THREE SIXTEENTH CENTURY BURIALS FROM ST. AUGUSTINE, FLORIDA
A Preliminary Report
Valerie Jackson Bell
Historic St. Augustine Preservation Board
The site designated as SA 23 is located in the first city
block south of the Plaza in the Historic District of St.
Augustine, Florida (Figure 1). The site is bounded on the north
by King Street, on the east by Calle Menendez, on the south by
Artillery Lane, and on the west by Charlotte Street. The northern
half of the site is currently covered by a multi-storied
structure that was built, in phases, between 1880 and 1950. The
area investigated is located to the south of this structure. The
site had been used as a parking lot from approximately 1930 to
1986. The Sanborn Fire Insurance maps from 1930, 1924, 1917,
1904, 1899, 1893, 1888, 1884 (Figure 2), and maps drawn in 1834,
1788, and 1764 (Figure 3) show a variety of small structures
located on the southern portion of SA 23.
The developers of the property approached the Historic St.
Augustine Preservation Board in November of 1985 to inquire if
the Board would be interested in examining the site prior to
construction. Staff Archaeologist, Stanley Bond, Jr. and
volunteers from the St. Augustine Archaeological Association
began excavations in January 1986 (report in progress). The
proposed excavations were to be carried out only within those
areas to be impacted by construction or utility trenches.
Throughout the five months spent on the site, architectural
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FIGURE 2 Sanborn Fire Insurance maps from
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1930, 1924, 1917,
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IGURE 3 Detail f area frm 1834/5, 1 and 174 aps
FIGURE 3 Detail cof area from 1834/5, 1788, and 1764 maps.
revisions changed the location of these impacted areas. It was
the re-location of one building that precipitated the discovery
of the three skeletons some weeks after archaeological work on
the site had been completed.
Site SA 23 is situated within the boundaries of the original
sixteenth century settlement (Deagan 1983: Figure 1). The site is
known to have bordered an area where burials were recovered in
1924, 1971, and 1979 (St. Augustine Record 7-30-1924, 8-1-1924;
Dailey and Morse; 1971; Cabellero 1979; Zierden 1979; Steinbach
personal communication). The earliest known extant map of the
settlement was produced in 1586 by an Italian living in London,
Baptista Boazio. Boazio's map (Figure 4) was produced to record
the raid by Sir Francis Drake when he burned the village and its
wooden fort. This map appears quite accurate in the recording of
geographic details, such as the location of the community just
south of a small cove. This location is consistent with later
maps and archaeologically recovered data. A church is clearly
marked on the Boazio map as being located at the northern edge of
the settlement. By comparing the relative location of the cove on
later maps, such as the 1764 Puente map (Figure 5), the church
would have most likely been built near the modern intersection of
King Street and Charlotte or Aviles Streets.
While there is no clear indication of a graveyard on the
Boazio map, Catholic tradition and Spanish law would have placed
the cemetery on church property (Harmer 1963: 61; Stone 1858: 86-
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FIGURE 5 C:cimparisio:n cif 153S and 17G4 maps.~
87, from Koch 1960). Larsen's excavations of the sixteenth and
seventeenth century church at Santa Catalina de Guale indicate a
preference for sub-floor Christian burial (Larsen 1987). At the
later seventeenth century church in St. Augustine, Nuestra Senora
de la Soledad, burials were either sub-floor or located just to
the north of the building (Deagan 1983: 220-221). This data would
lead to the expectation that the SA 23 burials were either sub-
floor or to the north of the church indicated on the Boazio map.
No archaeological evidence has been recovered, to date, that
indicates the exact location of this 1586 church. Numerous
burials, however, have been recovered from the general area. The
first know encounter with skeletal material dates from 1924
during the installation of sewer pipes on Charlotte Street. There
is no data on the exact location, type, condition, or orientation
of the six to nine skeletons disturbed during construction. In
1971 Hale Smith of Florida State University recovered skeletal
material from fifteen burials on SA 28-1, a site to the north-
west of SA 23 (Figure 1). Only six of these burials have any
notation of orientation. Five are recorded as having the skull to
the east and one with the skull to the south. No artifacts were
recorded with the burials. It was speculated that the burials
were associated with one or both of the eighteenth century
military hospitals located on the western side of SA 28-1
(Steinbach, personal communication).
