Friday, June 3, 2016

Trade goods or residential debris: are all sixteenth-century Spanish artifact assemblages the same?

Sixteenth-century Spanish artifacts are rare finds in the Southeastern United States, but certainly not unknown.  The vast majority of such artifacts are found within Native American villages occupied during the period of Spanish exploration and early settlement, and most were placed in the burials of their final owners.  Archaeological investigations at the Luna settlement, however, show quite definitively that the sixteenth-century artifact assemblage here is different, and not associated with Native American burials.  What makes the Luna settlement assemblage different, and why is this important in identifying the site as the 1559-1561 location of Santa María de Ochuse?

During the 52 years that preceded the 1565 establishment of a permanent Spanish colonial presence in St. Augustine, Florida, no fewer than 15 documented Spanish expeditions reached the southeastern shores of mainland North America, several of which even pushed inland, with two reaching as far north as the Appalachian mountains.  All of these expeditions brought gifts and trade goods for the native groups they expected and intended to encounter and interact with, and thus it is no surprise that archaeological evidence for early to mid sixteenth-century Spanish artifacts is widely distributed across the Southeast, if nonetheless comparatively rare due to the low volume and relative infrequency of such contacts during this era of initial contact and exploration.  The amount of such gift and trade goods only increased after the establishment of twin Spanish colonies at St. Augustine, Florida and at Santa Elena on Parris Island, South Carolina in 1565 and 1566. The penetration of several additional expeditions into the interior, and the expansion of Spanish missions along the coast and gradually into the interior by the beginning of the seventeenth century also led to increases in gift and trade goods.

The nature of these gift and trade assemblages is relatively well-documented through a combination of historical documents and archaeological discoveries at the native sites where such goods ended up.  Relatively extensive documentation for gifts brought and distributed on early expeditions or traded and gifted during the early mission period in Florida provides a clear picture of the normal items provided by Spaniards and consumed by Native Americans.  The most frequent items documented in detailed and voluminous records over the course of two decades (1595-1616) in the early Florida mission period included strings of glass beads, sleigh bells, buttons, fixed-blade knives, iron axes and hoes, and woven blankets, along with a large and diverse range of raw cloth, thread, and finished clothing items including hats and shoes, sometimes far more expensive than other items distributed.  To this can be added a range of other items that were given out much less frequently, including mirrors, scissors, adzes, and raw iron and lead.  Though not generally quantified like later records, lists of goods given out on early exploratory expeditions include all of the above items, as well as other iron tools such as chisels and wedges, as well as sickles and fishhooks.
Table showing quantities of goods recorded in documents between 1595 and 1616 (Worth 2015)

Nueva Cadiz and seven layer chevron beads
Excluding the South Florida region, where native groups routinely salvaged shipwrecks for silver and other exotic materials, archaeological finds of sixteenth-century Spanish artifact assemblages within Native American sites in the Southeast are normally very consistent with the documentary record of gifts and trade goods. Several sites also include a small number and limited range of Spanish weapon and armor parts, including pieces of chain mail and plate armor, sword or dagger fragments, crossbow bolt tips, lead shot, and occasionally iron spikes or nails.  Such pieces may of course have resulted from idosyncratic gifts or trade, but may also have been trophies from skirmishes or items scavenged from battlefields or camps.  Importantly, the archaeological context of these assemblages is generally consistent for this early period, since such objects seem to have been commonly placed in human burials or funerary mounds not long after their acquisition, most likely with their final Indian owners.  Since such objects were highly portable, their final distribution was more dependent on existing patterns of trade and tribute among indigenous chiefdoms than on the actual routes of Spanish explorers or the landing sites of coastal expeditions.  Nevertheless, the overall assemblage composition was generally limited to the standard suite of gift and trade goods noted above, supplemented by occasional weapon and armor parts as noted.

Aglet or lacing tip
Not surprisingly, however, the standard Indian gift and trade good assemblage of the sixteenth century was only a tiny subset of the normal material culture brought and used by Spaniards themselves both shipboard and on land.  Shipboard assemblages are normally only recovered among the artifacts found in association with shipwrecks (the oldest two of which in Florida just happen to be in Pensacola Bay not far from Luna’s settlement), but terrestrial assemblages associated with groups of early- to mid-sixteenth-century Spaniards actually camping or residing in greater Spanish Florida (including the states of Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, and the Carolinas) are also extremely rare.  Only a few such sites have been positively identified archaeologically, in large part because the archaeological trace of fast-moving terrestrial expeditions would be ephemeral at best, constituting only the occasional lost item at nightly camps or along the road. Only longer-term encampments or formal settlements would be expected to accumulate a more substantial and representative sample of the typical range of material culture used by Spaniards themselves during this period.  The largest two of these of course are the settlements of 1565 St. Augustine at the Fountain of Youth Park (and its successor settlement from the 1570s under present-day St. Augustine), and the 1566-1587 settlement at Santa Elena on Parris Island, South Carolina.  Of the dozen or so Menéndez-era garrisoned forts documented for the period between 1566 and 1571, only Fort San Juan at the Berry site in western North Carolina has been identified and studied in detail.  Beyond these three sites, the earliest site with evidence for resident Spaniards is the 1539-1540 winter encampment of the Hernando de Soto expedition at the Martin site in downtown Tallahassee, Florida.  These sites held several dozen to several hundred Spaniards for between several months and several years, and thus provide good evidence for a typical debris scatter characteristic of Spanish colonists during the era.

