New De Soto site found in Florida

De Soto route proposed by Charles Hudson in 1997Spanish conquistador Hernando De Soto was the first European to explore deep inland within what would become the United States. For three years (1539-1542), his search for (non-existent) gold and a (non-existent) passage to China drove him and his men to cut a violent, disease-ridden swath through Florida, Georgia, the Carolinas, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Louisiana and Texas.

Very little in the way of archaeology has been found marking his route. What we know of it has mainly been pieced together with difficulty from his journals and from tribal oral histories, all of which use references to features of a landscape long gone. The only confirmed site is in Tallahassee, Florida, where they wintered the first year. Any discovery of material remains left behind by the expedition, therefore, is of major historical significance.

Ethan (left) and Ashley White (right) sifting sand at the De Soto site on their family propertyArchaeologist Ashley White has found strong evidence on his own family property that De Soto’s team stopped there in the summer of 1539 when it was an Indian town called Potano near present-day Orange Lake in north Marion County, Florida. White had explored the 700-acre property before looking for the remains of a 17th century Spanish cattle ranch he thought might have been there, but all he found were relatively common Indian artifacts.

Copper coin found at Hernando De Soto encampment, late 15th centuryIt was Florida weather that ultimately showed him the way. Heavy rainfall in 2005 flooded the land. When it drained away, it took hardened sand with it, leaving once-buried artifacts totally exposed on the surface. On the west bank of an old creek, Dr. White found a copper coin from the late 1400s. East of the creek bed, White, his bioarchaeologist wife Michele and their son Ethan found even more coins — ultimately they recovered 100 cooper coins minted in Spain between 1556 and 1621 — plus Murano glass trade beads, Spanish blue on white porcelain and postholes.

Spanish coins found at the mission siteDuring the first two years of excavations, White’s working hypothesis was that they had discovered the remains of that early Spanish cattle ranch. When he examined the artifacts and the architecture of the building remains in detail, however, he realized they were very similar in style to what you see in Spanish missions built along Indian trails in Florida. The missionaries used De Soto’s journals and maps to determine where the potential converts were located.

Nueva Cadiz beads, ca. 1520Returning to the other side of the creek where he had found the 15th century Spanish coin, White found another two from around the same period. The three copper coins were two Ferdinand and Isabellas (1497-1504) and one Enrique IV (1471-74), at least half a century older than the ones at the mission site. He also found seven beautiful cobalt blue Nueva Cadiz beads from around 1520, probably originally arranged into a crucifix, and more Venetian glass trade beads, these ones older and more elaborate than the ones on the east side of the creek. Chevron beads of Murano glass from the De Soto encampment siteThe facets, multi-layered coloring and chevron patterns of the Murano beads are identical to other beads found at the known De Soto site in Tallahassee and the suspected De Soto site found three years ago in Georgia.

Spanish chain mail linksThen White found a few links of iron chain mail from Spain, with designs De Soto’s men would have woven onto their garments to protect them from Indian spears and arrows. The way the chain mail was linked predated the mission.

He also unearthed a pig jaw, unique to the domesticated herd of European animals De Soto brought to help feed his men.

There had been other Spanish explorers, such as Panfilo de Narvaez, but they had not brought Old World pigs, nor had they traveled as far inland.

Lower jaw of a long-legged black boarExperts have analyzed the finds and so far all the results confirm they were left by the De Soto expedition. A numismatics curator at Princeton confirmed that the three coins were of the age and type used to pay De Soto’s troops and workers. The chevron beads were sent to Italy to confirm they were of 16th century Murano origin. Radiocarbon dating found the Sus scrofa, a long-legged black Spanish domestic pig, to whom the jawbone was once attached was slaughtered in 1539. Several museums compared the chain mail to Spanish pieces in their collections and found it was manufactured in Spain between 1490 and the 1530s. X-ray fluorescence testing confirmed that the iron in the mail dates to the 15th century.

Three coins found at Hernando De Soto encampmentAccording to Jerald Milanich, an expert in De Soto’s expedition who has written multiple books on the subject and who is the archaeology curator emeritus at the University of Florida’s Florida Museum of Natural History, “there is absolutely no doubt that is a De Soto contact site,” and he is “99.99 percent sure this is the town of Potano, the major Indian town.” De Soto sought out Native American settlements in his eternal search for food and in the hope that they could tell him where all the (non-existent) gold was. He would have traded the glass pieces in exchange for food, but also occupied the town with his army to plunder their food stores and infect them with measles and smallpox while he was at it.

Eventually he moved on, going north to Tallahassee, doubtless to the great relief of the Potano Indians. In 1542, Hernando De Soto died of a fever on the banks of the Mississippi and was buried in secret, possibly in the Mighty Mississip’ itself, by his comrades who wanted to keep the locals thinking that he was the incarnation of the sun god instead of a puny human. Sixty-four years later, the Spanish returned to the Potano where they built the Mission San Buenaventura de Potano by the creek just east of De Soto’s old encampment.

The Ocala Star-Banner has the most in depth coverage of this discovery, including an excellent photo gallery. Keep an eye on their Discovery De Soto page for more news as it develops.

21 thoughts on “New De Soto site found in Florida

  1. What are the odds that someone with this families training (archaeologist and bio-archaeologist) would have purchased this particular property all these hundreds of years after the De Soto party left these artifacts on their long journey. It makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up.

    1. It really is a most fortuitous coincidence. As recently as 1979, before the Whites purchased the land, there were looters on the property setting up tents and digging with impunity. It’s pure luck that they picked the wrong spot.

