British film company tapes Learning Channel special on campus

On July 3-5, the Mercyhurst Archaeological Institute lab was filled with lights, cameras and action while a British company specializing in documentaries, Electric Sky, filmed a portion of a Learning Channel special about the efforts to preserve artifacts and remains from the Windover Bog archaeology site in Florida.

Dr. James Adovasio, director of the Mercyhurst archaeology department, explained that the film company used the MAI lab for interviews about human remains from the Windover Bog that have been preserved in an environmentally controlled chamber in the Mercyhurst archaeology department. The remains were among the nearly 200 found in 1982 at the Windover Bog site, an American Indian mortuary site located near Cape Canaveral, Fla.

The significance of the Windover Bog site includes the well-preserved nature of the remains found in the burial grounds; the size of the burial grounds; the presence of extremely well-preserved brains in the remains; and the kind of textiles at the site.

“This site gives us extraordinary insight into the past,” said Adovasio, who began his work with the Windover site before starting the Mercyhurst archaeology department in 1990.

The documentary, which Electric Sky expects to complete by October, will explore how archaeologists at various colleges have examined the skeletal structures, the brains from those remains, and the textiles from the excavated area to learn more about American Indians who lived at the site approximately 7,500 years ago.

The film crew will be filming while the remains are removed from storage, freeze dried in the Mercyhurst lab and then travel to Wisconsin for final conservation through the use of parylene conformal coating. 

On hand for the filming was Dr. Bruce Humphrey, who helped pioneer the parylene coating process that now assists scientists in preserving ancient artifacts, and Dr. Lee Newsom, a paleobotanist from Pennsylvania State University at State College. 

Those from Mercyhurst who were interviewed include Adovasio and Jeff Illingworth, a graduate student in the archaeology department.

Adovasio assisted in the excavation and examination of the textiles, and the college’s parylene sealing equipment has been used to preserve many of the smaller items from the site. The Mercyhurst machinery is not large enough to encase the remains, so equipment at the Union Carbide facility in Clear Lake, Wis., will be used. 

Other colleges involved in this project include Florida State University and the University of Florida. Final reports on the site are expected at the end of the year – after more than 20 years of research at the site and on its artifacts.

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