I’m a graduate student at the University of West Florida who has reached her thesis writing stage. Examining an 18th century refugee mission community in St. Augustine (with a dash of creolization) will keep me busy. SHA, the Florida Anthropological Society, and public archaeology also occupy me.

Archaeology Abuzz: Digging St. Augustine’s Tovar House

Architecture. Archaeology. Atypical. Air conditioned. Awesome.

These are by no means the only words I associate with the dig at the Tovar House in downtown St. Augustine. That list of 5 words, however, offers the perfect peek into this project.

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Our outdoor office for the first week and a half. The Tovar House, with its red shutters, rests on the right side of the picture.

The Day of Archaeology fell on the last day of the Tovar House dig, which is partially why my post appeared two days later. Excavation projects are fun and enlightening, but these projects also tax the brain and the body. Like any other profession, this girl needed time to recover.

Architecture guided the initial research questions asked about the Tovar House. Maps created in the 1764 and 1788 suggest that the house existed, but offered no date for its construction. Dr. Herschel Shepard, an architectural historian, recently spent hours upon hours studying, assessing, and recording the house. His examination provided hypotheses about the house, as well as research questions. Enter the archaeologists! By digging on the exterior of the house, and by exposing the foundation, Dr. Kathy Deagan and the archaeology team aimed to determine when the house was built and to see when/if/how the Spanish and/or British modified the house.

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The head honchos, from left to right: Dr. Susan Parker, St. Augustine Historical Society; Dr. Kathy Deagan, Florida Museum of Natural History; Dr. Herschel Shepard, University of Florida

Architecture. Archaeology. Atypical. Rarely do purely architectural questions guide archaeological investigation.

A team of three spent 15 days in the field. We dug two units, screened layers of dirt, took 22 photos, drew 12 maps, mapped 7 profiles, filled three Banker’s Boxes with artifacts and architectural samples, and started to analyze these materials.

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Greg Smith spraying the trash-stuffed shell footer before taking the official photo.

Our second unit led us into the air conditioning. This is also atypical in archaeology. Often, we endure the extreme of weather — heat, cold, rain, wind. The St. Augustine Historical Society, however, manages and maintains the Tovar House. Fortunately for the team of three, this meant that our indoor dig was also an air conditioned dig. This, along with the information we unearthed and interpreted, was awesome.

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Indoor archaeology, a dream come true!

On the last day of the project, Greg and I finished our last profiles. The wall profiles reveal things about the dirt that archaeologists cannot necessarily see while digging in levels. (There’s a horizonal-versus-vertical dynamic there). By flattening the unit walls, we recognized one new feature and could better envision how the Spanish and/or British built, and built onto, the Tovar House.

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To the west you could walk through a doorway, above a shell footer, and two posts that possibly predate the house.

By day’s end, we completed profile maps and other paperwork that described the soil, the way we excavated the soil, which areas of the soil are associated with which artifacts, photographs, and maps. Profiles and paperwork were capped off with a celebratory, congratulatory you-completed-this-project pizza party! An architectural historian and archaeologists — perhaps the atypical team — enjoying pizza in air conditioning. It was awesome.

Preserving Sacred Spaces: Community Clean-Up at Oaklynn Cemetery

Day of Archaeology 2013 fell on a special day for me. As an Outreach Assistant for the Florida Public Archaeology Network Northeast Regional Center (FPAN-NERC), I’ve worked with a volunteer cemetery group throughout the summer and today served as another organized cemetery clean-up. Oaklynn, an African American cemetery, rests in Edgewater, Florida. Like many cemeteries throughout the nation, Oaklynn (and those who have dedicated themselves to this project) face significant obstacles resulting from disuse as well as the neglect that often follows. Documents show that the cemetery was in use between the 1920s through the 1970s as an African American site.

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Evidence of vast andalism is pervasive at Oaklynn Cemetery

Unfortunately, the story of the cemetery and those resting within its boundaries is largely incomplete. Fortunately, the cemetery group dedicates much of their time to research which continually renews their passion and interest in this project. Could there be something to make this project better? YES! Descendants of those buried in Oaklynn work with people not associated with the cemetery in any manner. The volunteer cadre spans across generations, races, affiliations to the cemetery, sexes, et cetera; it represents a true community project and a moving shared experience. (Hence the reason I’m delighted and honored to share a bit of our day with you).

Other than clearing debris, what can an archaeologist do in a cemetery? I’m not a bioarchaeologist, so I’m definitely not excavating burials! My role on site is to help guide the volunteers as they clear the site. I recommend where they work, ways to interact with the site (I think of it as cemetery etiquette), answer questions about removing debris (whether natural or man-made), take notes about our activities and new features discovered in the cemetery, and assist in any manner the group might need me. Similar to other archaeological sites, cemeteries demand meticulous care and thoughtful consideration.

