UNF anthropology students dig up history on Big Talbot Island

Dr. Keith Ashley, students trying to learn more about 2 Native American villages

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A University of North Florida class took students on a treasure hunt. 

UNF students digging out on Big Talbot Island this week are searching for unique pieces of history. 

Dr. Keith Ashley, an anthropology professor at UNF, and his students are trying to learn more about two Native American villages that were in this area. 

"They're communities. One of them dates back to 1000 A.D. We call it St. Johns 2. It's prior to European contact. It's prior to written record, so we don't know the name of it. But we know they were fishers, hunter-gatherers -- no corn agriculture going on. They were really living off the land. They were living very successfully off the land. That site seems to be abandoned at 50 A.D. and then there was some kind of light occupation here," Ashley said. "And then we see a much larger village spring up, probably 1500 A.D., and it's occupied into European contact. In fact, it's referred to in the Spanish and French documents of the 1560s and earlier 1600s and we know that the name of the community is Sarabay."

As part of the university's archeology lab, there is an annual field school, which gives students the ability to learn how to do archeological fieldwork.

"We're trying now to excavate or dismantle it in an incredibly systematic way so that we can then go back to the lab and start to analyze it," Ashley said. "So for this six weeks, it's all about excavating. The students are learning the proper techniques to excavate, to map, to record, to document everything."

Through the process, students said they are gaining a better perspective on history. 

"It's the true history of native cultures that were here. A lot of times, we have historical aspects from colonizers 400-500 years ago, but this tells you the truth as supposed to what's written by the conquerors. This is the hard ground truth of what happened," said Rodney Collazo, a UNF junior anthropology major.

So far, the class has found artifacts and preserved animal bones from nearly 1,000 years ago. 

"It's a more clear picture of history opposed to what sometimes is written in the history books," Collazo said. 

Ashley said Jacksonville has a rich Native American history and classes such as his help understand why the present is shaped the way it is throughout the River City by digging up the past. 

"I think that are at times things we can learn from the past that may help us with issues in the present," Ashley said.