In 1982 construction workers at the new Windover Farms subdivision near Titusville, FL 1 uncovered several human skeletons buried in the peat. Thinking it was a crime scene they called the police; instead it was a burial ground 7,000 to 8,000 years old. Scientists from Florida State University were brought in, and what they found was so extraordinary one called it “one of the most significant archaeological sites ever excavated.” 2
The Windover tribe
Between 7,000 and 8,000 years ago a nomadic tribe buried their dead in Windover Pond. Now there are plenty of ancient bog burials around the world: a tribe would execute a criminal and throw the body in the nearest body of water. Windover is different: the bodies were carefully placed on their left side in the fetal position (Wentz 87), and buried with tools if it was an adult, or toys if it was a child. Then a blanket was laid over the body and staked at the corners to hold the body underwater (Wentz 104). The blankets—woven from palm fiber—are the oldest textiles found in the Americas (Wentz 106).
Some of the bodies were so well-preserved the brains were still intact: they were shrunk a bit but with the same shape and surface features as a contemporary brain (Wentz 37-38). Florida soil is typically acidic as are the ponds around the Windover site (Wentz 31), but the Windover peat had a neutral pH with low oxygen—perfect for preserving bodies.
Compassion for the sick and old
Some of the bellies of the Windover people—or more accurately the space on the skeletons where the belly should be—contained black gum, wax myrtle, and arrowhead—plants known for their medicinal properties—proof they used medicinal plants 2,000 years older than previous known examples (Wentz 132).
The majority of their broken bones healed with proper alignment which proves they knew of splints—a great use for their palm fiber textiles (Wentz 133).
The Windover people took great care of their helpless. A skeleton of a boy showed he was paralyzed at birth by spinal bifida. They cared for him until he died at age 18 (Wentz 135). Perhaps he was a toolmaker or a textile weaver for the tribe. They were a nomadic tribe so they carried or dragged him from campsite to campsite rather than abandon him.
The human being is born with an inclination toward virtue.Musonius Rufus, Lectures, 2.7.1-2.
Although a high standard of morality gives but a slight or no advantage to each individual man and his children over the other men of the same tribe an advancement in the standard of morality will certainly give an immense advantage to one tribe over another.Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man, 1871.
Who were they?
Who were the Windover people? This is where the story gets spooky. DNA extracted from the bones and teeth showed that the Windover tribe’s haplogroup—the genetic sequences they have in common with one another—doesn’t match the haplogroup of any known prehistoric or modern native American tribe (Wentz 37). Furthermore the only places where prehistoric tribes carefully and lovingly buried their dead in ponds or bogs were Northwest Europe 3 and Central Florida. Where did they come from?
The Windover Pond is one of the most important archaeological sites ever found: they used plants for medicine 2,000 years earlier than previously documented. Their woven textiles are the oldest found in the Western hemisphere. They had the compassion and resources to carry their sick or injured hundreds of miles when they traveled. They’re not related to any known Native American tribe, in fact their burial techniques are similar to those of ancient Northwest Europeans. And they prove we’re not fallen; we’re compassionate by nature.
Doran, Glen H., editor. Windover: Multidisciplinary Investigations of an Early Archaic Florida Cemetary. University of Florida Press, 2002.
Wentz, Rachel K. Life and Death at Windover: Excavations of a 7,000-Year-Old Pond Cemetary. Florida Historical Society Press, 2012. The layman’s version of Dr. Glen Doran’s book and much cheaper. Highly recommended.