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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 July 2011

Reveal the Intruders! Another Day On Site With St. Augustine Archaeology

When excavating the old town, nothing is ever simple.

It's been a while, but I finally got back to the Colonial Spanish Quarter today to check out the City of St. Augustine's latest dig.  Carl Halbirt and his loyal crew of volunteers continue an investigation that began last winter, when the City and National Park Service collaborated for plans to create a trolley stop across the street from the Castillo de San Marcos.  At that time, Carl made an unprecedented discovery--he and his team turned up evidence of some kind of fortification (not necessarily an official fort) that was even older than the Castillo! 

The crew continues to chase the fortification's posts to get a clearer picture of how the Spanish used this area in the late 16th century, but that's not all they get.  St. Augustine's Archaeology Division often works on what turn out to be multi-component sites--spaces that have been used and reused by different people and for various purposes over time.  This excavation area is just such a site. 

Carl and his volunteers excavate a variety of features.

When I arrived this morning, I saw some of the City's volunteers already hard at work in the area that had been stripped of its top soil for excavation.  On the ground surface all around them were soil stains outlined in string--each one denoting a feature.  Some of the features stood alone, untouched by the soil stains nearby.  Others had clearly overlapped--in fact, volunteers were absorbed with excavating some of these, being very careful to dig out only one feature at a time.  It's important to excavate each feature by itself to determine its age and purpose. 

Foreground: Carl examines a possible pig roast pit, disturbed by an
intrusive post feature on its west (left) side.
Background: Moses excavates one of four features that overlap.

So how do features intrude on one another in the first place?  At this site, for example, we see the earliest colonial use as a fortification--either as a formal fort or as a defensive wall, built in the late 1500s.  That fortification was made by putting massive wooden posts in the ground--big enough to support thick walls and maybe artillery.  This fortification was likely no longer used by the time the Castillo was built, so would have been obsolete 100 years later.  It may have been torn down, with little to no evidence left of where it stood.  So when someone decided to use that stretch of land for another purpose, new holes were dug into the ground, sometimes on or right next to where those massive posts once stood.  By the time archaeologists get there, nothing is left of the wooden posts and other features--we just see overlapping soil stains of different colors & textures. 

At the Colonial Spanish Quarter site, I saw dozens of features.  In addition to the 16th century fortification posts, Carl had a line of postmolds to a structure that dated from 1725-1750.  A possible pig roast pit had been intruded upon by a different post.  One of the fortification posts had been intruded upon by an unidentified pit, which had been dug into by one of those 18th century posts. 

The soil stain at the top of the photo represents an 18th century postmold, intruded upon by a pit (the excavated hole)
that also disturbed one of the 15th century fortification postmolds.

Probably the craziest series of intrusive features, though, brought us from the early 1st Spanish Period to (almost) modern day.  We again started with one of those 16th century fortification post molds.  On one side, the post was disturbed by a dog burial from the late 1800s or early 1900s (before 1910).  On the other side, an 18th century pit intruded on it.  That miscellaneous pit, in turn had been disrupted by a shovel test dug by Carl in 2005 as he carried out the earliest excavations of that site!

The dog burial (left) intrudes upon one of the original fortification posts.  Note: most of the dog's remains were excavated prior to my arrival.

I watched the volunteers carefully extract the contents of each feature before we mapped and photographed them.  As the crew packed up at the end of the day's work, I asked Carl what he would like to share about the site, and he pointed out yet another kind of encroachment.  Those posts that date from 1725-1750 reflect a residential structure built as little as 30 years after the Castillo de San Marcos was finished.  He says it shows that people were already starting to creep in on the designated space around the fort--kept clear because it would have been within firing range for guns and cannon!

When he mentioned that, I reflected on the morning I had spent trying to focus while jumping out of my skin every time the Spanish Quarter's re-enactors demonstrated musket firing.  It occurred to me that unlike those intrusions in the ground, which go unnoticed until they are meticulously unearthed by archaeologists, a residence that intruded on the firing zone of the Castillo could not be so peaceful--there's NO way that being that close could go unnoticed.

If you missed the St. Augustine Record's article about the dig in January, find it here.
Also read our February blog about the City's finds here.

Want to get involved? Join the St. Augustine Archaeological Association and find out how to volunteer with Carl!

Pensacola and St. Augustine: Call a Truce for July 21!

Proclamation read for 190th commemoration.

