Mission Site Discovered in St. Augustine, FL

Interesting new archaeological discovery in the historic St. Augustine. Read more about it below:

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“The lot on Duero Street looks pretty much like any other slightly overgrown site to passers-by, but for archaeologists it’s a treasure trove.

There is no gold or silver here, but lots of fragments of Native American pottery and some European pottery, signs this is the remains of a farmstead that was once part of an 18th-century mission site known as Pocotalaca.

“The thing that makes this site exciting as far as archaeologists are concerned is it’s a very rare find,” said Carl Halbirt, archaeologist for the city of St. Augustine. This is only the fourth such farmstead found; the other three were discovered across Lake Marie Sanchez at a mission site known as La Puenta.

Pocotalaca and La Puenta are two of six Spanish missions that once surrounded St. Augustine. From 1717 to 1752, the Pocotalaca site was home for a small group of the Yamassee, a Native American group that came to Florida from South Carolina.

Their houses would have been huts of pole and palm frond construction. A small church was at the mission as well as a building that could serve as a casa fuerte or fortress. Franciscan friars served the missions.

Only about 20 of the simple huts were in Pocotalaca.

“Finding one in this 30 acres is like finding a needle in a haystack,” Halbirt said. “But when you’ve hit it, you know you’ve hit it.”

A 1737 map of the St. Augustine area, drawn by Spanish engineer Antonio de Arredondo, also shows missions and structures, tiny little squares in the midst of waterways, fields and shorelines. The map features Arredondo’s fortification plan for St. Augustine, one that would have made the Castillo de San Marcos a cornerstone of a walled system surrounding the oldest part of St. Augustine. The map includes what was then the edge of town and where the missions were once located.

On an overcast and drizzly Wednesday morning, Halbirt and volunteers with the northeast region of the Florida Public Archaeology Network were at work on the Duero Street lot, where a house is scheduled to be built. It falls in one of the city’s designated archaeological zones and that triggered a required survey.

When Halbert did a posthole survey, he decided to dig one narrow trench, and came across a stain indicating the one-time location of a hut post hole. He found next to it a black smudge, an area where corncobs were once burned in order to keep away the mosquitoes. Halbirt calls it the “early version of Off.”

The imprint of the corncobs, down to individual kernels, is still visible. To volunteer Emily Jane Murray went the honors of digging out the section along with orders from Halbirt to “keep it intact.”

Some volunteers worked on other shallow trenches. Still others sifted through the dirt being dug up.

They only had to go about six or eight inches down before hitting artifacts including deer bones, Native American pottery, pipe stems, European pottery, deer teeth and clam shells. It’s an indication of the way the people lived and ate.

Read the full article here.

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