Archaeological Encounters in Georgia’s Spanish Period

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SGA’s 2008 Archaeology Month topic was “Archaeological Encounters in Georgia’s Spanish Period” and the Society produced an accompanying lesson plan for teachers. Part of the background text reads:

We may never know exactly how the first meeting went between Spanish explorers and Native American Indians in Georgia. However, archaeologists have found enough evidence to get a pretty good idea.

At first, it seems that Indian people tried to understand the Spanish strangers in traditional ways. Before the Spanish showed up, the Indians had given certain objects special meaning. Some goods were so unique that they were considered to have a really high value. Goods like these were owned and controlled by the leaders of the Indian chiefdoms. They included objects that were rare or hard to make like shell beads and monolithic axes. These items were so special that they were buried with their owners.

When the Spanish showed up, they brought brand new goods made of brand new materials that the Indians had never seen before. These new things were made of materials like iron and glass, and they included objects like beads and tools. At first, the Spanish only traded with the Indians leaders. The new European objects were considered to be just as special as the traditional high status goods. They too were kept in special places and buried with the few elite Indians who owned them.

Early Spanish visitors came with different plans. Some came to search the land for gold and riches. Others came to capture native Indians to be used as slaves. Still other Spanish visitors came to set up permanent colonies in Georgia so that they could stay and control the land.

The first known meeting between Indians and the Spanish happened in 1526. A Spanish explorer named Lucas Vásquez de Ayllón tried to start a new Spanish settlement on the coast of Georgia. He brought 600 people with him. The new town didn’t last for long however. After only six weeks, the colony broke apart because of many hardships and disagreements.

Archaeologists have no firm evidence where Ayllón’s colony actually was but European goods have been found near the coast. They were found through archaeology conducted on Indian burial mounds. These excavations revealed artifacts like beads, coins, and iron tools.

Click here to download the lesson plan on this topic.