Archaeological Investigation Procedures
Documentation of Findings is the Key
Any investigation undertaken by the City's Archaeology Division follows certain protocols, which are established in a manual entitled "Grasping the Past: Understanding Archaeology in the City of St. Augustine, Florida" (1992). All projects begin after an A-14 Archaeological Permit and a site map showing where construction will occur have been submitted by the property owner and/or contractor to the City's Planning and Building Department. This is followed by a site inspection and a review of existing historical and archaeological documents to determine what archaeological remains may be present on the property. Afterwards, an appropriate data recovery response is designed.
The Archaeological Preservation Ordinance establishes the type of field procedures that can be undertaken. Currently, five basic field techniques can be used to investigate a property: shovel and/or auger surveys, test pits, trenches, block excavations, and monitoring. Excavation units are laid out according to an established grid to differentiate where archaeological remains are located on a property. None of these techniques is used at the exclusion of others and often two or more are used in conjunction to understand the types of archaeological deposits that lie beneath the ground surface.
When possible, the soil is removed according to its natural stratigraphy, which is identified by differences in soil color and texture. If soil zones are difficult to distinguish or display considerable depth, arbitrary levels may be excavated. Differences in soil color and texture can be a product of human digging, which results in the creation of features. Typical features are trash pits, wall foundations, post holes, privies, and wells. Features are often the best source for obtaining information relevant to a specific time period in St. Augustine's history, as they have not been disturbed by later activities on the property.
Soil Excavation and Artifacts
All soil excavated using shovels or trowels is screened or washed through a quarter inch or sixteenth inch wire mesh to separate the artifacts from the soil. Artifacts are then given a Field Specimen (F.S.) number, which designates their location on the property. All cultural material undergoes a preliminary analysis in the field). A more thorough cleaning and analysis of artifacts occurs in the City's archaeology lab. Maintaining an artifact's provenience, by means of systematic horizontal and vertical controls, is a requirement of any archaeological investigation to properly evaluate and interpret the material.
Throughout the investigation, the city archaeologist and/or assistant maintains detailed field notes, plan and profile maps, photographs, and artifact provenience data. This documentation is essential so that archaeologists can review the data and understand how, when, and where specific features and artifacts were found. Comprehensive documentation also allows future researchers to understand the archaeological deposits at a site long after the site has been developed.
Most archaeological investigations undertaken in St. Augustine focus on building activities, thus the City's Archaeology Division strives to complete projects in a timely and efficient manner. The goal of any investigation is to be systematic so that we understand the nature of the archaeological deposits buried on the property, how those deposits will be disturbed by ground-penetrating construction activities, and uncover as much information as possible, within time limits established by the ordinance to preserve the City's archaeological heritage through documentation.