Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The Titusville Brains

In 1982, developers in Titusville were doing what they do best - bulldozing the environment to build more condos - when a backhoe operator realized he'd dredged up a scoopful of human skulls at the edge of an ancient pond.

Archaeologists were called in, and the bones were radiocarbon-dated to be between 7,210 and 7,320 years old. To their credit, the developers cancelled their plans to build over the pond site, and donated $60,000 worth of hydraulic pumps to aid the archaeologists in draining it for study. To date, only half the pond has been excavated but has so far yielded remains of 168 bodies - males and females of all ages, from infants to about 60 years old.

On the heartwarming side, the remains of the children were buried with their toys, some of them still tightly clutching them, according to reports. I haven't read anything where anyone points out that already-dead people don't tightly clutch things.

(Okay, not so heartwarming. The heartwarming part was supposed to be the idea that kids back then had toys at all.)

Less heartwarming: the datum that almost all the bodies were held down with sharpened stakes. The smart guys say this must have been done to prevent the bodies from floating to the surface and keep them down. To me, it sounds more than a little creepy. And toys aside, it seems life for these people wasn't much of a party. One 15-year-old had congenital spina bifida, as well as a missing foot with a stump that had healed. On the other hand, it does seem to confirm that the society he was part of took great effort to protect him and support him, since he was almost certainly paralyzed below the waist and could not possibly have lived to be 15 in a more primitive tribe.

They ate pretty good, though: debris onsite indicated they ate white-tailed deer, raccoon, opossum, birds, fish and shellfish, and stomach contents revealed perfectly preserved seeds from wild grapes, elderberries and prickly pear fruit. The Windover Archaelogical Site, as the area is now called, has been called "one of the most significant archaeological sites ever excavated" because of the rare window it's given modern man into ancient Florida life.

Windover isn't the only such water-burial site, by the way. We've previously here delved into the skeletons of Lake Okeechobee, which no one seems to have made a connection with the similar setup in Titusville. There are also underwater-peat-burials in North Port's Little Salt Spring and Warm Mineral Springs, some of which go back even further to 12,000 years ago. According to Wikipedia:

Robin Brown notes in connection with these underwater burials that many Native American groups have a tradition that spirits of the dead are blocked by water. William McGoun suggests that a "water mortuary cult" may have been widespread in southern Florida from Paleoindian times into the historic period.

Now, see, that again strikes a creepy chord: why in the world would these people want to keep the spirits trapped underwater? I know, I know, primitive people can't be faulted for believing primitive things, and hey, these professors are probably way off the mark with their guesswork anyway. No one today really knows what was going on here and why these people did what they did. It's one of those "you had to be there" things, I suppose.

But what makes the Windover site so special is that the brains of the corpses were often preserved as well, which was something so unprecedented that the archaeologists, upon opening the skulls, didn't know at first how to identify these things that were inside. Human brains couldn't possibly have survived intact for thousands of years, they thought, and they thought wrong.

The brains are in storage in various labs now, waiting for the day that technology catches up to the idea of, just possibly, reading what is stored on those brains like an old unearthed cassette tape or hard drive.

No comments:

Post a Comment