Saturday, November 9, 2013


When the 3-year-old died, her parents placed her favorite toys in her arms, wrapped her in fabric woven from fibers of native plants, and buried her body in the soft, muck bottom of a small pond. Some 7,000 years later, when a young archaeologist uncovered her tiny remains, the toys--a wooden pestle-shaped object and the carapace of a small turtle--were still cradled in her arms. Most remarkable was the state of preservation of the child's bones and her toys, and the remains of some 167 other individuals and numerous artifacts found in that small pond in Windover Farms subdivision. The pond is about one mile southeast of the intersection of Highway 50 and I-95 and just outside the Titusville city limits where, today, a child's favorite toy may be a model of the space shuttle.

A most significant find came only weeks into the project when one of the project directors found a lump of slippery, dark brown material inside a skull. There was cautious speculation that it might be preserved brain tissue, but common sense said that would not be possible--that any tissue would have dissipated into the black peat thousands of years ago. Laboratory tests proved however, that cautious speculation had become reality. The material was, indeed, human brain tissue. This first find was from a woman who died at approximately 45 years of age. Over the three six-month field seasons 91 skulls were found to contain brain tissue. Some contained complete brains. Although they were shrunken to a third their normal size, the brain hemispheres and convolutions were clearly intact. The finding of such a large amount of ancient brain tissue made the find especially unique. Never before had scientists had the opportunity to try to clone DNA--the basic building block of heredity from tissue so old.

Brain tissue was taken from the skulls as quickly as possible and placed in plastic bags which were then flooded with nitrogen gas. This purged oxygen from the bag and chilled the tissue. The bags were transported to a laboratory where they were frozen at -70 degrees centigrade to minimize degradation.

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