Happy Birthday St. Johns County!  You are 190 years young today.  You too Escambia.  As the 500th and 450th commemorations approach us in St. Augustine, it is healing to put aside famous firsts and focus on what we have in common.  What do you say Pensacola?  Shake on it, even if just for the day?

Thanks to Robin Moore's presentation to the St. Johns County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday, I learned more than I ever  knew before about the formation of our county and the significant role it played in establishing Florida as a U.S. Territory.

The presentation began with an overview of prehistoric and historic cultures present in St. Johns county for over 10,000 years and events that brought the county into being.  Some of the oldest place names in the county demonstrate the long period of occupation by the Timucuan natives, First Spanish military and mission sites, British period influence, and back again to Spanish reign in 1784.

To the day at hand-- Spain cedes Florida to the United States in 1819 and the land transfer takes place in 1821.  Transfer of flags took place in St. Augustine July 10, 1821.  The transfer of West Florida occurred in Pensacola on July 17, 1821.  Less than a week later General Jacksonon's first act as Provincial Governor was approving an ordinance that  created two political jurisdictions with courts, a sheriff for each court, and no less than 10 justices of the peace for each jurisdiction – the business of land transfers was probably a top priority.

(West Florida 7 days later, but who's counting)

Two Counties - One Day

Those two jurisdictions were St. Johns County east of the Suwannee River, and Escambia County west of the Suwannee River that was on July 21, 1821, 190 years ago. The names of these counties were both derived from large rivers that existed close to each county seat, and their jurisdictions echoed those established by the British in 1763 with St Augustine and Pensacola being the administrative centers. Not only were we one of the two first counties, but we were the largest!

(easy now Robin, we're trying to get along today)

(but wow, we are quite large to start in 1821!)

Now 190 years later, thanks to Robin, the County recognized the significance of the day by reading a proclamation at the start of the County Commission meeting on Tuesday.

Robin mid-presentation at Tuesday's County Commission meeting.

Well done Robin, and thanks to St. Johns County Commissioners for taking the time during one of the most debated meetings this year (budget discussion followed); the more we know the more we appreciate our place in the world.  For more information or presentation request, contact Robin Moore, Historic Resource Specialist for St. Johns County at remoore@sjcfl.us or check out the county website.

PS- Sorry Pensacola, tomorrow the cease fire ends and "WE'RE NUMBER ONE!" chants are back on!

"What Is It???" Wednesday

Last week too hard?  This week's WIIW highlights one of the most unique archaeological sites in Florida.

What are we looking at here?  Drawing made based on archaeological investigations at a significant and sacred site in east Florida (hint: Brevard County).

Have a guess, reaction, or information for our readers?  Please post a comment!


Answer to last week's "What Is It???" Wednesday:  B) Osceola capture site!  Read more on the blog entry Osceola's Capture Site posted earlier today.

Osceola's Capture Site

Last week we posted a "What Is It???" Wendesday quiz that seemed to stump the chumps.  Answer was B, the monument in the photograph marks the capture site of Osceola.

Capture site of Osceola.

From Coquina Queries, Kelley Weitzel wrote up the capture of Osceola in lesson 4:

From Coquina Queries Lesson 4: http://www.coquinaqueries.org/

The reason we were at the site is arguably as interesting as the marker itself.  Last week the planning committee for the Annual Underground Railroad Network to Freedom Project was in town scouting sites for the 2012 conference to be held in St. Augustine.  The conference aims to bring Black Seminole descendants to St. Augustine and discuss the international pursuit of freedom from historic times up to present.  James Bullock, local artist/interpreter and Black Seminole descendant, gave a 1st person interpretation of a Seminole traveling and fighting alongside Osceola.

Found this great clip on YouTube of James doing what he does best, first person interpretation out in the field:

The site is on private property with an easement for access by the County.  To read more about the National Park Service Network to Freedom, check out their website for sites, activities, and content for teachers.  For information about James Bullock and programs offered, check the History Lives Now website.

More pictures from our tour:

All this flagging tape was at the site...anyone know why??

Text and photos: Sarah Miller, FPAN staff

450th: Here we go (again)

Over lunch I digest not just my Casa Maya sandwich, but comments made at the inaugural meeting of the Federal 450th commission meeting.  We've had a lot, a lot, I mean A LOT of first meetings for the 450th, but nothing like this.  First there was the 450th Corps (still have the bumper sticker on our car!), then there was the City commission that (as I understand it) due to financial disclosure requirements morphed into the private First America Foundation.  The later institution folded last month with the stepping down of the chair and several other board members (see St. Augustine Record article).  You'd think this morning I woke up and went to work jaded about 450th business.  And you'd be right.

