Friday, September 17, 2010

In the news: Tracing de Soto's Path

A news story on the continuing archaeological digs at a likely De Soto contact site in Georgia.

Tracing de Soto's Path — Georgia State University
In 1540, Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto went through what would become ... field at the “Glass Site” outside of Jacksonville, Ga., where archaeologists, ...

The Fernbank Museum in Atlanta has put some of the artifacts recovered during previous digs on display:

Exhibition Showcases De Soto Artifacts
Discovered through Fernbank Archaeology Expedition

Five years after Fernbank Museum of Natural History launched an archaeological expedition to investigate the history of early contact between Native American Indians and Europeans in Georgia, a new exhibition will showcase some of the rare artifacts that tell of those encounters and will reveal the significance of the findings.

De Soto’s Footsteps: New Archaeological Evidence from Georgia will open at Fernbank Museum on May 22, 2010 and includes metal and glass artifacts that led Fernbank’s lead archaeologist, Dennis Blanton, to conclude Hernando de Soto’s footsteps could be traced to an unexpected location in Georgia. Until now, many scholars believed De Soto and his small army took a different route through the region as he looked for food, information and riches after departing from today’s Tallahassee, Fla. in 1540.

Fernbank’s archaeological findings have surprised the world and challenged modern history with discoveries that place these early European explorers along the lower Ocmulgee River in Telfair County. While the excavations are still ongoing, they have produced the largest collection of early sixteenth-century Spanish artifacts in the Southeast outside of Florida.

Among the objects on display are Native American artifacts such as pottery, pipes and stone tools, as well as artifacts carried by the Spanish, highlighted by four distinctive types of glass beads, and objects of iron, brass, and silver. None of the objects has ever been on public display. The findings to date have generated intense interest from archaeologists, scholars, historians and the National Geographic Society, which recently announced a grant to help fund further research.

The exhibition is designed to draw visitors into the excitement of discovery by highlighting the archaeological process through video footage shot on-location during the excavations, archaeological journal entries and the story of a sharp-eyed high school student who uncovered the first glass bead on the dig site. That bead was the first big clue that Hernando de Soto may have visited the site more than 450 years earlier.

Illustrations by Fernbank artists give a glimpse of the scene when De Soto’s small army arrived upon the Native American settlement, as well as a view of the interior of the council house structure reserved for special ceremonies and meetings, where the Spanish objects were excavated.

De Soto’s Footsteps compares the previously accepted route of De Soto to a newly proposed path that merges the location of Fernbank’s artifact discoveries with written records of De Soto’s exploration. The reconstruction of the path and the world he explored offer a never-before-seen glimpse of conditions in the Southeast before Europeans arrived in the area.

Contact with Spanish expeditions affected many Native American cultures, but there is more to learn about the causes and the changes they brought about. As Fernbank’s excavations and lab work continue, archaeologists will continue to consider De Soto’s route while studying the effects the Spanish arrival had on Native peoples.

De Soto’s Footsteps: New Archaeological Evidence from Georgiawill open in Fernbank’s Naturalist Center on May 22, 2010 and remain on view through March 1, 2011. The display is included with Museum admission, which is $15 for adults, $14 for students/seniors, $13 for children ages 3 to 12, and free for Museum Members and children ages 2 and younger.

Fernbank Museum is located at 767 Clifton Road, NE in Atlanta. For tickets and information visit or call 404.929.6300.

Interestingly enough the archaeologists in the field have maintained a blog of their efforts, one of the most recent finding is that of a Nueva Cadiz similar to those found at other pre-1550 contact sites.

Fernbank Expedition Journal: Archaeologist's Report

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