Spain Makes a Stand

After more than 400 years, a fort built by conquistadors in the Carolinas has finally been found

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During a lunch break at the site, Moore brings out the precious artifacts—nails, lead shot and a small piece of majolica from a 16th-century medicine jar. He notes that such materials were not trade items; nails were exceedingly rare in Spanish inventories in the New World, and guns and ammunition too precious to part with.

Moore adds that it will take years to uncover the other buildings, determine the extent of the Indian town, and piece together the intriguing story of the interactions between the Spanish and the Indians. Though it is clear the Spanish made themselves unwelcome in the end, the relationship appears to have been peaceful in the beginning. The very site of the Spanish compound—abutting the Indian mound—signals cordial relations, and the architecture of the fort strongly hints at a collaborative construction effort in the early days.

Archaeologists have so far failed to find evidence of any of the other Spanish forts that, according to expedition accounts, conquistadors built in the interior in the mid-1500s. Their remains may be lost forever, along with the innumerable Native mounds that have been plowed under in the Carolinas. For now, Moore is still giddy at his and his colleague’s luck in stumbling on this evidence of the Spanish Empire’s brief foothold.

About Andrew Lawler

Andrew Lawler is a contributing writer for Science magazine and author of Why Did the Chicken Cross the World?: The Epic Saga of the Bird that Powers Civilization. He has written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, Smithsonian, National Geographic, and other publications. View Andrew Lawler's website.

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