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HOMESTEAD (CBSMiami/AP) – The replacement of an old wooden boardwalk has been put on hold as archaeologists poke and prod near a muddy pond located inside the Everglades National Park. The scientists are looking for evidence of a prehistoric culture.

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National Park Service archaeologists began work on Friday along a 0.8-mile trail around a shallow pond amid sawgrass.

On Monday, the team started sampling sediment down about 10 feet to the bedrock every 5 meters along the boardwalk. They are using an aluminum tube to suck up mud and water, and dump the contents over a screen.

The park service knows the pond has history and doesn’t want cultural resources damaged during the construction of the boardwalk.

In 1968 a park ranger noticed hundreds of artifacts in the pond after it was dredged because of a record drought. The ranger collected and cataloged the items, but the site was never excavated.

“It’s unique in the sense that it’s a submerged site. We don’t have very many of those in Florida and in this area at all. That is why it’s special,” said Penny Del Bene, the park’s chief of cultural resources.

The ranger found hundreds of bone pieces sharpened into tools or weapons, probably to spear fish or other wildlife, along with stingray tails, shark teeth and scales from other marine life that would not be found in a freshwater pond, said Margo Schwadron, the park service archaeologist leading the survey.

She hopes the dredging 46 years ago didn’t destroy a prehistoric cultural site. Based on what the ranger found in 1968, the artifacts hidden potentially thousands of years could be significant to understanding how people lived in the Everglades, she said.

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“There’s no written record. The only thing we can find is archaeological data and get that and preserve that,” Schwadron said.

Though the ranger noted several interesting pieces in 1968, today’s archaeologists have only found burnt pieces of wood, bone fragments and shells. The items were put into plastic bags filled with yellow-brown water to keep them from drying out before they can be examined in a lab for evidence of human alteration, like cuts or drilled holes.

The painstaking work is made more difficult by the watery work site, which has no clear boundaries in an area well-trafficked by tourists and wildlife.

“We have no idea what we’re hitting until we bring it up,” Schwadron said.

The site is near a slough that has been a target for Everglades restoration efforts. State and federal officials consult with Florida’s tribes on how to preserve artifacts or cultural sites affected by restoration projects in the park and on state lands. The location of those sites often are kept secret to prevent looting; anyone who finds an artifact is urged to report its location and leave it undisturbed.

(TM and © Copyright 2014 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2014 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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