ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. - An archaeological dig in St. Augustine that deals with the burials of the first colonists of St. Augustine has taken an emotional turn.
A baby's remains have been discovered. The dig is taking place in the building where A1A Aleworks is located in downtown St. Augustine on the corner of King Street and Charlotte Street.
The man who owns the building had to rip up the floors in February because they were damaged by the hurricane in October, so he offered the city archaeologist the chance to dig under the floor. That's when they started finding many burials dating to the 1500s.
Inside and outside of that building, called the Fiesta Mall, a small army of archaeological volunteers are working on a dig they will never forget.
Pat Balanzategui is a volunteer. "It has been one of the most exciting times of my life," she calmly said.
Inside the building, 12 burials have been found and more burials are being found outside on the other side of the wall. City archaeologist Carl Halbirt said the bones date back to 1572 - 1702, making them some of the first colonists in St. Augustine, buried in the oldest documented church in the country.
And out of all these burials, one tiny bone has made many on this crew cry.
"Yeah, you do get choked up - you go home and think about it," voluneteer Janet Jordan said.
That single bone that affected some archeological volunteers is a tiny finger or toe bone. Halbirt said it's from a newborn baby. It's less than a centimeter in length.
And found next to that baby's bone was a greenish material. Halbirt said it's possibly copper meshing or possibly cloth that was next to copper. No other material has been found by any of the other bones. And this toe or finger bone may have been "preserved simply because the copper helped preserve it. We found no other evidence for that young child's or infant's remains," Halbirt noted.
Balanzategui and Jordan inventory everything on this dig, so they see and touch every item unearthed here, even this little bone.
"It's heartbreaking. It is," Jordan nodded.
Balanzategui said, "It was so tiny. Tears started coming to my eyes. I thought, 'this poor little thing didn't have much life.'"
"I was a respiratory therapist and I dealt with sick babies," Jordan explained. "And to see something like this, it's heartbreaking. To see this, you wonder about these kids. When we were sick or worked in the hospitals, our mothers would hold us and comfort us. You see this and hope that those kids had the same last few hours with their parents.
The volunteers continue to work on this dig, hoping to learn more about early colonial Florida. And for these two women, these are not just bones or artifacts, but they're ancient neighbors -- and even a baby -- who they now feel connected to.
"I think it makes us all step back and realize how fragile we all are," Jordan added.