GAINESVILLE, Fla. --- Long before tourists arrived in the Bahamas, ancient visitors took up residence in this archipelago off Floridas coast and left remains offering stark evidence that the arrival of humans can permanently change -- and eliminate -- life on what had been isolated islands, says a University of Florida researcher.
The unusual discovery of well-preserved fossils in a water-filled sinkhole called a blue hole revealed the bones of landlubbing crocodiles and tortoises that did not survive human encroachment, said David Steadman, a UF ornithologist and the lead author of a paper published this week by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The climate and environmental conditions back then werent much different from those of today, said Steadman, who works at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus. The big difference is us. When people got to the island, there was probably nothing easier to hunt than tortoises so they cooked and ate them. And they got rid of the crocodiles because its tough to have kids playing at the edge of the village where there are terrestrial crocodiles running around.
The first entire fossilized skeletons of a tortoise and a crocodile found anywhere in the West Indies were uncovered from Sawmill Sink on Great Abaco Island in the Bahamas, along with bones of a lizard, snakes, bats and 25 species of birds, as well as abundant plant fossils.
Radiocarbon analyses date the bones at between 1,000 and 4,200 years old with the youngest fossil being that of a human tibia, he said. The fossils are the best preserved of any ever found in the Bahamas because of their unusual location in the deep saltwater layer of the sinkhole that contains no oxygen, which normally would feed the bacteria and fungi that cause bones to decay, Steadman said. Expert diver Brian Kakuk and other skilled scuba divers retrieved the fossils from various places along the floor and walls of the blu
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University of Florida