Walking on History: Uncovering Graves Inches Under our Feet

Since I was a kid, I’ve had a mild obsession with the past–ex. hunting ghosts, digging for gold or other artifacts, collecting “valuable” rocks (I still have my rock and gemstone collection), Rach and I had a pirate phase and even drew a detailed treasure map based on historical records of shipwrecks. I probably should have wanted to be an archaeologist instead of an astronaut, but it’s too late for any of that now.

We used to dig holes in the yard looking to strike it rich. Pretty sure the only interesting “artifacts” we ever found though were coral rock–to be fair, that stuff has some cool fossils even if they aren’t prehistoric– screws and nails, and the odd penny. Nothing of note or value and we certainly never made it to the news with our discoveries. I always wanted to be the lucky bastard who found a wooly mammoth skeleton in their yard or an entire Native American village under six feet of grass but that never happened…until I moved out of Miami as a full fledged adult.

OK I didn’t discover anything, BUT I do work in a field that has allowed me to see and experience the discoveries two and three feet below the ground I walk on everyday. A couple of years ago under the building I work in, archaeologists discovered a house that had been burnt down in Drake’s Raid way back in 1586. Every day that I look at those artifacts I can’t help but wonder who lived there. Were they a family who died in the raid or did they escape before their home was burned to the ground? What did they envision for the future of America–or La Florida I should say? I also wonder what else is under the building I work in because they could only do so much digging.

Graves Just Inches Under our Feet

The real kicker for me though happened in February: literally one block from my job, the archaeologist discovered the remains of people who are believed to be some of the original Spanish settlers in Florida. The historians believe that the findings are the remains of the original Catholic church in the town based on how the bodies are resting and what they’ve uncovered during previous digs. To my knowledge, within the first couple of scoops of dirt they discovered the first body. And they just kept finding more. I was lucky enough to get to visit the dig shortly after it had started. At the time there had only been six bodies found–a young male African adult, two young European adults (one male and one female), and three children. They had all been buried together under the church along with dozens of other people they’ve since uncovered.

…within the first scoops of dirt they discovered the first body. And they just kept finding more.

When I first laid eyes on the bodies I felt weird, I wanted to start piling the dirt back on top of them and just let them be. It felt wrong for them to be exposed like that when they had been buried on sacred ground and probably expected that to be their final resting place. To the credit of the archaeology crew, they were taking every precaution to be respectful and reverent. No photos were allowed, but to be honest, I never had the urge to pull my phone out and snap a pic. So sorry, no photos of the dig from this girl.

Seeing those bodies resting in their grave made the past real to me. I was finally laying eyes on history under my feet and I felt a connection to people long gone and I wanted to know more. I needed to know more because they have a story to tell, and as weird as I felt invading their graves, they were found for a reason and are a doorway to the past. I hope to be able to learn their stories one day–what they were hoping for when they came here, what they found when they arrived, and how their stories progressed and ended.

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