They've Paid to Play with Bits of History; It's a Dream Come True and Service to Archaeology at UNF's Field School Dig
Howard, Kate, The Florida Times Union
Byline: Kate Howard
Most days, Ann Middleton would be at work as a salesperson for a logistics company. But not this week. This week, Middleton is living out her childhood dream.
The Jacksonville resident took five days of vacation and signed up for the grueling work she never expected to be a part of so close to home. She's part of a group - some professional and some amateur - who are battling heat and bugs to dig and sift for Native American and Spanish artifacts at a site on Black Hammock Island.
Owned by the National Park Service, the site is currently used by the University of North Florida's anthropology department for field research. For the first time this year, UNF opened up the field school to the general public. It cost $199 a week for up to four weeks of work. There were a half-dozen people in site this week whose dreams of archaeology have persisted for decades.
They're participating in meaningful work, too: Researchers say they've found the first definitive signs of a previously undiscovered Spanish mission from the late 17th century.
"I've wanted to do this since I was 12 years old," Middleton said. "All of your hard work pays off when you see that piece of pottery shining."
Chuck Soper is an emergency room nurse who spent his childhood digging up arrowheads in the backyard. When he heard about the class, he knew he had to do it.
"This has been on my bucket list," he said, smiling as he sifted through dirt and oyster shells.
And new Fernandina Beach resident Betsy Melvin, who teaches GED classes, signed up for several weeks of work because she wanted to learn about the history of her new home in a hands-on way.
"The first day, everything looked the same," Melvin said. "But each day, you get a little better recognizing bones and pottery."
The site on Black Hammock Island was discovered in 2004, said John Whitehurst of the National Parks Service. UNF teams have been scouring for evidence of a Spanish mission's presence ever since. …