The four burials noted from the 1979 excavations on SA 28-1
record that two articulated skeletons were oriented with skulls
to the west, as seen with the three skeletons from SA 23, one was
aisarticulated wlth no orientation noted. A fourth, incomplete
burial is noted as having the proximal ends of the femurs in the
eastern balk (Zierden 1979: 7 and personal communication). The
two articulated burials are given a late sixteenth century date
by Zierden. Given that date, it can be presumed that they were
associated with the Boazio church.
Excavations of the burials from SA 23 did not occur until
June 1986 when an architectural change required a pit for grease
trap to be excavated on the western edge of the site and a
foundation trench be dug approximately three meters north of the
area where archaeological work had been completed. It was un-
necessary at the time to inform the archaeologists of the
changes. However, when the construction crew encountered the
bones they immediately ceased their work and advised the
The bones (phalanges) were determined to be human and all
construction work was halted in the immediate area. The County
Coroner was advised of the discovery, and that the bones predated
his jurisdiction by a few hundred years. The Catholic diocese was
also notified because it was believed that the burials were from
a Catholic cemetery. A priest visited the site and conducted the
Catholic rite for the exhumation of bodies.
The preliminary excavation was conducted within the existing
footer dug by the construction crew. This trench was later
expanded to the south in order to recover two skeletons intruding
on the first burial. The location of all burials was plotted on
the existing SA 23 site plan. Vertical control was established
with the use of a transit tied to the bench mark located on the
Bridge of Lions. Excavations were conducted in accordance with
professional standards. A complete photographic record was made
of the excavation. All data from this field work is housed in the
collections of the Historic St. Augustine Preservation Board. The
bones will be returned to the Catholic Church for re-interment
when all analysis is complete.
The bones of the three burials were in fair to poor
condition. One possible reason for the poor preservation would
be the extreme shallowness of the burials. The bones were en-
countered at approximately 25 centimeters below the modern
surface. This is a similar depth as reported for the burials on
SA 28-1 (Zierden 1979: 7). The condition of bones from SA 28-1
was also relatively poor. (Caballero 1979). It appears from the
condition of SA 23 that as much as 50 centimeters of top soil may
have been removed, probably in the late nineteenth or early
twentieth century. The site was not paved until the 1950's.
Prior to that time the bones were subjected to years of leaching
action. A second factor contributing to their deteriorated
condition could be attributed to pressure exerted by vehicles
using the parking lot.
A solution of white glue and distilled water (about 50/50)
was applied to the exposed, cleaned bones to help stabilize the
bones prior to removal. During excavation the bones were covered
with damp cloths and the area shaded. All three burials were
treated in the same manner.
ANALYSIS OF THE BURIALS
This burial consisted of a complete skeleton. The right
humerus, radius, ulna, and phalanges had been disturbed by
construction workers. The cranium had been disturbed at an
earlier date, probably during the construction of a nearby
nineteenth century well. At that time the top portion of the
skull was neatly cut off just above the supra orbital torus and
was found tucked beneath the facial portion of the skull. The
facial bones were crushed, again most likely during the
nineteenth century intrusion.
The burial was fully extended, with both arms crossed over
the upper torso (Figure 6). It appears that the arms slipped
slightly when the body was lowered into the grave, as the left
hand was located over the abdominal region. Zierden notes similar
placement of the hands in the burial recovered from SA 28-1
(Zierden 1979: 7). The legs were straight and the feet were
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apparently encased in shoes as the bones of both feet had fallen
into an indistinguishable, but undisturbed jumble.
Some field measurement were taken, but due to the condition
of the skull no cranial measurements were made. The femurs were
approximately 47 centimeters in length. The right femur head was
too damaged to measure, the left measured approximately 4.8
centimeters in diameter. From the base of the calcaneus to
approximately the superciliary arch on the skull the skeleton
measured 170 centimeters.
