Deagan: Context not artifacts

Dr. Kathy Deagan, University of Florida Distinguished Research Curator who has put context to St Augustine’s earliest history over four decades of methodical archaeological study, weighed in Tuesday on treasure hunters and television reality shows.

In a guest column in the St. Augustine Record and presentation at Tuesday night’s First America! Series, she sounded the alarm about treasure hunter Bob Spratley.

Spratley claims to have located the Matanzas massacre site of 1565 and a television producer is proposing to dig up artifacts.

“Neither archaeology nor history is about artifacts,” Deagan says. “And history is not brought to light by artifacts. Artifacts have historical importance and meaning only in their stratigraphic context.”

Deagan gave an example. If somebody digs up a beautiful piece of a French porcelain plate, well, it is a beautiful piece of porcelain, but we already know there was French porcelain in St. Augustine. It adds nothing to our history.

However, if careful excavation and analysis can show that the porcelain was deposited in the ground during a period when it was illegal, we have learned something new about illegal, probably pirate, trade and activity in St. Augustine.

City Archaeologist Carl Halbirt, also on Tuesday’s program, noted treasure digging sends the wrong message to the residents of St. Augustine.

“As a resident, you are a steward to the city’s heritage,” Halbirt declared. “Digging for artifacts is not preserving the city’s heritage.”

Photo credits: © 2012 Historic City News staff photographer

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