tribe of Florida, said, “We are happy to be working, shoulder to shoulder, with the Bureau of Archaeological Research and the residents of Manasota Key to identify a preservation plan that will allow the ancestors to continue to rest peacefully and without human disturbance for the next 7,000 years.”

For more information about the Manasota Key Offshore archaeological site, visit dos.myflorida.com/historical/archaeology/projects/manasota-key-offshore/
 


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