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Burial Pond Yields Two More Ancient Brains

September 18, 1986

TITUSVILLE, Fla. (AP) _ Archaeologists who uncovered the remains of dozens of early humans in an ancient burial pond here have found two 7,500-year-old skulls containing well- preserved brains.

The brains appear to be in better shape than nine others found over the past three years at the site, known as the Windover pond, officials said.

One of the skulls uncovered Wednesday is that of a woman in her 40s. The second has not been examined enough to determine the age and sex of the person, said Dr. Glen Doran, Florida State University archaeology professor.

Dr. Dave Dickel, co-director of the university-sponsored dig, was demonstrating digging techniques to a new worker, Chris Cojeen of Norman, Okla., when he hit the first skull. Cojeen found the second skull only inches away.

The skulls were taken to Wuesthoff Memorial Hospital in Rockledge for X- rays. The brain in the first skull was about one-third the size of a modern human brain, said Madeleine Carr, a spokeswoman for FSU.

Half the tissue in the first skull was shipped to the University of California at Davis for tests to identify diseases to which the early inhabitants were exposed. The research might also reveal the immune systems that prevented them from contracting some modern maladies.

The second brain and the rest of the first one will remain frozen at Wuesthoff until experts decide which tests will be performed on them.

The brains found in the pond previously were taken to the University of Florida in Gainesville where microbiologists are studying DNA, the genetic code located within each cell.

University researchers have cloned DNA from the tissue, but the clones do not match any known human DNA, said Dr. William Hauswirth.

Scientists expect the study of DNA to aid in understanding the evolution of diseases and to benefit medical research.

The Windover project is examining an Early Archaic people who lived in the central east coastal area of Florida 7,500 to 8,000 years ago. It is the world’s only known scientific excavation of a burial pond, Ms. Carr said.

Since the project began in 1984 researchers have recovered the remains of at least 59 people, more than half under 18.

Scientists credit the submerged claylike peat that surrounds the bones and the low acidity of the water with preserving the remains. The peat blocked oxygen from reaching the materials and the low acidity of the water prevented degeneration, scientists have said.