Money Matters - Simplified

Peruvian skulls and artifacts found in Winter Garden

At first, it may seem that a heinous crime scene has unfolded. But what came out was full of archaeological importance.

Two skulls were unearthed by a swimming pool contractor in a Winter Garden, Florida neighborhood. Now, the human remains are the focus of an archaeological mystery.

The skulls, about a dozen pottery shards and textiles were discovered in the sand in January. The finding left the team of anthropologists and archaeologists scrambling to figure out how the items came to rest there and solve the puzzle.

When these human bones were found in Winter Garden in January, it was thought they could date back to the 1970's. That estimate was wrong, very wrong. "It's a fascinating case. a lot of fun," said Orange County's Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Jan Garavaglia.

Crews digging to build a pool in Winter Garden's Carriage Pointe subdivision stumbled upon these in January. Because of the newspaper clippings dated 1978 were found along the others, the chief medical examiner thought she might be trying help solve a crime. She was shocked when the head of UCF's archeology department dated bones and other artifacts as being ancient. "According to archaeologist they appear to be from the South Peruvian region, dating them between 1200 and 1400," said Dr. Jan Garavaglia.

The bones held clues about their origin. An extra bone present in the back of one of the craniums is known as the "Inca bone." The smaller cranium had bits of mummified tissue affixed to it. Both pieces of evidence pointed to South America.

After X-rays were taken, Schultz and Garavaglia determined the skulls belonged to an older man and a child who was about 10 years old.

Other things like the intricately woven purse, a sling and a netted carrying bag — and the pottery are consistent with the Chancay culture of coastal Peru and dating back to between 1200 to 1470 A.D., Schultz said.

A discovery like this is rare, said Dr. Daniel Seinfield, with the Bureau of Archaeological Research.

"It's clear that these bones are not from Florida" and are not related to the state's native ancestors, Seinfield said. "These were placed here by modern people who somehow acquired them."

Developers bought the land and built it into a subdivision four years ago. They had to grade it extensively in order to build the orderly houses and streets. An incredible stroke of luck prevailed that they missed the spot that happened to contain ancient human remains and incredibly delicate textiles. Even when the house was built on the property just a year ago, they again missed that spot fortunately.

International antiquities laws have been in action in various countries since the early 1900s, but the UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property has made it illegal to purchase or transport human remains and artifacts since 1970.

Before that, tourists were known to purchase human remains and artifacts as souvenirs when they travelled other countries.

"People used to collect these [artifacts] as curiosities," Seinfield said. "Today it's highly illegal … and highly unethical."

For now the remains and artifacts will stay at the Orange-Osceola Medical Examiner's Office where Schultz plans to lead a scientific study that will be used in the future as a teaching aid.

Eventually, they attempt to return the items to Peru, said Seinfield and until then, Garavaglia said, "We will treat them with dignity."