On a Mission…

I’m back from a brief working vacation–helping my friend James Davidson and the University of Florida’s archaeological field school on Fort George Island near Jacksonville, Florida.

For the past two years James (and his very competent minions) have been excavating at Kinglsey Plantation–the birthplace of African Diaspora archeology. Last year I blogged about Kinglesy’s place in archeological history and the big shoes that James had to fill…I also hinted at the fact that James had made some interesting discoveries…but not wanting to steal his thunder, I did not say what those discoveries were. As several papers have been given on last year’s excavations, I can now finish my report.
As I mentioned in my post last summer, one of the things that Charles Fairbanks was looking for in the 1960s Kingsley excavations was evidence of “Africanisms” or cultural traits retained from the myriad of African cultures from which the slaves came. Fairbanks did not find evidence of Africanisms, and now we consider the entire concept an over simplified one that reifies Africa and underestimates the complicated ways that culture changes and adapts to new surroundings and interactions…nevertheless, in a way, Davidson has seceded where the great Dr. Fairbanks had failed. On the last week of last year’s field school Davidson and the UF students uncovered what appears to be an intentional chicken burial inside the threshold of one of the tabby slave cabins. I’ll let Davidson draw the parallels between various West African rituals (including house blessing rituals) that involve sacrifice (and sometimes burial) of animals (often chickens)…but I’m here to talk a bit about one of the “other” projects going on at the UF field school.
This year I spent two weeks helping out not at the Kinglsey Plantation, but at a Spanish mission site which is also situated on the island–San Juan del Puerto. I was serving as “aide-de-camp” to Rebecca Gorman, one of James’ graduate students who has also been trained by Kathleen Deagan and Jerald Milanich…She was great to work with and it was a great group of students that cycled through the San Juan dig as well (Rebecca and students are shown screening at San Juan above).
San Juan del Puerto was a Roman Catholic mission founded around 1587 on Fort George Island, near the mouth of the St. Johns River (thus, Rebecca informed me, the name). The mission was one of the oldest and longest-standing missions in Spanish Florida (1587-1703). It was established by Jesuits & Franciscans to proselytize to the Timucua Indians who lived along the coast, but was quickly also a haven for the Guale Indian refugees fleeing attacks in their home territory along the Georgia coast.
The mission core area is now overgrown, but we had a good time finding majolica, gun flints, beads and the two dramatically different pottery types used by the Timucua and Guale…Like last year, I do not want to steal any of the UF thunder, so I’ll let them tell you about this year’s finds at the next round of conferences before I spill my guts….
More of my pictures from the UF field school can be found posted to my Flickr account:

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Categories: archeology, post

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