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Trudi and Linda diligently clearing a small part of the 6 acre cemetery

Cemeteries serve as outdoor museums, monuments to the past. Although we can enjoy them in the present, its good to remember that such places represent sacred spaces in which real people of the past rest. Embracing these ideas helps to shape how archaeologists interact with a site. At Oaklynn, I carefully consider the impact an action might have on the cemetery (e.g. What might happen if we cut this tree down? What might happen if we remove this large root from the ground?) and continuously evaluate the context of objects and materials found during the cleaning (e.g. Should we dispose of these bricks or are they related to a surrounding burial? Is this spittoon related to a burial?).

Today I was an archaeologist. Today I was a community project participant. Today I was a proud observer of the past and present blending. Today I had appreciated hard work, camaraderie, and a bit of fun!

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Formula for a good start to cemetery clean-ups: ice cold water and a smooth wheelbarrow ride

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A wonderful group of volunteers, including descendants, community members, and FPANners


Survey, Shell Middens, and Ceramics: Pensacola’s Prehistory

Day of Archaeology 2012 falls in the middle of the University of West Florida’s (UWF) 10 week long field school season. The university offers four archaeological field schools—three terrestrial (Campus Survey, Colonial Frontiers, and Arcadia Mill) and one maritime—and I am fortunate to serve as a supervisor at Campus Survey. Under the direction of Dr. Ramie Gougeon and graduate student supervisors, university students transform classroom knowledge into real world experience. Campus Survey teaches students about archaeological methods and techniques related specifically to cultural resource management (CRM). Students learn how to use a compass, read maps, and develop other field techniques while also sharpening their digging skills. After completing the survey portion of the field school, students also excavate a prehistoric site—named Thompson’s Landing– on UWF’s campus.

Campus Survey begins with students learning about archaeological survey techniques by digging countless shovel tests.

To begin this summer, we surveyed a portion of campus near Thompson’s Landing. Campus growth and general improvements may place a road within the survey area. As the students learned how to dig shovel tests, take notes, complete paperwork, and successfully navigate the woods, they also encountered what most people consider the most interesting part of archaeology—the artifacts!

Within the first three weeks, the students discovered and defined the boundaries of four separate lithic scatters. Two shovel tests revealed interesting features—one of shell and the other a burnt pit—that led to the first units of the summer. Unfortunately, the shells appeared modern and the other feature is likely a burnt tree. Despite these faux features, the survey portion provided great information about larger research questions relating to Pensacola’s prehistory. The lithic scatters suggest information about prehistoric peoples’ behaviors and activities while also providing information about site formation processes.

A completed shovel test– proof that a round shovel can dig a square hole 1 meter deep!

Research questions and excavations at Thompson’s Landing, however, focus more specifically on shells and ceramics. Last year, field school students unearthed a substantial shell midden with complicated, ill-defined chronology. This year we hoped to identify discrete shell deposits to better outline periods of use, to understand subsistence patterns, and to improve our knowledge of ceramic differentiation through time within the region. With the aid of auger test results, the completion of five units, and the use of student manpower, the site began to provide answers.

We exposed the shell midden in its entirety before bisecting it and excavating in levels.

Of these five units (three of which included shell midden), one proved essential to answering some of our questions with ease. The shells present included rangia and polymesoda, two different types of clams. Between the two, rangia usually serves as the dominant species, yet the midden primarily yielded polymesoda shells. The dietary shift caused new questions to arise: Did food preferences change? Did environmental factors affect the shells availability? Perhaps changes in salinity or water temperature affected the shells and enabled polymesoda to dominate?

Volunteer, Lianne Bennett, sits next to the exposed shell midden.

As we contemplated the significance of the shells, ceramic sherds began to appear in the midden. The sherds recovered were shell-tempered, consistently dating the midden to the Mississippian period. Despite modern trash, such as glass and iron fragments, resting a few centimeters above the shell midden, no modern artifacts appeared within the feature. The first half of field school enabled students to learn, provided a feature comprised of an intact artifactual assemblage, and the beginning of a fantastic answer to one of our research questions!

The material culture associated with the shell midden– from one level of one half of the unit from one day.

A shell tempered sherd with the incised and punctated decorations suggesting a Moundville Incised variety Bottlecreek. The small handle likely enabled people to hang the vessels while preparing the food.

Shell-tempered ceramic sherds recovered from the shell midden consistently date the midden to the Mississippian period. The sherds pictured above are identified as Moundville Incised variety Bottlecreek.

The archaeological process often follows a pattern in which the discovery of new information leads to new questions. I hope the next year fuses the information we have (or have unearthed) with the data and knowledge that archaeology helps to uncover. If you’d like to know more about our field school, like the UWF Campus Field School Facebook page.