Tuesday, November 20, 2012

In the days leading up to Thanksgiving, many people turn towards counting the blessings in their lives.  Trust me--it's all over my facebook page.  I love that practice, and as I was dreaming up a blog post for this week, it occurred to me that I could take this opportunity to express how thankful I am--and why--for a favorite archaeology site.  Of course, that's a little like choosing your favorite child.  Or, since I'm an aunt, choosing my favorite niece or nephew.  As a result, please enjoy this week's mini-series on my favorite sites.

I'm thankful for all kinds of sites--and getting to share them with the public!

First up?  A site that makes me thankful for St. Augustine's Archaeology Ordinance.  The site at the south end of Tremerton Street in St. Augustine brought discord during its excavation in 2004.  In the course of excavating a site that slated for condo development, the City of St. Augustine's Archaeology Division unearthed the remains of a mission church.  As was common at the time, members of the mission--largely Yamassee people from South Carolina, had been buried in the church floor when they died.  

City Archaeologist Carl Halbirt followed the guidelines of federal law governing unmarked burials (NAGPRA) and the direction of the State Archaeologist.  He and his cadre of volunteers from the St. Augustine Archaeological Association (SAAA) carefully excavated to determine the extent of the burials.  Though this was done in order to make sure that no burials would be threatened by construction as a result of being "missed," some people did not believe any excavation should have taken place at all.  They considered it to be disrespectful.

Halbirt and the SAAA, from which he draws his crew of volunteers, on "Dress Like Carl" night.

Why would I be thankful for such a controversial discovery?  To me, it highlights the importance of archaeology.  I can understand concern for respecting the dead and embrace it--and in this case, I think excavation was perfectly in concert with that reverence.  Had no archaeology taken place, our first knowledge of those burials would have been at the blade of a backhoe.  Some burials would certainly have been damaged, if not destroyed altogether.  Excavation yielded both protection of the site and an increased understanding about the Yamassee people living in the mission.

The mission burials at La Punta are at rest today, protected as green space.

Furthermore, City Archaeology worked with the property owner and SAAA to protect the burials.  They developed an easement that protects the site as green space, while allowing some financial relief for the owner's loss of profitable, build-able land.  In fact, if you go down to the end of Tremerton Street today, you can see not only a green space, but a plaque that interprets the site.  Though the burials once faced the threat of disturbance, they are now known, recorded, and protected because of the City's efforts.  

This historical marker stands in front of the La Punta mission church site on Tremerton Street. Photo courtesy of the St. Augustine Archaeological Association.

For more on the mission Nuestra Señora del Rosario de La Punta and what St. Augustine Archaeology learned, visit the City of St. Augustine Archaeology Division's website.

Photo credits: Florida Public Archaeology Network (unless otherwise noted)

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