Near our campground The Great Outdoors is a Home Depot hardware store. Near it is a subdivision called Windover Estates. In 1982 when what used to be a farm was developed for home sites, a backhoe operator was brought in to build the road. As he moved the earth around, he came upon a number of human skulls beneath the mucky soil. Taken aback thinking he had come upon a crime scene, he called the police. Once the police determined that the skulls were much too old to be recent crime victims, archeologists investigated the site. Carbon dating indicated that the bones were between 7,000 and 8,000 years old. No one could believe it. The bones were sent out to be dated again with the same result. The archeologists realized that this was a burial site used by the original inhabitants of this land. At that time burials took place near the shore of lakes. Over time the skeletons were covered with peat. It prevented oxygen from reaching the bodies. The fact that the water here has a PH of zero, also made this a perfect place for preservation. Once serious archeological draining and digging took place, fabrics woven from grass were discovered wrapped around the bodies. This was a time period before mankind here knew how to make things out of metal, so all the tools found in the burial site were bone and wood. One of the skulls underwent facial reconstruction and the result was a face that looked Asian. It is theorized that during the last Ice Age, sea levels went down enough that people could walk over a land bridge from Asia where the Aleutian Islands are today and they were the ancestors of the native people that the European explorers found much, much, much later. Quite a long journey! Many of the skulls contained large amounts of brain material. This has been DNA tested, but so far has not yielded much information with the techniques available today. This site a few miles from where we stay is the location of the oldest burial site in North America. Who knew? Once about 180 skeletons were removed, archeologists stopped digging. They couldn't stand the smell of the decomposing peat and figured that in future years, technology would enable those who followed them to better interpret the clues this site has not revealed yet. The area was flooded once again and today is covered with typical marsh vegetation. Only those who need to know exactly where the bodies are buried, do know. Since the original excavation was done, laws have been passed making digging up native peoples' bodies illegal, so it is possible that the Windover Indians who are still in the ground may stay there in peace for another 8,000 years.
We learned this fascinating story, because the docent who interprets the Windover remains at a nearby museum came to TGO under the auspices of the our Nature Center. This year we have really come to appreciate the Nature Center here which is staffed and equipped with volunteer funds and time. Our favorite volunteer is Betty, a Florida native about our age who used to be a teacher and seemingly knows everything about the flora and fauna around here. Those scratches on that tree trunk? I would have guessed trails from insects. Betty said they were claw marks from a bear who was looking for honey from the hive atop the tree. When I looked up I saw the survivors from the invasion, buzzing in a hole at the top of the tree. She has lead in the development of many nature trails that originate in TGO and go out into the county administered wetlands. We have maps and you can take these trails on your own, but we get so much more out of what we see when we see it with Betty. Florida seems as flat as a pancake, but once she pointed out how much the vegetation changes when the elevation rises a foot or two, we wonder how we did not notice it ourselves. Last week we took a hike with Betty and today we took a golf cart tour with her to the Blue Heron wetlands adjacent to TGO. Our golf cart is finally repaired, so we were able to take our friends from home along for the ride. The wetlands are part of the water treatment system and the wildlife here enjoys this peaceful spot away from human interference, at least until our golf cards rolled in. Betty and the other volunteers know what's dangerous and what's benign. People regularly call on them to remove snakes from their yards or to rescue injured wild animals. Today she rescued a water snake from a culvert where it had become trapped.
2/19 Today we attended the annual meeting of TGO property owners where topics like next year's budget and how to handle concerns are discussed. Traditionally, at the end of this meeting a volunteer who has given time and energy for the benefit of our community is honored. We were so happy to see that Betty was the recipient of this award and recognition this year. In her humble way she turned it around and said that those of us who attend her hikes and programs were all the reward she needed. We hope she continues to rescue animals, lead the fire prevention program and educate people like us who have so much to learn.