Florida Secretary of State Kurt Browning.
Yet, I write renewed, ready to participate and partner for a fantastic 450th.  What brought on the renewed momentum?  Could it have been the simple standing for the pledge of allegiance?  Secretary of State Ken Browning, the most over-qualified pledge leader I've witnessed in my life so far, snapped me back to every moment in every classroom that I've ever said the pledge.  I first felt defiant like a 4th grader mumbling, but the act served as a reminder that we are at work for the Nation today.

Could the renewal have come from Ken Salazar, the US Secretary of the Interior, standing on the Flagler College stage and affirming our town as a National "jewel." Keep in mind non-archies, for my entire professional career everything I've done and said has been in service one way or another to his office.  Everything written and investigated is done to Secretary of Interior standards.  And because I meet his list of qualifications to be an archaeologist, I can say I am one.  He travels all over the US--Montana, Wisconsin, and San Antonio just last week--and for the nation and world to see him cooperating with our city means a great deal to those watching. 

Secretary of the Interior shares his perspective as 8th generation Spanish descendant and resident of New Mexico.

It might have been the ceremony of the entire morning, the trickle down of statistical fodder that will "help me to help you" and do my job.  Secretary Salazar fueled discussions about the economy and the importance of investing in the conservation agenda.  By preserving our natural and cultural resources we impact in a very positive way job creation (6.5 million jobs) and tourism industry ($700 billion dollars spent by visitors).  Those stats are the best fuel we have for defending cultural resources during these hard economic times.

Senator Bill Nelson gives history lesson and emphasizes Spanish legacy.

Next to talk was Senator Bill Nelson who said en Espanol that the history of Florida is the history of the United States, a theme that repeated in other addresses.  Senator Nelson summarized the expeditions of the 15th and 16th centuries from de Leon to de Vaca and de Soto.  It is clear Nelson and Salazar have mutual affinity for each other and have worked together in the past on Everglades and the Tamiami Trail.

Reprentative Mica provides stats on visitation and Commission duties.

Representative Mica brought attention to the duties of the Commission.  Printed on the back of the program (see below) they state facilitation duties, but also call for scholarly research and interpretation of St. Augustine; to provide a lasting legacy and long-term benefit of the proceedings; and to recognize the diverse heritage present in St. Augustine in 1565. 

Mica also reminded all in the room that we are a city of 12,000 who manage over 200 sites that predate the American Revolution.  This is quite a burden on our town, one we are obviously willing to take up and celebrate, but we're going to need help.  Essential in carrying out this work will be the construction of a new Visitor's Center. He cited 1.3-1.4 million visitors each year come to the Castillo de San Marcos, but there is not yet an appropriate visitors center to welcome them. How's this for a stat- the last three visitor Centers to receive federal funding were the Martin Luther King site in Atlanta, Volcano National Park in California and Denali in Alaska; the top three of these combined receive 1.3 million visitors per year, same as annual visitation for the Castillo alone. Carl Halbirt is this very week conducting the archaeological investigations on the property to clear it for permitted construction.

Head Ranger at the Castillo Gordy Wilson listens as his park becomes focal point of Mica's comments.

Mayor Boles makes no small plan for St. Augustine.
Finally, Mayor Joe Boles of St. Augustine gave concise, spirited comments to demonstrate that as a town we are, to use a poker term, "all in" on this event.  He borrowed words from the planner of the Chicago World's Fair organizer Daniel Burnham: "Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men's blood and probably will not themselves be realized." Boles said we will celebrate anything and everything.  "Nothing happened in the country that didn't resonate here."  Well put Mayor.  He clearly sees the event on par with an Olympics, a World's Fair, or at least a Super Bowl.

But the highlight for me as an archaeologist was the address made by Dr. Kathleen Deagan near the close of the meeting.  On behalf of historians and archaeologists working in the community, she welcomed the commission and said we are ready and willing to work with them to make the 450th a national success.  She cited many of Carl's recent finds, including the 1572 parish church found during the Aviles construction last summer and the 1570's fortification currently under study at the Spanish Quarter.  Her comments highlighted the collaborative and awesome historical nature of archaeology in this town.  Nowhere else can historical archaeology in the United State reach back as far as the late sixteenth-century.  Her call to include all the diverse 16th century stories recalled a comment made earlier by Salazar, that in St. Augustine we need to tell the story in all its completeness, the story of how we became a nation.

