ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. -- The University of Florida is hoping the millions of tourists who visit the Sunshine State each year will see more than the theme parks.
The school wants them to see St. Augustine as well.
Archaeologist Kathy Deagan has worked digs all over the Fountain of Youth park since the 1970s, but the current dig is blowing her mind.
"We almost can't believe it ourselves," Deagan beamed. "After 37 years of working here, and to find this now!"
This is the first time in 60 years anyone has dug this part of the park.
She and her team are finding discoloration in the soil in certain patterns, which indicates a fortification structure was on the site. It could possibly even have been a fort that no one knew about here, dating back to 1565 when Pedro Menendez settled and founded St. Augustine.
This discovery changes things, Deagan said.
"It changes it to the point we are really having to rethink the activities of Menendez and also what we've already found," Deagan noted.
Artifacts from digs, like the one funded by the University of Florida at the Fountain of Youth, have wound up in the newly renovated museum exhibit called First Colony in the Government House in St. Augustine. UF paid for the renovations and the new exhibit, hoping to lure in tourists to see the real Florida.
Billy Triay with the University of Florida said, "St. Augustine already has a wonderful tourism base. It's a matter of taking what we have and enhancing that experience."
The University of Florida said it has now amassed the largest collection of colonial Spanish artifacts, and it's showing them off, as well as collecting more with digs like the one Deagan is conducting.
It may drive home the point that America's oldest areas are on the First Coast, not necessarily at Jamestown. Deagan said that makes the connection between archaeology and tourism.
"What we're trying to do is to bring St. Augustine to an even wider audience and to change the history books and to bring more people to St. Augustine to see some of these first places," Deagan added.