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Archaeology is essentially the study of trash left by humans. Although many folktales mention caches of hidden treasure in St. Augustine, decades of archaeology has never uncovered any evidence of buried treasure.
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If a project occurs within an archaeological zone and ground-penetrating activities exceed more than 100 square feet in area and go more than 3 inches deep, an archaeological review is required. You will be informed when you apply for a building permit with the City’s Planning and Building Department whether these two criteria have been met. If a property recently has been annexed into the city, then the Planning and Building Director and City Archaeologist will make a determination whether the property requires further investigation.
The Archaeology Program strives to work with the homeowner/contractor’s schedule. Depending on current staffing levels and active projects, a minimum of two to four weeks is necessary to investigate a single-family residence. An additional eight weeks have been allotted in the Archaeology Ordinance for commercial developments, which generally are more destructive to archaeological deposits because of their size.
Ideally, this can occur while the construction plans are going through the City's permitting process. We always recommended that property owners submit their A-14 permit application and a site plan with the location of new construction as early as possible, especially for projects within Zone I. This is usually several months prior to ground-breaking activities, thereby minimizing delay.
For projects located in Zone I, the fee is 1.5% of the estimated construction cost. In Zone II, the rate is 1.25% and in Zone III, it is 1%. The minimum archaeology fee is $50 and the maximum is $25,000.
Archaeology is meticulous work–often requiring the soil to be shaved away by shovels and trowels a few inches at a time to understand differences in soil composition and to define archaeological features. Currently, the program has two staff members and depends on volunteers to help with the work, but weather conditions, volunteer availability, the number and complexity of archaeological features unearthed, and information to be recorded are all difficult variables to control.
We use historical and previous archaeological data to guide where to test. Usually, the archaeological investigation focuses on areas that will be adversely impacted by the project such as:
No project ever uncovers the same material. Each site in St. Augustine is unique, which is why it is so important to document and preserve our archaeological heritage prior to construction. However, Native American sites predating 1565 generally consist of scattered shell debris, with some artifacts and animal bone. In some cases, soil stains representing the remains of houses and trash deposits have been documented.
Sites associated with the historical occupation of St. Augustine, often contain remnants of:
Artifacts usually included:
According to the City's Archaeological Preservation Ordinance, artifacts are property of the landowner. The City reserves the right to hold the artifacts until they have been analyzed. We highly encourage landowners to donate the artifacts to the City’s collection for permanent curation. This way future generations of researchers and residents can continue to learn from and appreciate St. Augustine's unique past.
Archaeological features are distinct soil stains or deposits, within a defined space, that represent human activity in the past. Features are distinguishable from the surrounding soil based on color and texture, as well as artifact type and quantity. Features can be pits used for the disposal of garbage and human waste or related to the construction of buildings made up of posts, footers, and trenches dug into the ground.
Artifacts are those objects produced, used, and/or modified by humans. Artifacts can include:
Almost all artifacts have little monetary value. However, when artifacts are recovered through the archaeological process, they provide valuable information about the daily lives of people in the past.
The City of St. Augustine does not issue permits or allow metal detecting or excavation for artifacts on City-owned property. Except in cases of recent loss, artifacts and items on the surface or buried on City property are in public ownership.