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Archaeology in St. Augustine

Archaeology in St. Augustine

St. Augustine's archaeological heritage is unparalleled in the quantity and diversity of remains buried beneath its buildings, streets, and backyards. These deposits not only reflect the City's European origins since 1565, but also a rich and varied Native American heritage that has been in existence for thousands of years. The intent of the City's archaeology program is not to stop or limit development, as St. Augustine is a vibrant and evolving urban community, but to preserve the information of those buried remains subject to potential destruction through documentation.

What is Archaeology?

1769 Thomas Jefferys Map showing colonial St. AugustineArchaeology is a science that studies the items produced or used by people to understand how those people lived. It provides a window to the past. Diverse aspects of human behavior can be inferred from the archaeological record, including how people worked, played, worshipped, and died.

As a science, archaeology has its own set of rigorous procedures to investigate and interpret a site. Excavation, either manually or by machine, is the most commonly recognized procedure. This approach is constantly being improved with new technological advances that enable archaeologists to locate and study buried deposits. Other disciplines (such as geology, chemistry, and botany) also are crucial for understanding the past. The various approaches used in an investigation address issues related to past human behavior. This includes how that behavior changed over time as a consequence of the cultural and natural environment.

In St. Augustine, where the majority of projects deal with deposits dating after 1565–the date Don Pedro Menéndez de Avilés founded St. Augustine–the direction taken is known as historical archaeology. This approach differs from much of the archaeology conducted in the country in terms of its scope and use of historical documents, although not in terms of the excavation techniques. As stated by Dr. Kathleen A. Deagan, "With historical archaeology, you are dealing with a global setting. You can't understand anything–either artifacts, technology, or culture change–in the historical period here without reference to things that were happening in other parts of the world. And you have objects coming form all continents. That's profoundly different from what prehistoric archaeologist do, which usually has a very regional focus."

What We Do

Most archaeological projects in the City of St. Augustine stem from local construction and development projects that impact buried cultural resources. In 1987 the City drafted an Archaeology Preservation Ordinance to protect its buried heritage. The ordinance is unique in that the effects of ground-penetrating construction activities are evaluated on both public and private properties. St. Augustine also is one of a few municipalities in the country that has an Archaeology Program, which averages 30 investigations each year. Due to the nature of the different types of projects, the program has dug in an assortment of work environments under interesting conditions.

Who We Are

The city archaeologist Carl D. Halbirt recently retired after 27 years.  Carl had been in this position since April 1990 when it was created as the Archeological Division. The City of St. Augustine is very excited to have Andrea White step into this position.  The City's Archaeology Program continues to be assisted by a dedicated corps of volunteers from the St. Augustine Archaeological Association, and from throughout St. Johns, Duval, Flagler, and Volusia counties.