Digging For Treasure on Big Talbot

Who doesn’t like a treasure hunt? Learn about archaeological dig on Big Talbot Island.

Who Doesn’t Like A Treasure Hunt?

It may not be pirate booty, but valuable treasures are buried beneath the sandy surface of Big Talbot and nearby barrier islands at the Florida-Georgia border. It’s an area rich in Native American history.

Unearthing Antiquities

Artifacts, dug up from darkness, shed light on life long ago. The layers of time beneath our feet can reveal information about the people who inhabited this coastal area thousands of years ago.

On Big Talbot, archaeological excavations are led by Keith Ashley, Ph.D., and funded by “Friends of Talbot Islands State Parks.” University of North Florida (UNF) students learn and work at the site. For many years, Dr. Ashley has been conducting digs on Big Talbot to enlighten students with “hands-on” experience. Knowledge gained and artifacts discovered by the university’s efforts helps assist the Florida Park Service.

An “archaic stem-point,” is one of the recent interesting discoveries, estimated to be 5-7 thousands years old. Learn more about UNF’s dig at the UNF Archaeolgy Lab’s FACEBOOK page. A new trail is in the works at Big Talbot that may open sometime in 2018. A Timucuan exhibit is being developed, with trail to a shell ring and burial mound.

Unusual Beachscape

"Boneyard Beach," Big Talbot Island, Florida
“Boneyard Beach,” Big Talbot Island, Florida

Above the ground, as well, Big Talbot is a wonderful island to explore with unique aspects. The island is likely best known for its “Boneyard Beach,” (pictured) that is accessible via one of its trails called “Blackrock.”

The Big Talbot bluffs above the Nassau Sound have been eroding over time, causing the trees to eventually fall to the beach below. The longer the trees have been there, the more worn and bleached they become, taking on the appearance of a fallen driftwood forest. Note that the optimal time to see this beach is around low tide, when the tree “skeletons” are most visible and there’s more room to roam along the Nassau Sound shoreline. Also unusual at this beach are the layers of “hardpan soil” exposed on the beach at low tide (the reason it was dubbed “Blackrock”). The unusual beachscape here is why it’s become a favorite place of landscape photographers.

Bike To Big Talbot

Big Talbot is in such close proximity of Amelia Island’s southern tip that some like to pedal over on their bikes. Take a bike ride from Amelia Island across the south end bridge crossing the Nassau Sound, then get on the adjacent half-mile boardwalk at the edge of Spoonbill Pond. Exit boardwalk onto a biking/hiking trail on Big Talbot Island. This path is an “off road” option to cycle (or walk) between these two northeast Florida barrier islands. ( Read related article, “Happy Trails: Bike Or Hike Between Amelia Island and Big Talbot,” to learn more and see 20-image photo gallery). There’s lots to explore here at the coast.

Amelia Island Dig

Spanish Old Town Fernandina Archaeological Dig April 2011
Spanish Old Town Fernandina Archaeological Dig April 2011

It was about six years ago that an excavation was conducted at Old Town. Plaza San Carlos (Fernandina Plaza) in Old Town is thought to be the most historic site on Amelia Island, having the longest history of past civilization on this northeast Florida barrier island. Spanish colonists established a mission in this area dating back to 1696. But long before Spanish explorers arrived, as early as 2000-1000 B.C., this spot was the location of an Indian campsite, overlooking the Amelia River (although the land was much larger back then). Archaeologists today estimate that two-thirds of the Old Town area has disappeared through time due to erosion.

Fernandina Bicentennial

The archaeological dig back in 2011 was one of the events during Fernandina’s “Bicentennial Celebration (1811-2011),” with some interesting finds there.

“Oyster shell middens, remnants of Timucua life here, reveal the long story of human presence in Old Town Fernandina. The top layer of soil, about 12 inches deep, (largely oyster shell discards), represents 1,000 years of former life in this northwestern area of Amelia Island… but one unearthed artifact was thought to be approximately 4,000 years old.” (From a previous Amelia Island Living eMagazine article published in 2011.)

Some may not realize that today’s popular downtown Fernandina historic district is not the original site of the city on Amelia Island. First established in 1811 on the high bluff above the river at Old Town, Fernandina was relocated about a mile to the south, its current location “downtown.” Learn more about Spanish Old Town and Fernandina Plaza.


By The Editor

Observations of island life, news & opinion by Wendy Lawson. With background that began at a newspaper, she later spent 14 years in the financial services and real estate industries (managing editor at an equity research publishing firm). She's enjoyed the laid-back Amelia Island lifestyle since 1993.