Age of the deceased is estimated to be between 25 and 40
years. All epiphyses were fused and the teeth showed moderate
The configuration of the remains of the supra orbital torus
and the nuchal ridge indicated the individual was male. Other
bones were in too poor a condition to serve as reliable sex
indicators. While not a totally reliable indicator in a small
sample, the incisors do not appear to show the "shovel-shaped"
characteristic, pointing to European descent.
Artifacts found in association with the bones lead to the
conclusion that the body was a male Spaniard. These artifacts
include five ball-type steel buttons (Figure 7) similar to those
described by Stanley South from Ft. San Felipe (South 1985: 522).
The buttons, sometimes referred to as "acero", were located on
the upper torso and under the mandible. Their location would
seem to indicate the buttons were attached to a shirt. Three iron
clasps or buckles (Figure 8) were found in the waist area and
appear to have served as trouser or belt fasteners. X-ray
FIGURE 7 "Acero" buttons found associated with Burial t1.
FIGURE 8 Untreated buckle found associated with Burial #1.
FIGURE 9 X-Rays of buckles and loop.
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FIGURE 10 Copper lacing tip.
FIGURE 11 Untreated object from left hand of Burial #1.
FIGURE 12 X-ray of object from left hand and similar pieces
found associated with Burial #1.
photographs revealed the artifacts more clearly (Figure 9).
They appear to manifest characteristics typical of sixteenth
century design (Deagan: personal communication). A fourth iron
fragment of undetermined function was recovered from the torso
area. Copper lacing tips (Figure 10) were found in the central
and lower torso. Two small, heavily oxidized iron fragments were
found in the left mid-torso region. In the left hand another
highly oxidized fragment was recovered (Figure 11). X-ray
examination revealed all three fragments to be decorative objects
of similar design (Figure 12). The one held in the left hand had
a small chain attached. Identification of these pieces is not
clear. Suggestions have been made that they may be of a religious
nature, perhaps associated with a crucifix. No similar artifacts
have been located in the literature.
It is possible the body may have been embalmed, A small lump
of what appears to be the residue of an unguent was found in the
right chest cavity. When freshly exposed, the substance had a
greasy texture. Analysis is incomplete.
A lensing of oyster shell was found in association with the
bones of this burial. The shells were located between the legs
and around the skull, particularly inside the mouth. This
association probably occurred when the skull was disturbed by the
construction of the nearby nineteenth century well. The shell
lens continued to the south and appears to have some connection
with the double burial designated Burials #2 and #3.
When Burial #1 was interred, an earlier double burial was
disturbed. Disassociated bones were found below Burial #1.
Further investigation revealed the double burial directly to the
south of the first.
Burial 42 and #3
These two individuals were interred together. (Figure 13 and
14). Both skeletons were undisturbed except for the leg bones of
Burial #2, as noted above. The two bodies were placed, apparently
without much ceremony, into a small pit. No outline of this pit
could be clearly discerned except for a lens of oyster shell on
the western edge. The eastern edge could be approximated by
position of the bodies and the angle of the feet from Burial #2.
The fill was the same yellow sterile sand as the surrounding
matrix. The two bodies were in a flexed position, with the legs
drawn up towards the chest and the arms loose at the sides. One
body was dropped into the pit and the second placed directly over
the first. The heads were oriented to the west with the bodies
twisted slightly to the south. No artifacts were found in
association with either burial.
The long bones of this skeleton appear to be in somewhat
better condition than those of Burial #1. The ribs were the least
stable and crumbled when removed. The skull had been weaken on
the left side and was partially collapsed. It has not been
determined if this occurred after interment or was caused by a
blow in life, perhaps the cause of death.
