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Archaeological dig unearths some of St. Augustine's oldest artifacts

Archaeological dig unearths some of St. Augustine's oldest artifacts
Artifacts from the dig in St. Augustine

ID=17220047ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. -- Discoveries are coming out of the dirt in St. Augustine.

At an archaeological dig, pieces of history are seeing the light of day for the first time in more than 400 years.

Carl Halbirt is the city's Archaeologist in St. Augustine. "These are some of the oldest artifacts we've ever found here in St. Augustine."

In the old city, whenever a landowner needs to do something that disturbs the dirt, Halbirt is called in to dig first in order to see if there's anything historically significant there.

For several weeks, he and a team of volunteers have been digging at the St. Augustine Art Association gallery on Marine Street, – which wants to create a new garden out front.

With excitement in his voice, Halbirt said, "This is a 16th century jackpot!"

Halbirt is finding European pottery and artifacts that he says date back to the 1572 – 1586. In downtown St. Augustine, you don't get much older than that.

Artifacts may be older at the Fountain of Youth site where Pedro Menendez landed in 1565. Within a few years, colonists left that site, moved to a location on Anastasia Island, and then moved to what is we know as downtown St. Augustine in 1572.

Halbirt believes this dig is revealing some of the earliest artifacts found in the downtown area.

"Finding that many 16th century features in a small area is almost unprecedented here in St. Augustine," he said. "Normally you maybe find 1 or 2 during a dig, but now we're up to 8 or 9."

They're finding rare things too such as a burned corn cob that may have been used to keep mosquitoes away when burned with other corn cobs.

A tiny metal star was found. Halbirt described it as a "flagellation star. This is rare."

Many of these tiny metal pieces would be on ropes or leather straps and for religious reasons, colonists "literally would whip themselves on the back."

Another rarity found on site was what looked like an arrowhead, and Halbirt said "That's a natïve American knife. Very rare."

The bevy of artifacts has lured well known archaeologist Kathy Deagan from the University of Florida to the dig site.

"I think this is an amazing area," Deagan noted.

She is known for her digs at the Fountain of Youth location.

Regarding this downtown dig, Deagan said, "This is really important to let us look at how things were when they first got here."

Most if not all of the artifacts at the site were found in buried trash pits which are holes in the dirt that colonists dumped their trash in, like colonial trash cans.

Deagan smiled and said, "That's what archaeologists love – trash!"

A colonial man's trash is a modern man's treasure.

The artifacts shed light on what life what like in the earliest days of St. Augustine.

The piles of oyster and clams shells show the Spanish colonists were eating a lot of seafood from the nearby bay. Also, Native American pottery pieces found next to European pottery show "the interaction between Native American and Europeans in the 16th Century."

What's more, the discovery of a buried post hole – maybe for a fence – suggests St. Augustine's eastern boundary may have been a bit further west than earlier believed, Halbirt said. "We're refining our understanding of the boundaries of 16th century downtown settlement in St. Augustine."

And you can start to do that, when you find so many artifacts from the 16th century.

Halbirt smiled, "The 16th century is like looking for a needle in a haystack."

It appears Halbirt and his team just found that needle – in the dirt – in front of an art gallery.