Marine archaeologist Corey Malcom has found pine cones, tree branches and charred limbs off Key West that are about 8,400 years old. This is especially important because previous estimates suggested that sea levels had risen far less than this in the past 8,400 years, meaning there might be more extensive human remains underwater worldwide than has been previously thought.

Malcom and his team were searching for remains of a British slave ship, the Henrietta Marie, that sank in the area in 1700. The divers used electronic equipment to locate objects that lie covered in sand on the ocean floor, so they would know where to dive. George Robb was diving in about 40 feet of water searching for cannons and other items from the ship. They were especially interested in one area found by the equipment, that seemed kind of unusual. When they first reached the spot, they could see nothing but sand, so Malcom got permission from the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary to excavate the area.

Divers cleared a 6 by 10 foot area on the ocean floor and began sifting through the thick mud underneath. About 10 inches down, they found some small glass beads that made them think they were close to the Henrietta Marie. As they continued to work, they found large black and gray rocks, which they assumed were ballast rocks from the ship. “Then George Robb found a piece of pine that still smelled like pine,” Malcom says. They first thought it had been used as firewood on board the ship. “But as we continued to explore, it didn’t feel like a shipwreck anymore,” he says. They?d found a section of prehistoric Florida that had been dry land during the last Ice Age.

When the Ice Age ended, the ocean levels rose for thousands of years, burying pine forests under about five feet of sand and sediment in more than 40 feet of water. Radiocarbon analysis showed the pine cones and burnt wood to be about 8,400 years old. No one could figure out why the wood appeared burned, until they learned the rocks also had signs of fire. Geologist Eugene Shinn thinks a forest fire must have swept through the prehistoric forest some time before it sank. While no signs of humanity were discovered, Malcom thinks they may find some in the future.

Marine archeologist Dave Score says, “It’s pretty incredible that the sea level rose that much, and definitely leads to some interesting questions that we hope people will pursue.”

Learn how prehistoric man sailed from Europe to America using ancient maps in ?How the Sun God Reached America,?click here.

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