FIGURE 13 Burial #2,
of skull and bones of Burial #3
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Measurements were made for some cranial points. The mandible
has an ascending ramus of approximately 6.5 centimeters. The
horizontal ramus in approximately 10 centimeters. The biconial
breadth is 10 centimeters, the bicondyler breadth 12.3 centi-
meters and the symphysis height 3.1 centimeters. All thirty-two
teeth were present. The teeth show considerable abrasion and the
individual may have suffered from some gum disease as there was
bone recession at the gum line. The incisors appear to be
"shovel-shaped." The palate was crushed and measurements were
not possible. Both the left and right femurs measured
approximately 47 centimeters. The maximum diameter of the right
femur head is 4.5 centimeter, the left was in too poor a
condition to accurately measure.
The sex of this individual was determined to be male from
field observation of the configuration of the skull and from
analysis of fragments in the lab. Age was set at over 25 based on
the condition of the epiphyseal closure and dentition.
The was the first of the two bodies to be interred. The
condition of the bones was relatively good, except for the skull.
The cranium cavity had never filled with sand and, when exposed
to the air, the fragile frontal bones began to deteriorate and
Field measurements of the cranium had not been made prior to
collapse, but measurements were later taken from the palate and
mandible. The height of the ascending ramus is approximately 6.5
centimeters and the horizontal ramus measures approximately 8.0
centimeters. The bigonial breadth is 9.5 centimeters and the
bicondylar breadth is approximately 12.5 centimeters. The
symphysis height is 5.8 centimeters. The individual had all
thirty-two teeth. The teeth were heavily worn but showed no sign
of obvious disease. The second molar on the right side had been
broken late in life and the third molar on the same side was
underdeveloped. The individual appears to have suffered from some
gum disease. Again, the insisors appear to be "shovel-shaped."
For comparative purposes the femurs were also measured. Both
were approximately 31 centimeters in length, exact measurements
were not possible because of the poor condition of the distal
ends. The maximum diameter of the femur heads were 4.2 for the
left and 4.3 for the right.
The sex of this burial was determined to be female. The
skull showed a smooth frontal bone and lacked the pronounced
torus of the male. The chin is more rounded with a point at the
midline, common in females. At the base of the skull the nuchal
bone was not developed. Age was estimated to be over 25, again
based on the condition of the epiphyseals and dentition.
Investigation just to the south of the double burial
revealed a pit outline with the proximal end of a long bone
exposed. It was not determined if the bone was human. The area
was not scheduled to be impacted by construction trenching, but
was to be covered with a concrete slab, and was therefore left in
situ. The owner of the property was advised of the possibility of
a fourth burial in the area.
A north-south and a east-west foundation trench was dug
between the south wall of the existing building and the burials.
No burials were located. A series of shallow daub concentrations
that may have been associated with the sixteenth century church
construction were found (Figure 15). Disturbed soil relating to
eighteenth and nineteenth century construction were also
A large "grease trap" was dug to the west of the burials
without supervision of the archaeologists. No bones and only a
few eighteenth century artifacts were recovered from that area.
To the south and west of the burials a number of daub pits and
post hole molds had been located during the earlier excavations
on the site. Daub pits are commonly found in close approximation
to sixteenth and seventeenth century wattle-and-daub structures
(Deagan: personal communication) and it can be presumed that
these pits also were associated with such a structure. The
material recovered from the earlier excavations on SA 23 is still
being analyzed, but preliminary observation indicates that there
is little artifactual material associated with any of the
features in question. As we have no maps prior to 1764 that
accurately depict the area, it is impossible to speculate if
these features are associated with the sixteenth century church
or other unknown seventeenth century structures. The Puente map
indicated that there were no structures on this section of the
lot by 1764.
It appears that the three burials excavated from SA 23 may
be isolated in time from the fifteen burials recovered on SA 28-1
in 1971. Those burials are believed to be associated with the
eighteenth century military hospitals (Steinbach: personal
communication). The burials from SA 23 may have been associated
with those disturbed in 1924, but there are no records to help
confirm this idea. Zierden concludes that the burials recovered
from SA 28-1 in 1979 were from a sixteenth century context
(Zierden 1979:7). The orientation of those burials corresponds
with the burials recovered from SA 23. Artifacts associated with
the extended burial (Burial #1) from SA 23 definitely place it in
a sixteenth century context. The double burial pre-dates the
extended burial, but there is no reason to believe that it is
It has been suggested that the double burial might be of
unbaptized aboriginals or other non-Catholics buried in un-
sanctified ground. If this is the case the area would have been
sanctified soon after in order to account for Christian-style
Burial #1. It was certainly sanctified by 1586 when the church
was located in the area. It has also been suggested that the
double burial might have been of victims of warfare or epidemic.
