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BOCA RATON — Plans to expand and upgrade a beachfront park in Boca Raton were interrupted when crews discovered artifacts that are thought to be between 800 and 1,600 years old.
The remains were later determined to be a combination of aboriginal ceramics, animal bones, shellfood remains and shells. When crews found the remains near the west end of the site, they put a pause on work at Ocean Strand near the beach.
The plan is to open up the western portion of Ocean Strand by adding a new pedestrian access point near A1A, an ADA-accessible path and mulched trails through the sensitive mangrove areas, according to the Greater Boca Raton Beach and Parks District, which oversees Ocean Strand.
The prehistoric ceramics are consistent with the Belle Glade III period, a cultural time period in South Florida, and date to somewhere between 600 A.D. and 1400 A.D.
Work is expected to continue at the site, so long as it isn’t invasive.
For example, plants can’t be removed, but must be cut above the surface of the ground by hand; no heavy equipment or machines should be used there; paths should be laid in a way that doesn’t disturb the ground, like by laying mulch.
The consulting firm that analyzed the remains believes the site could qualify for the National Register of Historic Places, it wrote in a report to the Beach and Parks District.
Ocean Strand is in city limits, but is owned by the Beach and Parks District. Briann Harms, the executive director of the Beach and Parks District, said she visited the site on the first day crews started digging. Within minutes, they found the piece of ceramic.
“It was one of those cool experiences that you get so wrapped up in you forget to document it for social media,” she said.
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Workers explained to her how they had identified it as an artifact and not a piece of trash left by beachgoers or people who lived on the property.
“To really think about that … to really think that you are holding some piece of pottery used hundreds of years ago to feed a family or boil water for a bath,” Harms said. “I don’t know. It’s a little surreal.”
District officials are now trying to determine how to move forward so as to be sensitive to the site and any additional remains that may be under the ground there. They may order more archaeological studies, which could take three to five years and cost up to $1 million.