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UNF archeology team digs up big piece of puzzle pointing to lost city of Sarabay

The council house might be what's needed to confirm the site is the Indigenous lost city on Big Talbot Island.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — For years, a UNF archaeologist thought he was digging on the Timucuan Native American lost city of Sarabay.  

He just needed a little more proof to confirm his suspicions.

This summer, he thinks he has the proof, and it’s big deal! Deep in the woods of Big Talbot Island, archaeologist Keith Ashley of University of North Florida has been digging for years with students.

"We knew we had a Timucuan community," he told First Coast News this week. The Timucua were the Native Americans in this northeast and north central part of Florida.

Ashley believed the site was the lost city of Sarabay, dating to from 1580 - 1620. 

This week, he said, "Now that we’re getting the council house and other things I think it’s no doubt, Sarabay."

The council house he mentioned was a round building Timucua constructed of thatch and wooden poles in the ground.  

"That's the hub. Then center of the community," Ashley said. "Everything would be centered around that. Political decisions are made there. Recreation took place there. Religious rituals and ceremonies."

There’s no structure or building coming out of the ground at the site. So why does the team think they have possibly found a council house? 

The different colors in the soil tell them so.

When the wooden posts that support the building eventually decompose in the soil, they stain the soil, creating specific discolored shapes.

"Last year we started to find this curved alignment of them. Six or seven of them," Ashley said. 

So this year, he and his team came back to the site, and guess what they found. 

Ashley points around the dig site, "There’s one there. There’s one there. There’s one there. There's one there. So we found four more."

They create a semicircle, all similarly spaced apart.  The rest of the postholes that would complete the circle, and possibly the outline of a council house, could still be hidden underground, in areas the archaeology team has not worked on yet. 

"It’s really quite incredible they’re still here in the ground after decomposing 500 years," UNF student Thalia Lynn said with a trowel in her hand. 

Ashley projects the building could have been 60 feet in diameter. Sizable, for sure.

That’s a big deal, in more ways than one.

Ashley explained, "There none in the peninsula of Florida. There’s no Timucuan council houses that have been found. There’s only one found in Florida and it’s Apalachee.  You can see a reconstructed version of it in Tallahassee."

This entire dig is big, bigger than the size of a football field.

"We’ve broken it up into different blocks but that’s what it is," Ashley noted. 

And it’s chock full of artifacts.

"We have close to 10,000 pieces of indigenous pottery," he said. 

And while artifacts abound, finding the remains of a possible council house, the central building for a Timucuan community means Ashley may have the last piece of proof he needs to say the lost city of Sarabay was on that site in the woods on Big Talbot Island.

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