Early middle style olive jar neck
All four of these sites possess not just a more ample assemblage of Spanish material culture than the Indian trade and gift assemblage described above, but stand out in particular due to the presence of one very important and telling category of artifact that generally serves as a reliable marker for the presence of resident Spaniards: Spanish ceramics.  From liquid storage and transport containers such as olive jars (called botijas) to tin-enameled tableware known as majolica (called loza fina by Spaniards at the time) as well as a range of lead-glazed and unglazed cookware, Spaniards brought, used, and broke their distinctive ceramics on all the sites where they resided for more than brief visit.  And it is precisely these ceramics which distinguish residential from gift and trade assemblages, since they were neither given or traded by sixteenth-century Spaniards, nor generally desired or consumed by contemporaneous Southeastern Indians, who already had their own well-developed pottery styles that were uniquely adapted to their traditional foodways, and who thus had no real use for Spanish ceramics designed for European-style transport mechanisms, cooking techniques, or tabletop dining.  Moreover, not only was Spanish pottery not given or traded to Native American groups, it does not even seem to have been scavenged from abandoned Spanish settlements or campsites, unlike other discarded objects that did indeed have utilitarian or social value among indigenous groups, such as metal tools or weapons.

Caret head nail
In addition to Spanish ceramics, other artifact types also serve as evidence for Spanish residential presence instead of trade, particularly including nails, tacks, spikes, and other fasteners associated both with the construction of Spanish-style structures as well as those used for containers and even for attaching horseshoes.  Though occasionally such items do appear in Native burial contexts, they are never found in large numbers outside Spanish residential settings.  Moreover, in some cases it is not the presence but rather the absence of certain items from residential debris that can serve as yet another clue, as is the case with finished metal tools like axes, wedges, and chisels, which are proportionally commonplace in Native American gift and trade assemblages found in burials, but are relatively scarce at Spanish settlements and campsites (since they were rarely lost, and were generally taken away when the Spaniards left).

All these Spanish residential characteristics are present at the Luna settlement site we are currently investigating, including a huge quantity of mid-sixteenth-century Spanish ceramics of diverse types and forms, a similarly remarkable quantity of iron nails, among the most numerous of which are caret-head nails generally thought to be horseshoe nails, and a general absence of finished metal tools.  A small number of weapon and armor fragments have also been found, including crossbow bolt tips and a riveted ring from mail armor.  The basic components of this residential assemblage are now known to be scattered across literally thousands of square meters, precisely as would be expected for the Luna settlement, and exactly as is already documented for the later Spanish settlements at both St. Augustine and Santa Elena.  While a handful of Indian trade goods have indeed been discovered in the form of colored glass beads, their context is consistent with supplies brought on the Luna expedition for precisely this purpose, and they were presumably lost in and around the warehouse or residences at the Spanish settlement. 

Mail armor fragment, x-ray clearly showing rivet location on right
For pure quantity of mid-sixteenth-century Spanish ceramics and other residential debris not normally associated with Indian gift or trade goods, the newly-discovered Luna settlement has only two terrestrial peers in the entire Southeastern U.S.: the colonial settlements at St. Augustine and Santa Elena.  The only other sites that also contain even remotely similar proportions of Spanish ceramics are the DeSoto winter encampment at the Martin site, and the Menéndez-era fort at the Berry site.  Virtually all other sites that have produced assemblages of Spanish artifacts from the same era (and there are more than a few) are clearly dominated by gift and trade goods, not infrequently including weapon or armor parts and a few idiosyncratic items that easily could have been taken in battle or scavenged from battle or camp sites.  But missing from these assemblages are substantial proportions of the one major category of artifact that seems to have been consistently present where Spaniards lived: ceramics.  Where Spanish settlers brought food, prepared food, and served food for themselves, they brought ceramics.  But such items were of little interest to the Southeastern Indians. The remains of broken Spanish ceramics were not recycled or scavenged by the Indians, and remained in place as a testament to the residential Spanish presence.  Far from being a simple collection of Indian trade goods at a Native village, the Luna settlement assemblage provides clear and convincing archaeological evidence that Spaniards actually lived on site.   When combined with the documentary evidence for the location of Luna’s settlement on Pensacola Bay, not to mention the nearby location of two of Luna’s wrecked ships, there is really no other reasonable conclusion other than identifying it as the 1559-1561 location of Santa María de Ochuse.

For more information please see the following articles

Blanton, Dennis B.
2013       Point of Contact: Archaeological Evaluation of a Potential De Soto Encampment in Georgia.  Final Technical Report, Fernbank Museum of Natural History, Atlanta, Georgia.

Smith, Marvin T., and David J. Hally
2015       The Acquisition of Sixteenth-Century European Objects by Native Americans in the Southeastern United States.  In Forging Southeastern Identities: Social Archaeology and Ethnohistory of the Mississippian to Early Historic South, edited by Gregory A. Waselkov and Marvin T. Smith.  University of Alabama Press, in review.

2015       Precursors of Missionization: Early European Contact on the Georgia Coast, 1514-1587.  Paper presented in the “2015 Fryxell Award Symposium: Papers in Honor of David Hurst Thomas” at the 80th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, San Francisco, California, April 17, 2015.