Field Notes from Government House

Florida Archaeology Month is drawing to a close, so today we are going to illustrate one of our favorite digs. The 1993 archaeological excavation of Government House’s plaza. The excavation aimed to investigate Government House‘s past – and grounds.

A color drawing depicting stratum from an archaeological dig on gridded paper.
Field notes from archaeological work at Government House in 1993. (UFDC)

Historic St. Augustine Preservation Board archaeologist Bruce Piateck led the project to excavate Government House. His team focused on the plaza located to the west the building along Cordova Street. With this dig, they hoped to define more of building’s evolution and the daily life of past governors.

A color photo of kids, a woman, and a man sifting through dirt.
Visitors try sifting for artifacts as part of a hands-on-exhibit in 1993.

As part of the project, the archaeological team invited the public onto the site to learn about archaeology. They created a 3,000 square foot gallery in Government House with a hands-on exhibit. There visitors could try their hands at sifting and digging for history. Archaeologists and volunteers also gave tour groups – which included over 1,000 students – insight into the dig happening live in the plaza. Over the course of the multi-week project, Government House saw 105,000 visitors.

Two hand drawn thank you cards showing kids excavating at archaeological digs.
Students created thank you cards for Dr. Stan Bond after a field trip in 1993.

The excavation of the plaza revealed more than the public’s interest in archaeology. It uncovered signs of a social space near Government House going back to the 17th century. Underneath the plaza, archaeologists found the remnants of a courtyard floor and a well. The lowest layer of the courtyard consisted of crushed oyster shells covered by river rocks brought to Florida from Europe. St. Augustine’s early residents might have gathered in the outdoor space for water and socialization with their neighbors – like we do in today’s plaza.

A person in a well during an archaeological excavation.
The soil became saturated with water as archaeologists dug deeper into the barrel well.

To read more about the 1993 archaeological excavation of Government House, visit the University of Florida Digital Collections by clicking here.

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