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Digging Archaeology

Sep 21, 2012
by Tom Iacuzio, '06

Students take advantage of local resources to explore history

The turtle was an added bonus to the already exciting site at 58 Cuna St., the home to what is believed to be a tavern owned by Pablo Sabate in the late 1700s.

But archaeological investigations undertaken by the city show that this area of St. Augustine had been settled since the late 1600s, during the construction of the Castillo de San Marcos.

“This is probably one of the best sites that Dr. Locascio could have picked with respect to historical archaeology,” said Toni Wallace, who heads up the St. Augustine Archaeological Association, one of the groups aiding with the field school.

“It has four different building structures from St. Augustine history here from the 1600s all the way up to the last building on this site which was demolished in the 1960s. So you basically have the whole history of the city right here.”

The Cuna Street field school is just a first step in what looks to be a major leap for the college’s anthropology and archaeology programs.

Flagler College’s 2011 Academic Strategic Plan talks of plans for a public history major, which would focus on a range of studies from historical preservation and cultural tourism to public archaeology and museum studies.

There are very few programs in public history nationwide, and the plan acknowledges that few institutions are better suited for such a program. Flagler is also considering a major in anthropology with a concentration in archaeology.

“That emphasis on anthropology and archaeology is a pretty good idea given where we are,” Locasio said. “There’s so much archaeology going on here, it’s such a good environment, that the students would benefit tremendously.”

Already, Flagler hosts the northeast region headquarters for the Florida Public Archaeology Network (FPAN), as well as the Historic St. Augustine Research Institute, a collaboration between the college, the University of Florida and the St. Augustine Foundation. The institute’s purpose is to encourage, coordinate and disseminate active academic research related to the history, archaeology and historical architecture of St. Augustine.

With so much history in the Nation’s Oldest City, the college sees numerous opportunities to develop a wide array of student internships, more field schools and joint projects with FPAN, which has had an office on the Flagler campus since 2006.

“As an historical archaeologist by training I can tell you it’s very significant to have archaeology offerings at Flagler College,” said Sarah Miller, director of the FPAN center at Flagler. “The emergence of an archaeology program parallel to the tremendous growth in the public history department is also a good indicator of strong support for both students and faculty interested in heritage education.”

Miller noted than in addition to FPAN, Flagler students would have access to one of the oldest city archaeology programs in the nation, volunteer organizations such as the St. Augustine Archaeological Association and even an active maritime archaeology program run out of the St. Augustine Lighthouse, which would allow students to get involved in underwater projects.

“There are so many opportunities for students to be doing internships, research experience through the city, through FPAN. These groups have many collections just sitting there,” Locasio said. “We could easily have an internship or just an independent study that lets the students research these collections. They can do all the analysis and write a paper that can be published.”

Locascio says establishing a program like this would enable students to begin work that many students don’t have access to until graduate school, an opportunity that would put Flagler students ahead of the curve when it comes time to apply to post-baccalaureate programs.

For the seven students who signed up for the summer field school, the ability to work in the field this close to campus was one of the draws of Flagler College.

“It’s why I came here. It’s such a perfect location for a program like this,” said junior history major Haley Grimes. “And on top of that, we’re helping to add on to the pool of knowledge in St. Augustine.”

Grimes also said programs like the Cuna field school are helping the city learn about the Minorcan heritage of the area.

Junior Eddie Lawton agreed. “This is what I want to pursue as a career, and I don’t really learn well unless I’m doing it,” said Lawton, who is also a history major.

“This is more hands on and will really help me in the future.”

And as the group continued to unearth fragments of pottery, glass and other signs of the past, the excitement among the party of students, professionals and volunteers, who Locascio calls “the backbone of local archaeology,” continued to grow.

“You can take students to a site where there’s not a lot of action and they get bored. Here, there was action from the second day,” Wallace said. “They were finding foundations and hearths and turtle carcasses.”

Wallace said groups like hers and FPAN are thrilled with the strides the program has taken at the college.

“We love to work with young people and training them in good ethical archaeology,” she said. “I think the school has a great resource here in St. Augustine. It’s a natural laboratory for historical archaeology because it’s the oldest continuously occupied city in the country. So you can’t turn over a shovel of soil in St. Augustine without encountering some form of archaeological resource.”

And for Locascio, who hopes to have another field school sometime in the future, the experience has been a dream.

“Being able to help further this program with kids who obviously enjoy the work is inspiring,” he said.

As for a future expansion of the program, Locascio finds it hard to contain his excitement.

“The college has recognized that we’re in an area that’s rich in cultural resources and that we should develop this program,” he said. “I see that as a really good idea."

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