"Unique" is not a word any writer should use lightly; and truly "unique" archaeological sites are few and far between. I don't mean the oldest sites or the sites with the most golden artifacts, I mean the the kind of sites that the more you learn about them, the more startling and fascinating they become. The Early Middle Archaic Windover Bog site, a pond cemetery on Florida's Atlantic coast near Cape Canaveral, is just one of those sites.
Windover Bog was a pond cemetery for hunter-gatherers, people who lived hunting game and gathering vegetable material between about 8120-6990 years ago. The burials were staked down in the soft mud of the pond, and over the years at least 168 people were buried there, men, women, and children. Today that pond is a peat bog, and preservation in peat bogs can be quite astonishing. While the burials at Windover were not as well preserved as those of European bog bodies, 91 of the individuals buried contained bits of brain matter still intact enough for scientists to retrieve DNA.
Windover Bog and Textiles
Most interesting, however, is the recovery of 87 samples of weaving, basketry, wood working and clothing, providing us more information on the perishable artifacts of Middle Archaic people in the American southeast than archaeologists ever dreamed possible. Four kinds of close twining, one kind of open twining, and one type of plaiting can be seen in the mats, bags, and basketry recovered from the site. Clothing woven by the inhabitants of Windover Bog on looms included hoods and burial shrouds, as well as some fitted clothing and many rectangular or squarish clothing articles.
While the perishable fiber plaits from Windover Bog are not the oldest found in the Americas, the textiles are the oldest woven materials found to date, and together they broaden our understanding of what the Archaic lifestyle was truly like.
Update on Windover
Although scientists believed they had retrieved DNA from the fairly intact brain matter recovered from some of the human burials, subsequent research has shown that the mtDNA lineages reported are absent in all other prehistoric and contemporary Native American populations studied to date. Further attempts to retrieve more DNA have failed, and an amplification study has shown that there is no analyzable DNA left in the Windover burials.
Adovasio, J. M., R. L. Andrews, D. C. Hyland, and J. S. Illingworth 2001 Perishable industries from the Windover Bog: An unexpected window into the Florida archaic. North American Archaeologist 22(1):1-90.
Doran, G.H. et al. 1986. Anatomical, cellular and molecular analysis of 8000-yr-old human brain tissue from the Windover archaeological site. Nature 323:803–806.
Kemp, Brian M., Cara Monroe, and David G. Smith 2006 Repeat silica extraction: a simple technique for the removal of PCR inhibitors from DNA extracts. Journal of Archaeological Science 33(12):1680-1689.
Rothschild, Bruce M. and Robert J. Woods 1993 Possible implications of paleopathology for early archaic migrations: Calcium pyrophosphate deposition disease. Journal of Paleopathology 5(1):5-15.
Tomczak, Paula D. and Joseph F. Powell 2003 Postmarital Residence Patterns in the Windover Population: Sex-Based Dental Variation as an Indicator of Patrilocality. American Antiquity 68(1):93-108.
Tuross, Noreen, Marilyn L. Fogel, Lee Newsom, and Glen H. Doran 1994 Subsistence in the Florida Archaic: The stable-isotope and archaeobotanical evidence from the Windover site. American Antiquity 59(2):288-303.