Dr. Kathleen Deagan, my hero.

I left, as you know, to travel down to Casa Maya and get lunch.  Participants walked the streets, and unbeknownst to many, I could hear the instant review of the public as they also walked the streets in pairs and groups of different numbers.  Many criticized previous attempts to organize.  Many agreed that the greatest failing of the other efforts came down to not recognizing the diversity of cultures present at the 16th century "discovery" and later founding.  There were many skeptics of the political posturing ("getting the Latino vote" was a comment I heard more than five times).  But I do sincerely believe that the Federal Commission marks a start of upward momentum in taking on the 450th celebration.  I felt everyone agreed the time for the creative throwing out of ideas was over, that it's time to roll up our sleeves and get to work.

At the helm will be Jay Kislak, who is today the most googled man in the 32085 zip code.  He was surprisingly (to me at least) and unanimously voted in as chair of the commission with Mayor Boles and Katharine Dickenson voted as co-vice chairs.  He offered this comment on himself though I think it a fitting mantram for all involved: "I might not be the best, but I'll do my best."

I'm excited to see the next steps of the commission and the open hiring process for an Executive Director.  And I'm excited as excitement for the 450th ramps up to be a part of it.  If you'd like to join and take part, attend an upcoming meeting for the commission, join the SAAA and attend monthly lectures, look for more information on a Florida Humanities Council conference to be held (pending funding) at Flagler College in May 2012, and special Viva Florida commemorative talks in preparation by Center staff.

Wouldn't be a 450th meeting without Menendez! Chad from FOY on right.
 Program contents:

Text and photos: Sarah Miller, FPAN staff

To view more pictures check out our Twitpic gallery from July 18th meeting http://twitpic.com/photos/FPANNortheast

For other perspectives of the meeting, check out these other on-line articles:

"What Is It???" Wednesday Quiz

This week National Park Service staff from the Underground Railroad Network to Freedom Project were in town to plan for the 2012 annual conference to be held in St. Augustine.  We snagged a last minute invite to join the confererence planning committee on a guided fieldtrip to a very significant and rarely visited site in our region.

In a WIIW adaptation, consider this a special quiz edition.  Know what it is (or what it's not!), share your guess by posting it to the blog, Facebook, or tweet.


A) Dade Massacre Monument

B) Capture Site of Osceola

C) Signing site of 1823 Moultrie Creek Treaty

D) Marker for escaped slave from Bulow Plantation

Teachers Dig Into the Past With Project Archaeology

Over the last month the Northeast Region has gotten into the swing of teaching the teachers.  We've conducted two workshops using Project Archaeology's Investigating Shelter curriculum.  Even better, the curriculum now includes a brand new component on Kingsley Plantation--a real archaeology site from our region!  The lessons use principles of archaeology and a real site to teach math, science, and social studies.

Teachers dig into the lessons, creating a museum of special
items in our homes that tell something important about each of us.

What do the things in our homes tell about our lives? 
Teachers build a graph using living room activities.

So far it's been a lot of fun.  The great thing about these lessons is that they let students explore the material through hands-on activities, learning and understanding for themselves how archaeology works.  The lessons also provide rare insight into what life was like for the enslaved people who lived on Fort George Island during Zephaniah Kingsley's tenure there.

We practice classification using doohickey kits!

Some of my favorite parts of the workshop occur when teachers really get in to some of the hands-on lessons.  It's fun for me to watch grownups have kid-like moments of curiosity and discovery, and just to watch them play with the lessons at hand.

Playing on the floor!  Teachers tried their hand at "excavating"
our living room site.

On day 2, they used the skills they had gained to lay out artifacts on a
slave cabin tarp and interpret the archaeological data.

One of the highlights of our first two workshops is that they took place at Kingsley--so teachers were treated to a site tour by Emily Palmer, one of the rangers who played an important role in creating the Kingsley curriculum.

Emily stops the tour behind some of the east cabins, where a well was excavated in 2010-2011.

