Friday, October 23, 2009

In response to recent coverage and details of the illegal harvesting of coquina from our beaches as a geological looting event, I'd like to bring a more cultural and historical perspective to the issue. As an archaeologist working in northeast Florida, I can tell you that coquina is truly Florida’s pet rock. We should take every measure to educate residents on its significance to our historical past, and protect it as a non-renewable resource. As often mentioned, coquina was used in the construction of the Castillo de San Marcos downtown. But it’s more ubiquitous than that; coquina was used in every historical time period for domestic structures, businesses, cemeteries, sugar mills, and even cemeteries. The beautiful pyramids commemorating Dade’s Massacre in the National Cemetery- those are coquina. The majestic archways and chimneys at Bulow State Park, Dunlawton, and Cruger-DePeyster sugar mills- they are all made out of coquina. The oldest houses in St. Augustine (including the Oldest House and Father O’Reilly House) are partially constructed out of coquina. Finally, Ft. Matanzas that stands on the north end of the inlet—also a significant site made of coquina.

Much of what we know of these historic resources exists only because the coquina still exists. Dr. Judith Bense, Chair of the Florida Historical Commission and archaeologist, expressed it best during address to the St. Augustine Historical Society last year when she said Pensacola has “coquina envy.” Many of the same types of sites did not preserve or can not be found as they were made of wood and the evidence literally went up in smoke. Any readers who want to learn more about the archaeological significance of coquina can visit our website that has an archaeology activity guide for 4th and 5th graders based on northeast Florida coquina ruins.

As our pet rock, we should protect it in its wild state, see to proper care and maintenance where we’ve adopted it into our lives, and share with visitors as an element of what makes northeast Florida truly special.

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