Sept. 13, 2010
Jeremy Craig, 404-413-1357
GSU anthropology students at the "Glass Site."
In 1540, Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto went through what would become the southeastern United States in search of gold. He never found it, but on the way, he made one of the first European contacts with Native Americans living in the future state of Georgia.
Archaeologists and historians have disagreed with each other over the exact route de Soto took, and are on the search for the expedition’s exact path, looking for signs that the Spanish had come into contact with American Indians.
Georgia State anthropology students, in partnership with the Fernbank Museum of Natural History and the National Geographic Society, spent this past summer in middle and south Georgia helping to uncover this evidence, shedding new light about this period in the European exploration of the Americas.
“This very early period of exploration in Georgia isn’t well attested in parts of the state,” said Jeffrey Glover, assistant professor of anthropology. “There’s not much known about de Soto’s interior state route.”
During the Maymester, the students went to the field at the “Glass Site” outside of Jacksonville, Ga., where archaeologists, including those with Fernbank, dug into a section of earth where four posts of a council house were found about 3 feet deep. Students also worked at another site near Albany in the southwestern part of the state.
Evidence that the Spanish came into contact with American Indians includes European items that the Spanish traded with the Indians. Usually, the items are associated with burial but at this site, this was not the case.
“It’s really rare not to find them in a burial context, and that raises a lot of interesting questions that we don’t have answers to,” Glover said.
The students indeed made rare finds – including metal artifacts, as well as glass beads made in Italy. One in particular is very colorful, with a blue, white and red zigzag pattern.
“The beads are only about a centimeter large," said Dennis Blanton of the Fernbank Museum of Natural History." The bead is a unique variety that we’ve not seen in this part of the world before. Students are excavating some of the rarest artifacts in the world.
“It’s a credit to what the students have done, and we wouldn’t have had the perspective on the site that we do now without them,” he added. “They were put into the thick of it and did great.”
Fernbank started the research project in 2006, and started working in 2009 with GSU when the institution invited the university to participate. Support for the project comes from an award to Fernbank from the National Geographic Society’s Research and Exploration Committee. Glover has been named as a research team member under the society’s grant.
Students said they had a great time in the field, getting their hands dirty, uncovering the artifacts and plotting the artifacts’ locations and using spatial analysis to correlate with geographic information systems – all in the hot Georgia sun.
“The most interesting thing to me was to see how little things had been moved in the last several hundred years,” said Kevin Bailey, a senior anthropology major. “When you think of south Georgia, you often think of the large farms and you assume that things will be greatly disturbed, and this was not the case in every circumstance.
“I think some of the things we found will add to the understanding we have of Native Americans in the era we were researching,” he added. “If nothing else, it left some questions to think about.”
Glover said he hopes that the project will continue into next year.