By Stephenie Livingston |

This San Marcos vessel was recovered during field work in 1998. | credit: Ian King

The sparsely populated barrier island of Big Talbot looks much like it did when Europeans first met the local Mocama-speaking Timucua people nearly 450 years ago. Keith Ashley, a University of North Florida archaeologist, parked his Toyota Tacoma pickup along a dirt road on the south end of the island before trekking deep into the forest on a muggy, hot day in June. The terrain is dense with vegetation that rises slightly above the nearby salt marshes. He walked past palmetto and water oak trees and an old plantation cemetery before arriving at an archaeological site where he is directing a field school.

By eleven in the morning Ashley was drenched in sweat. Standing beneath a forest canopy and surrounded by students, he examined a tooth fragment recovered from this site, which he believes is Sarabay, a lost Mocama village that was mentioned in European historical documents. “And even if we are wrong, it’s definitely still another village that dates to the 1500s and early 1600s,” he said.

A knobbed whelk shell uncovered during this year’s field school. Though this shell is unmodified, whelk shells were often converted into tools. | Credit: Keith Ashley

This field school is part of the UNF’s ongoing Mocama Archaeological Project, which focuses on the Mocama-speaking people who lived along the Atlantic coast of North Florida. The project combines archaeological and archival research in its search for sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Mocama villages in order to reconstruct northeast Florida’s indigenous history before and after European contact.

University of North Florida students excavating in 2021. During the last week of their field school they uncovered several post holes that could be the remains of a council house. | Credit: Keith Ashley
Student Jodi Gilmore cleans the dirt off a Native American sherd with a paint brush. | Credit: Paula Shae Photography
This is an article excerpt from the Fall 2021 edition of American Archaeology Magazine. Become a member of The Archaeological Conservancy for your complimentary subscription.  

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