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As the waters of Lake Jackson recede again, a gruesome discovery of skeletal remains

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The latest drying up of Jackson Lake has revealed two human skulls in the mud of the 4,000-acre aquatic preserve along US Highway 27 north of Tallahassee.

The remains have been sent to the medical examiner’s office, while the Leon County Sheriff’s Office is investigating why and how they came to rest about 80 yards beyond a dock near the end of Faulk Drive.

It’s still early in the investigation and Leon County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Shade McMillian said it’s unclear if foul play was a factor due to “age and deterioration” of the skeletal remains.

“I call them artifacts because we don’t know if it’s something from that time or from the last ten years,” he said, adding that those answers will come back with the forensic analysis. .

Initial story: Human remains found in Lake Jackson, LCSO investigation

A man on an ATV exploring the Porter Sink area, which periodically opens and drains the lake, reported the find to sheriff’s deputies Sunday afternoon. Investigators worked the scene late into the night, but had left by Monday morning, replaced by scientists, fishermen and curious residents.

Stephen Hight was part of the group. He stood with Department of Environmental Protection and Leon County employees, watching gurgling water carve a 30-foot-deep valley in the lake bed as it drained into a hole in the size of a soccer ball.

“It happened in 1999 when I first moved here to Tallahassee,” said Hight, an entomologist who recently retired from the USDA and is moving to Kansas by the end of the year. week.

“The sinkholes to the west are more like sinkholes, there’s no water. It’s amazing – it’s the perfect bookend for my time in Tallahassee,” Hight said.

The water flowed in streams a few centimeters deep from east and west, creating an arid valley with steep cliffs as it moved towards the hole.

The day before, onlookers said, where the two streams flowed there was a bubbling boil 10 feet deep which they likened to a spring head.

“By tomorrow, it could all be gone,” Hight observed.

Geologists estimate that up to 15 million gallons of water can disappear daily in Porter Sink. The water will eventually resurface at Wakulla Springs, about 30 miles to the south.

Jackson Lake Endangered Act

When Porter Sink opened in 1999, it drained more than 4.4 billion gallons of water and reduced the lake to less than 500 acres, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission. The lake also collapsed at Porter Sink in 2012.

It is not certain that this will happen again. On Monday, several ponds were scattered across the lake bed.

Retired Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission biologist Michael Hill takes photos near the bottom of Porter Sink in a dry Jackson Lake Monday, June 7, 2021.

The water has riddled the bed of the limestone lake with millions of pinholes. When the water pressure is high, debris clogs the holes. When there is no rain, the pressure drops, the holes open up and create what scientists call drying out.

Rainfall in Tallahassee for this year is down more than 5 inches, according to the National Weather Service. And although the lake has been draining for a few months, according to Leon County staff, it “has accelerated rapidly over the weekend.”

The lake has been pulling its vanishing act for centuries.

DeSoto and his conquistadors made no mention of a lake north of Tallahassee when they wintered here in 1539-40. They described a savannah and a large plain where Lake Jackson is today. And a British trader who worked in North Florida in the 1740s also made no mention of the lake.

Continued: What makes Lake Jackson empty so quickly?

As the waters of Lake Jackson recede again, a gruesome discovery of skeletal remains

 |  Today Headlines

Retired Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission biologist Michael Hill takes photos from the edge of Porter Sink in a dry Jackson Lake Monday, June 7, 2021.

But the first settlers noted the lake. Especially when he disappeared in 1836.

And he repeated the feat in 1886, 1909, 1932, 1956, 1982, 1999 and 2006 and most recently in 2012.

good for fish

“It’s not a bad thing,” said Michael Hill, a retired biologist who led the Fish and Wildlife Conservation (FWC) response and lake bed cleanup in 1999.

Hill said this weekend’s open is about 15 feet from the 1999 sinkhole. The 1982 hole is about 10 feet farther west. The 1956 opening is about a mile to the east.

While the discovery of the skeletal remains adds new mystery, Hill knows the secrets of the lake intimately. He descended into the sinkhole after the 1999 dewatering to better understand the intersection of the lake bed and the aquifer.

As the waters of Lake Jackson recede again, a gruesome discovery of skeletal remains

 |  Today Headlines

A woman walks along the edge of Porter Sink in a dry Jackson Lake on Monday, June 7, 2021.

He also oversaw the removal of over 500,000 cubic meters of organic matter from the lake bed, as the water was depleted.

Hill said occasional droughts help maintain a healthy fishery in Jackson Lake. It naturally cleans mud – allowing the ground to become more compact and firm for fish to spawn.

“Largemouth bass need firm substrate to spawn. When it’s mud, they roll over and egg-laying success is minimal,” Hill explained.

As the waters of Lake Jackson recede again, a gruesome discovery of skeletal remains

 |  Today Headlines

People walk on what is usually the bottom of Lake Jackson as the lake dries up Monday, June 7, 2021.

The vegetation thrives in low water and provides food for young bass, sea bream and crappie.

“It’s like a shot in the arm for the food chain, everything grows,” Hill said of the droughts.

Contact Christopher Cann at ccann@tallahassee.com and follow @ChrisCannFL on Twitter.

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This article originally appeared on Tallahassee Democrat: Lake Jackson: As water disappears in sink, gruesome find of skulls

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