Archaeologists continue uncovering remains at Water Street construction site

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The future is uncertain for remains, some of which could be centuries old, being uncovered where Jeff Vinik's new buildings are going up.

After wondering if the remains are of African Americans from the neighborhood's Garrison period, from the late 1800s to the mid-1900s, the city council voted unanimously to get an accounting of what Vinik-hired archeologists have found.

"If someone has gone on to glory, and we are putting buildings on top of them, who knows what's underneath there, so we have to make sure what's right," said councilor Orlando Gudes.

Council's motion also calls for identifying as many of the remains as possible and giving them proper burials. 

While some on the council speculated the remains may be African American, Native, or Spanish, historians said when the estuary cemetery was first found in November, they believe the bodies are those from the city's Fort Brooke era.

"We're talking about people, people who passed away here in Tampa sometime in the 1830s and 1840s," said Tampa Bay History Center curator Rodney Kite-Powell. "And they had families."

Activist Connie Burton is also speaking for those who no longer can.

"Their blood, sweat, and tears should account for something," Burton said.

She is calling for a memorial to be put on the Water Street site dedicated to whoever is found.

"These people worked here, they helped bring Tampa to the place it is now," she said. "And we are all so thankful for their participation in helping Tampa become great."

Archeologists say they have found Garrison-era artifacts, but none have been human remains. Vinik's group says it will produce a full accounting of everything and everyone they've found. 

They released a statement saying they will "ensure that the site is excavated in the most careful and comprehensive manner to preserve any findings."

City staff will have to give an update on all of their findings at the council's July 18 meeting.