Discover The Remains Hidden Beneath Florida’s Largest Hot Spring

Wakulla Springs Florida
© iStock.com/Ruth Peterkin

Written by Em Casalena

Updated: September 14, 2023

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Who doesn’t love some Florida hot springs? Warm Mineral Springs is the world’s largest natural mineral spring water. It is located in North Port, Florida. The springs are a real treat to visit, but something pretty interesting lives underneath the water’s surface. Let’s take a look at what archeologists have discovered underneath the famed Warm Mineral Springs.

Warm Mineral Springs contains remains of ancient humans like Paleoindians and Pleistocene animals.

What is Warm Mineral Springs?

Warm Mineral Springs is a water-filled sinkhole found in North Port, Florida. It was once a cave that existed above sea level, as there are stalactites found underneath the water’s surface. The cavern’s roof collapsing 30,000 years ago caused the sinkhole to appear in the carbonate rock. At the present water level, the sinkhole’s circular aperture is 236 feet wide. The sinkhole is 230 feet deep and somewhat hourglass-shaped. A few meters below the water’s surface, the aperture becomes smaller, measuring just 157 feet across. Down below the surface of the pool’s water lies a spring vent that serves as the main water source. It is the only warm-water mineral spring in the state of Florida.

Warm Mineral Springs, which has an average temperature of 87 degrees, has 9 million gallons of freshwater that is replenished every two hours. This natural resource has the greatest mineral richness of any natural spring in the United States, with 51 different minerals located at the site. Warm Mineral Springs now provides a natural experience to locals and guests alike who wish to relax in the warm waters, with the aim of increasing wellness.

From 1946 to 2000, the location was operated as a spa. On November 28th, 1977, it was included on the National Register of Historic Places in the United States. Only in 2014 did the springs reopen for swimming. But why was it added to the register? It all comes down to the many discoveries that have been found in the mineral springs.

Warm Mineral Springs, Northport, FL

From 1946 to 2000, Warm Mineral Springs has operated as a spa.

©Jonathunder / GNU Free Documentation License FDL 1.3 – Original / License

Where is Warm Mineral Springs Located on a Map?

Warm Mineral Springs is located in the city of North Port, Florida, on the Gulf Coast in Central Florida. North Port is inland, around 25 miles from the beach and 25 miles south of the Tampa-St. Petersburg area.

Discoveries at Warm Mineral Springs

There have been many archeological discoveries at these Florida hot springs throughout the years. The first discovery of ancient artifacts and fossils were found in the 1950s.

Ancient Human Skulls

William Royal and other scuba divers discovered artifacts and at least seven different sets of human bones at Warm Mineral Springs in the late 1950s. Radiocarbon dating revealed the age of a partially burnt wood discovered beside some of the human bones at around 10,000 years. The bones would have been the earliest known indication of human habitation in Florida at the period if they were the same age as the log. Evidently, at that time, the bones and artifacts were placed in the sinkhole above the water line.

Organic material was found in one skull that was discovered from silt about 40 feet below the current water level in the sinkhole. The skull’s contents were inspected by hospital medical professionals, who noted that it resembled a brain. One medical professional claimed to be able to tell the cerebellum from fragments of the cerebrum. Grey and white matter also appeared to be seen while cutting through the substance. The results of the tests supported the theory that the substance was brain matter, although no cellular structure could be seen.

Unfortunately, since the spring was open to the public, scuba divers removed human remains, antiquities, stalactites, and stalagmites for sale as souvenirs. When scientific research into the sinkhole began, almost all artifacts had been taken out. In an effort to deter theft and vandalism, the landowners began limiting access to the sinkhole in the 1970s.

Saber tooth tiger skull. with long white front teeth.

In addition to evidence of human remains, evidence of saber-toothed

tiger

bones (pictured) were also discovered in the springs.

