Historic City News special reporter Raphael Cosme was first on the scene this morning when City Archeologist Carl Halbirt arrived to protect the ongoing dig on Charlotte Street. Halbirt was fighting the flood with a shovel, preventing water from reaching the unmarked graves.
A main break allowed water to intrude into the dig site, first reported about two weeks ago. Last week, the discovery of human remains was announced, and, today, the news has reached the national media.
“People have approached the graves to show their respect; leaving candles and flowers hanging at the plywood cover,” Cosme wrote in his report filed this evening.
The graves date from 1572 -1702 and are associated with the church of Nuestra Señora de Los Remedios, according to Halbirt. The human remains were exposed yesterday, buried beneath road deposits that date back to 1820.
“So far, we have uncovered four partial human remains, and probably a fifth one in very bad condition,” Halbirt told Cosme at the location this morning. “We haven’t recovered any good material with the graves yet, but we have found a lot of loose teeth with extreme wear; some of them with cavities.”
Kathleen Deagan, PhD, told Cosme that it was common in the Spanish community to reuse graves beneath a church, which explains why, in a section of almost 18 inches, four human remains were found.
What began as a routine archeological dig in anticipation of a new water line, has triggered a red flag that will slow any further utility work until an evaluation of its impact can be completed. Halbirt suggests relocation of the new water line.
Cosme asked Halbirt if these human remains could be from the Menendez settlers or from their government.
“Here we have an example of church burial dating back to 1572. The colonists that came with Pedro Menendez were still here at this time; but, we do not have any idea of what happened between their arrival and burial at this time.”
Cosme reports that the future of the remains is uncertain. Halbirt told Cosme that the Catholic Church would be given the opportunity to rebury them at the proper cemetery.
“Will the church get involved in trying to re-bury the remains?” Cosme asked Father Tom Willis, rector of the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Augustine.
“If the decision is to re-bury; Yes, we will prepare some kind of ceremony, but that decision has to come from the City of St Augustine,” Father Willis said. “I heard that the state of Florida will also get involved if there are more human remains there.”
“The bone itself is not in good condition,” Halbirt observed. “One obvious reason for that is because they’ve been in the road area for 200+ years.”
The bones are crushed and fragmented. It is premature to identify any trauma or signs of any disease, according to Deagan.
“Perhaps bio-archaeologists will come aboard and study them in the future,” said Deagan.
Photo credits: © 2016 Historic City News contributed photograph by Raphael Cosme