The skeletal remains of an early Native American adult and child have been discovered on the property of the historic Duck’s Nest residence.
In the middle of October, the bones were found by an archeologist at about 2,500 to 3,000 years old. Workers dug utility trenches on the property in the Maddock Road at 303/305.
Because prehistoric artifacts were previously found on the site, the site already was listed by the state as archaeologically significant when the remains emerged.
“We were sifting the dirt coming out of their trench,” archaeologist Bob Carr said. What they found were “largely fragmentary bones that have gone through centuries, maybe millennia.”
The remains of the adult and child were found in locations about 60 feet apart, he said. In most cases, the fragments would not be discernible as human bones to the untrained eye, Carr said.
“Most people would think it’s a rock or piece of a root.”
Duck’s Nest, a lakefront house that dates to 1891, is being renovated into a guest house by next-door residents Brian and Julie Simmons, who bought the property last year from the Maddock family.
State law required all work in the area near the findings to be halted while the Florida Division of Historical Resources conducted a site review. Work resumed on Wednesday, with archaeologists completing the trench digging by hand, a process that could take a few weeks to complete, Carr said.
The historic resources division, in concert with the Seminole Tribe of Florida, was tasked with making sure the remains were recovered scientifically, treated respectfully and documented appropriately.
The remains are being held by Carr’s firm, the Archaeological Historical Conservancy, in Davie. When the Duck’s Nest renovation is complete, they will be reinterred near where they were found, Carr said.
The Archaeological Historical Conservancy is a not-for-profit organization that works to preserve and document Florida’s archaeologically significant historical sites. Carr, it’s executive director, has performed dozens of archaeological assessments on the island.
Once the state determines that a site is archaeologically significant, town law requires that a developer or owner doing work on a property pay for the archaeological services. The cost can run into thousands of dollars.
“The island of Palm Beach is so intensely built on and yet, despite all that development, there are still portions of people’s yards preserving parts of prehistoric sites,” he said.
There are at least 25 sites in town that are documented as archaeologically significant, he said. Human remains were found on about 10 of those.
Long before Europeans arrived on this continent, members of the Jeaga tribe realized what Palm Beach residents know today: with the ocean on one side and the lake on the other, this barrier island is a highly desirable place to live.
“We are finding evidence of indigenous people, Native Americans, living here, going back at least 2,500 years,” Carr said. “The island was intensely used. At any given time there were certainly hundreds, maybe 1[,000] or 2,000 people. It’s probably one of the richest areas in Southeast Florida for fishing and hunting.”
Sustained agriculture they did not have.
By examining animal bones and shell remains, archaeologists learn much about the early Native Americans, including their diet and how they exploited their habitat, Carr said. They had dogs, for example. In this part of the world, there was no hard stone with which to fashion tool blades. So they used sharpened pieces of bone, wood or seashells.
“They made an ax out of conch shell hard enough for cutting down a tree for a canoe,” he said. Archaeologists have even found pieces of whalebone on the island. “It’s evidence that whales had been hunted and their remains brought ashore,” Carr said.
Little is known about the origin of the Jeaga tribe, but it appears some were still around in the 17th century when members were described in written accounts of Spanish explorers.
The earliest mention came from Hernando de Escalante Fontaneda, who was reportedly a captive of indigenous people in Florida for 17 years until around 1666. He wrote that the Jeaga, along with two other tribes, salvaged precious metals and other goods from ships wrecked along the Florida coast.