©Sasha Samardzija/Shutterstock.com

Ancient Tools

In 1972, Florida State University archaeologist Wilburn Cockrell began his employment at Warm Mineral Springs. Because of this effort and the site’s archaeological importance, the private owner decided to safeguard it. After pausing in 1975, archaeological research at the sinkhole picked up again in 1984. The project’s second phase uncovered proof that early humans made tools. The artifacts are strongly believed to have belonged to Paleo-Indian and Archaic cultures.

Saber-Toothed Tigers and Giant Ground Sloths

According to Cockrell, more than 20 Paleoindians’ remains, some of which have been radiocarbon dated to 12,000 years ago, have been discovered in the sinkhole. In addition, the researchers discovered the remains of other Pleistocene species, including a horse, a camelid, a saber-toothed tiger, and a giant ground sloth.

Megatherium Americanum

The giant land sloth (pictured) is believed to have gone extinct 9,500 years ago.

©Marcus Burkhardt / CC BY 3.0 – Original / License

More Proof of Early Humans

A fetal-position human skeleton that was 11,000 years old was discovered by Cockrell. It had presumably been put in a nook with shattered stalactites keeping it there. This might be North America’s earliest known deliberate burial. Without a doubt, the ancient site of these Florida hot springs was once a burial ground for ancient American peoples.

Is Warm Mineral Springs a Healing Place?

To put it simply: not really. Due to the many archeological discoveries beneath Warm Mineral Springs’ surface, some believe that it is a spiritual place that can heal those who enter. Visitors, locals, and staff commonly refer to the water as Miracle Lake despite the fact that no scientist has independently verified its curative powers. Ask the regulars, and they’ll regale you with tales of how temporary relief from inflammation, arthritis, and sciatica pain may be found by wading in the water.

That being said, perhaps there is some truth to these assertions. The water found at these Florida hot springs also has a reputation for being magical due to its high mineral concentration. The water has been tested for high concentrations of potassium, sulfate, and magnesium. According to research, potassium helps maintain electrolyte balance, sulfate helps fight infection, and magnesium helps neurons function. The waters of Warm Mineral Springs naturally contain all of these substances as well as several more.

Why is Warm Mineral Springs Warm?

It is easy to explain why one feels warm water as soon as one enters Warm Mineral Springs. The incredibly deep pockets of hot water are found beneath the surface area where the heat originates from. With a flow of eight million gallons per day, the water is trapped below at a deep depth. It is slowly released due to surrounding water pressure. As it does so, it cools as it reaches the surface, but is still noticeably warm.

But where did the water come from? It all comes down to how the land has changed in the last 10,000 years. Large ice sheets blanketed the majority of North America 10,000 years ago. Unlike the subtropical climate it possesses now, Florida’s climate was very different. Large grassy plains and dense woods of oak and hickory trees made up the landscape’s vegetation. Florida was home to numerous different types of creatures, many of which have been discovered in the Florida hot springs. There are porous limestone rock layers beneath the surface of the lake, which kept the majority of the water movement below. This is thought to be the cause of the sparse distribution of water sources in the Warm Mineral Springs region.

Visiting Warm Mineral Springs

As of March 2023, Warm Mineral Springs is still closed due to damage sustained from Hurricane Ian. Park management has announced that they plan to reopen the springs on April 7th, though the announcement is very tentative and the date is subject to change.

While Warm Mineral Springs is called the legendary “Fountain of Youth” by some, its scientifically-proven health benefits are minimal. That being said, the site is an archeological site that should be viewed with reverence, as the fossils and artifacts found beneath the water’s surface have taught us quite a bit about early humans living in America.


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About the Author

Em Casalena is a writer at A-Z Animals where their primary focus is on plants, gardening, and sustainability. Em has been writing and researching about plants for nearly a decade and is a proud Southwest Institute of Healing Arts graduate and certified Urban Farming instructor. Em is a resident of Arizona and enjoys learning about eco-conscious living, thrifting at local shops, and caring for their Siamese cat Vladimir.

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