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October 14–15, 2009

Joara and Fort San Juan: Colonialism and Household Practice at the Berry Site, North Carolina

Chaired by Robin Beck, Assistant Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of Oklahoma

The Berry site in North Carolina was the location of the native town of Joara, visited by the expeditions of Hernando de Soto (1539–1543) and Juan Pardo (1566–1567). In January 1568 Pardo built a garrison at Joara—Fort San Juan—and staffed it with 30 soldiers. This garrison was the earliest European settlement in the interior of what is now the United States. “Research at Berry provides a unique context for understanding how these Europeans and their indigenous hosts negotiated political, economic, and cultural relations at the very beginning of the colonial era—and deep in the interior of Spanish La Florida,” said Robin A. Beck, seminar chair.

Archaeological research at the Berry site is shedding significant new light on the process and practice of colonialism in the Americas, because Joara lay at the northern frontier of Spain’s long reach. “This project offers unique insights into both the anthropology of colonialism—especially across these Atlantic borderlands—and into the ethnogenesis of this region’s historic-period Native societies,” Beck said. Berry is one of the few sites archaeologists have discovered that preserve the earliest, tentative footprints of European expansion through the interior of Native North America. Juan Pardo’s fort persisted for only 18 months, but it witnessed one of the longest periods of sustained exchange between Europeans and Native peoples of North America’s interior until the seventeenth century.

With support from the National Science Foundation (NSF) for fieldwork and laboratory analysis over the past few years, the research team has identified five exceptionally well-preserved, burned buildings on the Berry site, which they argue were a compound built to house the 30 soldiers stationed at Joara. “The aim of the NSF-sponsored fieldwork is to use the archaeology of these households, occupied by Spanish soldiers at the very edge of Spain’s colonial enterprise, to understand the broader impacts and implications of early colonial encounters,” said Beck. “Our project addresses a key anthropological problem: How do household practices simultaneously enable and constrain peoples’ efforts to negotiate social identities during early colonial encounters?”

Although most of the project personnel have had occasion to visit the excavations during the past two seasons, they had “never had an opportunity to meet together as a group. This seminar provided an ideal opportunity and setting for us to synthesize the results of our work and to plan its dissemination through presentations and publications,” said Beck.


Robin Beck, Chair
Assistant Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of Oklahoma

Gayle Fritz
Department of Anthropology, Washington University

Heather Lapham
Center for Archaeological Investigations, Southern Illinois University

David Moore
Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Warren Wilson College

Lee Ann Newsom
Department of Anthropology, Pennsylvania State University

Chris Rodning
Department of Anthropology, Tulane University

Sarah Sherwood
Department of Archaeology, Dickenson College

National Science FoundationGenerous funding for the Research Team Seminars provided by the National Science Foundation.