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Saint Augustine, Northeast Florida
Going public with archaeology for outreach, assistance to local governments, and service to the citizens and state of Florida. Visit our website at: http://flpublicarchaeology.org/nerc/
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Archive for August 2010

Front Door Fieldtrips: St. Photios Shrine

Unlike yesterday's serendipitous adventure, today I had a fieldtrip with a plan.  I went to a site that I love to visit, even though I don't get there often: the St. Photios Greek Orthodox National Shrine.  I enjoy visiting the Shrine for a number of reasons--it has beautiful artwork, shares the history of the first Greek immigrants to Florida, and it has strong ties to archaeology.  Beyond those reasons there's one more, and it's admittedly pretty silly.  My older brother married a first generation American whose parents moved to the U.S. from Greece several years ago.  Floating somewhere in my head is the silly notion that the Greeks who traveled to British Florida in 1768 just may have known some of my sister-in-law's ancestors.  "Oh, they're from Greece?  I wonder if they know the Theofilopoulos family."  In any case, the Shrine somehow helps me feel connected to a part of my family that lives all the way across the country, silly or not.

St. Photios stands in a historic structure at 41 St. George Street, called the Avero House.  It is both a modern religious site and a place that commemorates the Greek, Minorcan, and Corsican people who traveled to Florida in search of a more prosperous future. 

The story of their journey begins with Andrew Turnbull, a Scottish doctor who decided to start a plantation in Florida after it became British territory.  He traveled to Italy, Greece, and Minorca looking for people to become indentured servants in the settlement of Smyrnea (modern day New Smyrna Beach).  He was only looking for about 400 people.  Due to hard conditions like drought in Minorca and Turkish aggression in Greece, Turnbull ended up taking 1400 people to Florida in 1768 as indentured servants.  They agreed to work on his plantation for 6-8 years, after which they would receive freedom and land. 

Despite Turnbull's intentions, things in Smyrnea did not go according to plan.  People still debate whether he truly abused his indentured servants or whether he simply was unequipped to care for the needs of that many people.  In any case, a situation that began badly ended in disaster.  During the voyage over, 148 people died on the crowded ships.  Once they arrived, Turnbull faced an endless string of financial troubles, and his indentured servants sometimes ran out of supplies like food and clothing.  The colony faced unexpected challenges in growing indigo and mistrust from the Creek Indians.

Living under harsh conditions took its toll on Turnbull's workers.  After a failed revolt only months after their arrival, three of the immigrants were tried and convicted for the uprising.  Two were put to death.  It would be nearly 10 years before the indentured servants tried again to seek freedom.  In 1777, Turnbull returned to England to pursue financial help.  After he left, some of the people walked 75 miles from Smyrnea to St. Augustine to ask Florida's governor for help.  Governor Patrick Tonyn granted Turnbull's workers freedom and gave them small parcels of land.  Many of them traveled to St. Augustine to make their homes.

Artifacts from the Avero House
The Shrine tells much more of the story in its display, sharing historical accounts and even letters written by Turnbull's workers petitioning the governor for freedom.  It also features a display of artifacts recovered from the Avero house itself.  The house is one of the oldest in St. Augustine, and was chosen for the site of the Shrine because it was given to the Minorcans and Greeks who escaped from Turnbull in 1777 as a temporary place of worship.  When the building was restored and made into the Shrine in the 1970s, excavations there yielded artifacts that tell us about the lives and spirituality of the people who worshipped there.

Photo courtesy of stphotios.com
Aside from sharing the history and heritage of an immigrant group often overlooked in St. Augustine, the Shrine is a beautiful tribute to the Greek Orthodox faith.  It features Byzantine-style frescoes with 24-karat gold highlights on the walls and ceilings of the chapel.  One room is dedicated solely to collections of religious art, some more than 300 years old.   

If you visit St. Photios, you can also watch a video that shares more of the history of the Minorcans, Greeks, and Corsicans who traveled to Florida.  There's also a gift shop with great books and items reflecting Greek culture and the Greek Orthodox faith.  And I found out it's okay to ask questions--the staff there is friendly and seems to know just about everything there is to wonder about the site!

St. Photios is open daily from 9am to 5pm.  For more information, visit http://stphotios.com/

If you would like to visit a Turnbull site in New Smyrna, check out http://volusiahistory.com/oldfort.htm

To go on your own archaeology fieldtrips all over northeast Florida, get our free map: http://www.fpannortheast.org/guide/documents/ArchaeologyMap_000.pdf

Front Door Fieldtrips: Historic Aviles Street

Today's fieldtrip reminded me that you just never know what's in store in historic St. Augustine.  Not knowing quite where I wanted to go today, I decided to drop by historic Aviles Street and see the remodeling work going on there.  Doesn't sound too exciting, does it?  Well I was in for a surprise!  When I got out there, I saw City Archaeologist Carl Halbirt and one of his volunteers excavating a unit on the east side of the street.