The three burials in of themselves do not indicate the
location of the sixteenth century church depicted on the Boazio
map. At the sixteenth century mission site of Santa Catalina the
Christian burials were recovered sub-floor. The burials were
oriented with their feet towards the altar, or east-southeast.
All undisturbed, primary burials were in the traditional Catholic
manner, extended with arms crossed over the chest (New Catholic
Encyclopedia: 895). There were no burials similar to the double
burial of SA 23 (Larsen 1986: manuscript). At the seventeenth
century St. Augustine church of Nuestra Senora de la Soledad,
burials were recovered both sub-floor and to the north of the
church. The church was oriented east-west with the sacristy
probably on the western end. As at Santa Catalina, the heads were
oriented to the east, facing the altar (Koch 1980: 131). The
sixteenth century burials from SA 28-1 and those from SA 23 have
the opposite orientation. Foster notes that, although uncommon,
in northern and northwestern Spain burials were sometimes
interred with the feet to the east, away from the village.
The burials recovered from SA 28-1 in 1979 were on the west
side of Charlotte Street and approximately 30 meters north of the
three recovered from SA 23. If they are sub-floor burials, then
the church structure would have been located somewhere north of
Artillery Lane, perhaps crossing Charlotte Street. Due to
existing structures in this area, there is little hope of
recovering evidence for the exact location of the church. The
only area available for study is the north end of SA 24 at the
corners of Charlotte Street and Artillery Lane.
When all analysis of the bones is completed, they will be
returned to the Catholic diocese of St. Augustine for final
I would like to thank Dr. Danita Thomas, not only for her
help in field identification of bones, but also for the use of
her X-ray equipment to study the metal artifacts recovered with
Burial #1. Frank Diaz DMD assisted with dental identification.
I would also like to thank Sue Smith for her work on the
measurements of the skeletal material. Lastly, I would like to
thank the members of the St. Augustine Archaeological Association
for their support and help in this and other archaeological
projects in St. Augustine.
1968 "First Hospital U.S.A.," Florida Health Notes 60 (2).
Bass, William M.
1971 Human Osteology: A Laboratory and Field Manual of the
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Bellomo, Randy V.
1977 "Comparative Study of the Skeletal Remains of Both
Coffin and Shroud Burials in SA 36-7," unpublished
manuscript on file with HSAPB.
Cabellero, Olga Maria
1979 "SA 28-1: Burial #1, a skeletal analysis," unpublished
manuscript on file with HSAPB.
Dailey, R. C. and David Morse
1972 "A Preliminary report of skeletal remains found at site
B (SA 28-1) in St. Augustine, Florida," unpublished
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to the St. Augustine Restoration Foundation, Inc.,"
unpublished manuscript on file with HSAPB.
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Foster, George M.
1960 Culture and Conquest: America's Spanish Heritage.
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Koch, Joan Kelly
1980 "Nuestra Senora de la Soledad: A study of a church and
hospital site in Colonial St. Augustine," M.A. thesis,
Florida State University.
Larsen, Clark Spencer
1987 "Stress and Adaptation at Santa Catalina de Guale:
Analysis of Human Remains," unpublished manuscript on
file with the St. Augustine Foundation.
1976 The Enterprise of Florida. The University Presses of
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Escribano Vol 14. St. Augustine Historical Society.
19 New Catholic Encyclopedia. San Francisco, California
Thomas, David Hurst
1986 "Saints and Savages at Santa Catalina: An Alternative
Hispanic Design for Colonial America." in The Recovery
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P.B. Potter, Jr., eds.) Smithsonian Institute Press,
St. Augustine Record
1924 July 31, 1924 and August 1, 1924