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Sea turtles on the dinner plate

Clues to ancient people's diet discovered close to Jacksonville

JACKSONVILLE, Fla – Thousands of years ago, the inhabitants of modern-day Florida and the Caribbean feasted on sea turtles, leaving behind bones that tell tales of ancient diets and the ocean's past. 

Ancient indigenous people of Florida had a hunger for eating turtles, especially green sea turtles, and the bones left behind reveal the clues.

Anthropologists knew ancient people's diet around the Florida Gulf Coast and Caribbean consisted of both fresh and salt water turtles but it was unclear which species were preferred.

Research in the Royal Society showed how scientists analyzed the collagen in turtle bones left behind from Indians to identify turtle species. 

Some bone proteins were up to 2500 years old revealing 63% belonged to green turtles, with fewer hawksbill and ridley turtles.

Green turtles may have been reserved for special feasting rituals since they were only found on ritual mounds and not trash middens.

One of the discovery sites is a Gulf-front village settled 100-1000 AD about 130 miles from Jacksonville at Horseshoe Beach.

Fish were the most abundant animals eaten there followed by a lot of juvenile turtles — twelve of which were identified as loggerhead sea turtles.

Collagen fingerprinting are superior to DNA analyses in tropical environments where elements degrade molecular structures.


About the Author:

Mark Collins

After covering the weather from every corner of Florida and doing marine research in the Gulf, Mark Collins settled in Jacksonville to forecast weather for The First Coast.