Volunteer Nick talks to visitors.  Layers of road are to his left.
In the spring, when the City decided to remodel Aviles Street and widen sidewalks, Halbirt was called in to investigate the areas that were going to be disturbed.  He and his volunteers opened up some test units and, before it was all over, documented 15 historic road layers.  The layers dated from modern pavement to road beds from the early 1600s, proving that Aviles is one of the oldest streets in the country.  They also discovered a midden (or trash deposit) and evidence of a 19th-century structure.  Most interesting of all, they found a layer of charcoal and burned material that dated to 1702, when the British attacked and burned the city. 

Above trowel: thick gray road layer, thin darker lens, & coquina sidewalk.
So what on earth were they doing out there today?  I stood behind the orange fencing taking pictures of the dig and Carl waved me over.  He told me that they were monitoring (watching construction activity in case anything of interest turns up) and discovered an interesting coquina layer.  So they opened up a small unit where the modern sidewalk stands to figure out what it was.  They found out that the crushed coquina was a sidewalk dating to the late 19th century.  Not only that, but directly below the coquina was a thin layer of road and a thicker layer of road, also from the same time period.  According to Halbirt, it looks like those three layers were deposited within a span of about 25 years.  It was funny to think about that historic street as having once been wider, and even stranger to think about how the city is repeating that history, once again adding to the sidewalk.

I stuck around for a while to help screen artifacts.  Of course we found lots of chunks of coquina and brick, but also some ceramics--whiteware and a Native American pottery called St. Johns.  My favorite find was a 19th century toothbrush made of bone. 

Halbirt sits next to the posthole feature writing fieldnotes.
At the very bottom of the level, Carl came across a distinct change in soil color, called a feature.  This feature was round, like a hole for a wooden post.  Since it was so close to the road, Halbirt speculated that it could even be a hitching post.  He put down his shovel and grabbed the biggest trowel I've ever seen--I called it the "clown trowel"--to examine it more carefully.

As they dig deeper, City Archaeology is also looking for remnants of Los Remedios parish church, which was in use from 1572 to 1702.  The church and its property stood to the east of Aviles Street, but Halbirt hopes to determine whether it extended into what later became the roadway. 

As for me, it was time to head back to work.  I agreed with Nick, the volunteer, that it was indeed a very hot day to be out excavating.  Then I left them there, digging and screening in the sun, and headed off to my next adventure...

Front Door Fieldtrips--plus--What is it? Wednesday!

Hey all! Since I'm all alone in the office this week, I decided to punch up my work schedule with some local adventures. For the next three days I'm taking front door fieldtrips, visiting authentic historic and archaeological sites that are close enough to reach on foot from my office in downtown St. Augustine. Some of my very favorite parts of this old town are really easy to miss and completely free.

I started with one of my favorite mini-walking tours of downtown, tracing the Cubo and Rosario lines. These earthen walls were constructed by the citizens of St. Augustine in the early 18th century as a response to repeated attacks by the British.

The Cubo Line was built in 1704-1705, extending from the Castillo de San Marcos all the way to the San Sebastian River. It consisted of an earthen berm (or manmade ridge) fortified with palm logs, and had a moat on the north side. Believe it or not, St. Augustine's Archaeology Division has excavated parts of the Line at least seven times!

By excavating the Cubo Line, City Archaeologist Carl Halbirt has learned about the structure of the defensive berm itself and how it was treated after it was no longer needed. Digging near the Visitors' Information Center, Halbirt uncovered the remains of the Santo Domingo Redoubt, a defensive outpost along the line where the Spanish could spot and fire on approaching enemies.

Over the years he's also discovered that in the late 1800s, people weren't using the Line for defensive purposes anymore, so it became a dump. He's found a sewing machine, dozens of different kinds of bottles, a toilet from the 1880s, and even part of a book!

From the Santo Domingo Redoubt, I crossed Orange Street and walked south on Cordova, tracing the Rosario Line. The Rosario Line was built shortly after the Cubo Line, but did not have palm logs supporting it. Instead, it was a simple earthen berm covered in spiny plants called yucca (or sometimes called Spanish Bayonet). Like the Cubo line, people certainly could cross it if they were determined--and didn't get caught--but they sure wouldn't like it.

The Rosario Line has been excavated many times, too. City Archaeology has found traces of it along various parts of Cordova Street, but we're still not sure exactly where all of it is. At some point in the south end of St. Augustine, the Rosario Line turned east and ran all the way back to the water, protecting the city's southern border.

Even though we don't know where it turns, Halbirt has discovered a structure related to the Rosario Line below San Salvador Street, just outside the National Cemetery. A few years ago he excavated parts of the street and found a mysterious coquina feature. It had two low coquina walls that were spaced about 2 feet apart. The ground between them was perfectly flat and lined with bricks, and the feature ran all the way down the street. City Archaeology has some theories, but it never was perfectly clear why the structure was there, or what it was meant to do. Here is a picture of me inside the walls taking a picture. Do you have any idea what it is?

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