Dig This . . . Armstrong professors, students get rare look at St. Catherines Island

By Briana Ross
Class of 2014

(Nov. 23, 2013) On Friday, Oct. 11, Armstrong's Digging Savannah professors, archaeology students, and Anthropology Club members had the privilege to tour St. Catherines Island with renowned archaeologist David Hurst Thomas. Since individuals are only able to get onto St. Catherines Island by invitation, it was a rare opportunity for Armstrong's students and faculty.

Thomas is the curator for the Department of Anthropology at the American Museum of Natural History, and a professor at Columbia University and the City University of New York. He has been working on St. Catherines for nearly 40 years investigating Native American prehistory and the Spanish Colonial mission founded in the late 1500s, which dates prior to St. Augustine's Spanish missions in Florida.

Thomas' tour covered the history of St. Catherines' mission and island as well as the mission's excavation site. The tour also included a visit to a 3,000 year-old burial mound and other historical sites on the island.

“St. Catherines Island, is a huge part of the history of Savannah and the Georgia coast,” said Armstrong instructor of anthropology and Digging Savannah co-director Barbara Bruno. “Guale Indians lived around the mission, and the archaeology of St. Catherines tells a story that they had an equal relationship with the mission's Franciscan Friars. It wasn't subservient like other Native American stories.”

Eroding into the intracoastal waterway, St. Catherines Island's archaeology sites may not be there for long. Archaeologists are trying to excavate the Island before the coastline disappears. Respected geologists have taken into consideration the serious erosion happening to the shoreline and its affect upon the archaeological sites. Eroding several feet through the year, the shoreline is expected will reach the mission site in about 100 years.

Students and faculty enjoyed the opportunity to come in close contact with free-ranging lemurs. Originally from Madagascar, Africa, the lemurs were brought to St. Catherines Island for various types of research, including population research.

“Observing the Lemur Research project you're not allowed to touch the lemurs, but they are allowed to touch you,” said Bruno.
Visiting the archaeology sites and feeding the lemurs weren't the only activities for students to learn from and enjoy. Students enjoyed the chance to pick through large screened frames used to sift dirt and leave remaining evidence to be sorted. The group was tested on the difference between clay, bone, and other artifacts.

Digging Savannah is a grant-funded program awarded through Armstrong's Strategic Planning and Resources Council program, which engages students to solve problems arising from the loss of archeological sites in Savannah. The program also seeks to involve the Savannah community and to raise awareness of archeological treasures nestled along the Georgia coast.