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Roughly $3.5 million dollars in artifacts from St. Augustine donated to the University of Florida

Published: May 28, 2014

The First Colony — the Spanish who first landed in St. Augustine in 1565 — built a fort and town in the midst of a Timucuan village at what is now the Fountain of Youth Archeological Park.

The University of Florida’s Museum of Natural History became the new owner Tuesday of 97,000 artifacts from those settlements that had been excavated over the past 40 years.

John Fraser, manager of the park, joined his sisters Elizabeth Binninger and Elaine Fraser and his brother, Bryan Fraser, to formally sign a certificate of ownership of those artifacts from the Fountain of Youth Park Properties to the museum, so the artifacts can be made available to scholars, scientists and historians.

“Today is one of the greatest days in the life of this park,” Fraser said. “My grandfather and father realized very quickly that there was more (history) to be discovered and more to be preserved.”

He praised the dedication, integrity and expertise of Kathleen Deagan, UF’s Distinguished Research Curator of Archaeology Emerita and Lockwood Professor of Archaeology, who has led many digs at the park since the 1970s.

“About 40,000 of (the artifacts) are buttons, beads and shells, but there are also very significant pieces,” Fraser said.

Some interesting finds include bone knives and needles, Spanish and Indian pottery, and 16th century pistol and cannon balls,

Deagan said the 40-acre park is one of the last undeveloped shorelines in Florida and one of the best protected natural spaces.

“(Our studies) can help researchers learn more about the 16th century,” she said. “This site has very important archeological potential for expanding and refining our understanding of the ways our first European colonists adapted to the people and environment of America.”

One of the larger pieces she recovered is a white clay olive jar, found broken at the bottom of a barrel well and pieced back together perfectly.

During that time, people would lower similar jars by a rope to fill them with water.

“Someone apparently dropped this one into the well,” Deagan said.

Bryan Fraser said when a two-barrel well was found in 1984, “it completely re-energized the park to continue finding more artifacts on the property.”

He said when his grandfather bought the property in 1927, it was completely covered by a shell midden with a foot of dirt on top of it.

“To excavate, we had to bulldoze that top foot off,” he said, adding that the barrel well was reburied where it had been found.

An odd find was the top of a brass candlestick. She’s seen only one other, in a Dutch museum.

One of her favorite discoveries is a figa, a carved bone amulet used to protect babies from the Evil Eye.

“It’s so rare. It’s one of the few things that tell us something about their beliefs and children. (Figas) go back to Roman times,” she said.

The jar, candlestick and figa are all part of the First Colony exhibit at Government House.

Fraser, pushed to estimate what all the artifacts would bring on the open market, said “about $3.5 million.”

But only about a third of the park has been excavated, he said.

“We look forward to Dr. Deagan staying on,” he said. “Together, we have worked hard to get to this point.

“We look forward to new discoveries. The good part of the artifacts leaving town is that it will point an arrow back to St. Augustine.”

(Article via www.staugustine.com)


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