An image taken in June 2017 by a camera mounted on a drone displays the exposed remnants of Fort San Juan. Excavations of this area of the site will be continued in June 2018. Credit: Ryan Wallace


Chris Rodning, the Paul and Debra Gibbons Professor in the Tulane School of Liberal Arts' Department of Anthropology, unravels early entanglements between Native Americans and European explorers, revealing how their interactions shaped the history of the American South.

"Native Americans' responses to Spanish explorers and colonists form an important part of the story behind the history of European colonialism in North America," said Rodning, who conducts archaeological research at Fort San Juan—the earliest known permanent European settlement in the interior United States, located near Morganton, North Carolina.

Since 2001, Rodning has collaborated with David Moore, an anthropology professor from Warren Wilson College, and Rob Beck, an associate professor of anthropology from the University of Michigan, to excavate the site.

"In 2013, we identified the archaeological footprint of the fort," said Rodning, noting that the team has since focused on learning how the structure was built and where it was located in relation to a nearby Native American settlement called Joara.

In 1540, the conquistador Hernando de Soto traversed this part of western North Carolina.

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