Thursday, May 31, 2007

 

Low Lake Okeechobee water uncovers ancient site

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Miami Herald
By Kelly Wolfe
May 31, 2007


The lake kept its secret as long as the rain fell.

The remains rested in the soft, black muck for hundreds of years -- buried beneath the water of Lake Okeechobee.

But the drought tore open the ancient grave, and a local man happened upon it. The bodies have been discovered.

But the mystery is just beginning.

''It's a mixed blessing,'' State Archaeologist Ryan Wheeler said. ``The lower lake levels give us a chance to learn . . . but the site was probably better-protected under water.''

Little is known about this uncovered archaeological site of boats and bodies.

Wheeler said he has issued Palm Beach County a research permit to begin a county study. The artifacts at the site will be exposed only as long as the water levels are low, Wheeler said.

In the meantime, he has contacted Indian tribes, hoping to locate descendants.

Wheeler guessed the remains could date to the early 16th century. Wheeler is mum on the site's exact location, fearing vandals. Someone and some storms have already caused damage.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is patrolling the area, he said.

The site was discovered about two months ago by a Belle Glade man named Boots Boyer.

Boyer, 36, said he's been fishing on Lake Okeechobee for more than three decades.

He said he discovered the site while exploring a clump of trees where the land normally is under water. Boyer said he's run across Indian artifacts from time to time.

''But never this quantity,'' he said.

He made a series of phone calls, he said to report the human remains and hand-carved fishing boats.

Since then, Boyer said he's conducting his own patrols. ``The site really means a lot to me. I'm a watchdog.''

Christian Davenport, an archaeologist in Palm Beach County's planning division, visited the site last week, having marched through waist-high muck.

Davenport said the materials found predate the Seminole and Miccosukee tribes' arrival in Florida.


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