Unearthing the fountain of truth

Many of the artifacts – and historical facts – in the Florida Museum of Natural History’s “First Colony” exhibit were unearthed by museum archaeologist Kathleen Deagan, who has been excavating in St. Augustine for more than 40 years.

Erica Brough
Published: Tuesday, April 1, 2014 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, March 28, 2014 at 2:03 p.m.

At first glance, St. Augustine’s Fountain of Youth Park looks like just another one of Florida’s numerous roadside attractions. A massive archway along the highway leads visitors through a residential neighborhood to the park’s main entrance.

Once inside, you can feed the peacocks strutting around on the grounds, visit the Spring House, where Spectoramas depict the arrival of Spanish explorer Ponce de Leon in Florida, witness daily 16th century cannon firings, observe re-enactors dressed in period costume as they demonstrate aspects of daily life in colonial Florida, learn about stellar navigation in the park’s Navigator’s Planetarium, or check out the park’s reconstructed Timucuan huts and a wood reconstruction of the nation’s first Franciscan mission church. In the gift shop, you can even buy souvenir bottles of water from the fabled Fountain of Youth.

But stroll along the walkway overlooking Matanzas Bay and you’ll discover an entirely different side of the park. This place really is steeped in history, although it’s not the history the park has built its reputation on. Rather, interpretive panels explain how artifacts unearthed at the park by Florida Museum of Natural History archaeologists over the past 65 years revealed the site of the original Spanish settlement established in 1565 — America’s first successful colony.

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