MANASOTA KEY, FL (WWSB) - What makes this site so special is it's current distance from shore. Nearly a quarter-mile off the coast of Manasota Key.
"A middle-archaic site that dates to approximately 7,200 years ago," said Archaeologist Dr. Ryan Duggins.
The discovery came last year when a local diver found human remains.
"We don't see human remains preserved in a marine setting. That's just something that does not exist in North or South America," Dr. Duggins told us.
At least, that's what researchers thought. Dr. Ryan Duggins is the supervising archeologist on the site. He tells us the site is located some 1,300 feet off the coast of Manasota Key. 7,000 years ago the Gulf of Mexico was miles out from where it is now. So, the burial site would have been inland.
"It was actually a small fresh water pond with a peet bottom. That peet is what allowed for the excellent preservation that we've documented," Dr. Duggins said.
At the time, the Native Americans buried their dead in fresh water ponds, wrapped in fabric with stakes to hold the fabric to the bottom. As sea levels rose over the years the water eventually turned from fresh to salt. The only site of its kind in North or South America and possibly the world.
"To have it be located on the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico in an offshore, unprotected marine environment that's what's really remarkable," Dr. Duggins said.
It's personal for Dr. Duggins. He always guessed sites like this were out there… but, until now he had no proof.
"When I was in school people told me you could not find a site like this. That sites like this would not survive sea level rise over thousands of years," Dr. Duggins said.
But, it did survive and now the task, as Dr. Duggins sees it, is to preserve the site, "We are most concerned with disturbance to this site. Either intentionally or unintentionally."
Dr. Duggins and his team are working alongside the Native American Seminole Tribe to preserve the site and to decide what to do next.
"I hope we can use this site to expand our focus on the continental shelf to look for other significant archaeological sites," Dr. Duggins said.
In full disclosure we've been looking into this story for months, but the site had not yet been protected by the State of Florida. We agreed to wait to broadcast this story until security cameras could be put in place to ensure no one is able to disturb the historic site. It should be noted disturbing a site with human remains is illegal.