Each workshop lasts two days and offers 15 hours of training, which can be used for in-service credit.  We are offering one more workshop this summer--July 19 & 20--and there are still seats available!  Contact Amber if you would like to attend.

Anchors and Artifacts and Kids, Oh My!


I'm finally back in the office for a couple of days after what has been an incredibly busy spring (and early summer).  I'm so glad to have a few minutes to pass along some of the fun I've been having with kids all over northeast Florida.  I love getting to work with kids and visit classrooms, but really don't get out there as much as some may think.  May and June of this year, though, had me hopping from county to county to talk (and play) archaeology.

Clay County Students map in artifacts found in a Kingsley slave cabin.

One of the visits I make most regularly is not to a school at all, but to Camp Chowenwaw in Clay County.  It's a county park with camping and even tree houses, but during the school year they offer terrific field trips.  When a school arrives, kids break into groups and rotate through a few different programs.  Some focus on local plants or aquatic life--one even revolves around the ongoing adventures of a flying squirrel!  I love getting to work into their rotation.  This spring I brought out the Kingsley Plantation tarp, which displays images of artifacts in the locations where they were found.  Kids get to take a look at them and map them in, then we work together using context & classification to draw conclusions about the site itself.

Not long thereafter, I got to cooperate with the Friends of A1A and other entities at the Environmental Education Fair near Marineland.  What a whirlwind!  They had invited several participating groups to that event; kids rotated from station to station in ten-minute intervals.  If you ever want to know just how quickly you can form sentences, get yourself a half-day of ten-minute intervals.  This event was terrific too because it highlights the way that FPAN can act as a partner in events, working with organizations with diverse interests to provide a truly unique educational experience for kids.

Nesting terns make homes on the beach.

Fourth graders from a school in Flagler County came out and got to visit my station as well as a number of others.  The St. Johns Audobon Society spoke to kids about nesting terns (and I almost didn't even notice the nest!). 


State Parks Ranger Melissa Kafel.
Melissa Kafel from Washington Oaks Garden State Park discussed point and non-point pollution, the Alligator Farm brought all things alligator (and other aquatic life), and Marineland's Dolphin Conservation Center provided information and activities about--what else?--dolphins.

The program that really tripped my trigger was from GTM-NERR, who provided microscopes and sands from a variety of locations.  Why?  Sea turtles return to the beach of their birth to lay their own eggs, and recognize home by the sand.  In case you ever wonder what sea turtles and archaeologists have in common, the answer is soil composition.

My program was a two-part dive into underwater archaeology--which meant that my kids got 5 minutes at each of the activities I planned for them.  At one station, we explored how shipwreck sites form underwater, using pages from the book A Shipwreck Through Time.  At the other hand, students got to try their hand at mapping an anchor.  Archaeologists, underwater or otherwise, know how important it is to document artifacts in situ, so it's a fun hands-on way to start thinking about the skills and methods we use in the field. 

Next, I was invited to Crookshank Elementary as a participant in their round of Earth Day Celebration.  I saw kids from 3rd-5th grades and showed pictures of real sites from excavations, as well as some of underwater sites I'd visited during a recent HADS training.  Then we played a game with a bag full of "artifacts" from a modern-day space to see what we could learn about the place and its inhabitants. 

Eco-campers learned how Native pottery decorations changed
over time & got to try some techniques for themselves.
When school got out, I had an event that allowed me the opportunity to spend nearly a whole day talking and playing archaeology with campers at Ravine Gardens State Park, which offers a five-day camp each summer.  At the first day of their Eco Adventures Camp, I brought a variety of different activities--we did a Project Archaeology context game, artifacts in a bag, and a hands-on activity to learn about the development of Native American pottery and decorations in northeast Florida. 

Some kids were so creative! This little
guy led to a discussion about figurines.
We finished out the day with a modified version of a perennial favorite, atl-atls.  I took the kids outside to talk a little more about Native American technology and showed them a replica spear and atl-atl before turning them loose to try their hand at the same sort of technology.  Using a modern version of the prehistoric hunting tool, campers documented the difference between how far they threw a tennis ball with their bare hand and how much farther it went using the extended throwing arm.

Campers use a modern interpretation of prehistoric atl-atl
technology--a toy used to play fetch with dogs!

As much as times like this keep me running, I really benefit from practicing different activities in a variety of formats.  Aside from getting my fill of fun with kids, it really does keep me on my toes.

My view of the beach from the A1A Environmental Education Fair.

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