  2. I am just glad to see some neat finds laying around close by. I was starting to get mad at Brits for tripping over hordes every 5 minutes.

  3. the “Chevron” beads pictured are made in India in the 1970’s, there is great evidence that the finds were planted….unless DeSoto was a time traveler, there could be NO way these beads were from “his” time period

  4. There was some copper coins in a leather pouch unearthed several years ago with Spanish writing on them. The “foreman”took the find supposedly to find what the coins were worth-that was the end of that.I have just recently learned of the possible historical implications of this find and wonder what could be done to explore further. This was an excavation site while highway work was being done. The land is now privately owned.Please advise.This was in southern Morgan County,Alabama along Flint Creek,Old hwy. 31 and I-65.It would be a natural gap between the mountains with a creek nearby which would be ideal for a camp.

  5. NO, beads that were made in Venice were found at other De Soto sites, these beads depicted here are form the 70’s but have a similar appearance to the actual optical mold, drawn cane variety…..the beads in the blog are bundled cane method, if you study your beadmaking history you will see the obvious DECEPTION, I’m sorry for your ignorance and opening your mouth before doing any investigation!

    1. Hmm… You don’t seem very sorry. In fact, you seem quite irate. It is true that I know nothing about beadmaking and thus would not be able to spot errors in this news story, but by the same token, I can’t spot any errors in your rebuttal either. I’m glad you commented so readers can make up their own minds.

  6. in fact when the The Ocala Star-Banner was called on this deception, they changed the images to reflect what would have been the historically correct bead type but you copied the original image files thus preserving the blatant deception, there are still active links showing the bundled cane chevrons from India….something historically impossible…..your friend, archaeologist Ashley White, is a fraud and is pulling the wool over the eyes of anyone not doing their own investigating!!!!

    1. I don’t know Ashley White at all. He’s an archaeologist cited in a news story that I blogged about. As much as I would love to be enough of an expert to detect errors requiring highly specialized knowledge, I don’t think that’s realistic considering the breadth of topics I cover. The Ocala Star-Baner hasn’t issued any retraction or correction that I could find. Are you aware of any?

  7. Yes, they have. In November 2014, they published an article entitled “Dueling views on de Soto”. Dr. Willet Boyer, a registered professional archaeologist, discovered what appears to be the actual site of de Soto’s Potano and the later mission at that site further north and west. The current consensus of the professional community is that the site discussed here is dubious at best and may be an outright fraud at worst – several archaeologists are quoted in the article concerning the problems with the so-called “White Ranch” site.

  8. Hopefully the tone will be…less divisive. I appreciate the efforts of the original blogger and I also appreciate the comments by Nemo, the content if not the tone.

    Only recently developing an interest in pre-Colombian to the Colonial period history of Florida I remembered the hub-bub a few years back about the find on the White property. I DID miss the concerns expressed nearly 2 years later. I found the article in question in the Gainesville Sun, not the Ocala Star Banner but it could have been printed there as well as I do believe they are owned by the same publisher and share resources or at least they did.

    Bottom line there is controversy over the find….uncovering history is often a painful process, who is to really say what happened some 500 years ago and for ages nobody gave a thought to preserving our past. Lets look at it, lets debate it, but can we leave the vitriol at home?

  9. It depends on what you mean by “vitriol”. I don’t consider it “vitriol” to state facts, and since I posted the above comment, the following has taken place:

    First, Dr. Boyer has published a peer-reviewed article in the Florida Anthropologist presenting the evidence that the Richardson Site, 8AL100, is the site of de Soto’s Potano and San Buenaventura de Potano.

    Secondly, Dr. Boyer and five co-authors presented a paper at the 2016 Southeastern Archaeological Conference discussing the “White Ranch Site”. Subsequent to White’s claims, independent archaeological work was done at the supposed “site”, and White’s claims were found to be a hoax. No archaeological evidence backing any of what he claimed was found, and it seems likely White purchased the artifacts he “found” from a number of sources and fabricated the evidence.

    Furthermore, White has apparently followed a regular pattern of attacking the archaeologists who have called his claims into question by legal action, falsified names, and direct personal attacks on others. A direct example from this blog: the post immediately prior to yours was allegedly made by “John Worth”, one of the archaeologists who co-authored the SEAC paper with Boyer and who has publicly stated that he does not believe the “White Ranch Site” actually ever existed. In that falsified post, there was link created which, until it was taken down, led to a website which was a 40-page personal attack on Boyer and the other archaeologists who wrote the SEAC paper. That post and website were created by Ashley White, using “John Worth” as a forged name to hide his identity.

    Bottom line, the so-called “White Ranch Site” was a hoax fabricated by White. Calling out the hoax isn’t “vitriol”, and White’s behavior against other people questioning his claims isn’t that of an archaeologist or any other scientist – it’s that of a con artist and fraud who’s been caught.

  10. You’re not “John Worth”, and I see you’ve taken down your “database”. Mr. White, don’t try to bully or threaten anyone who questions you about the “White Ranch” site; it never existed in the first place, and real archaeology and scholarship have proven that.

  11. I noticed the rhetoric in the line of discussion started in March, 2013 by one named TASART. It picked back up again two years later, April, 2015; again, by TASART. I quote:

    “..the beads in the blog are bundled cane method, if you study your beadmaking history you will see the obvious DECEPTION, I’m sorry for your ignorance and opening your mouth before doing any investigation!”

    While the term “ignorance” is used correctly (why livius druses would be an expert in bead-making, and why anyone would assume she should be, is beyond my understanding,) apologizing for someone else’s ignorance about a topic is pure arrogance.

    The part about “opening you mouth before doing any investigation!” Just makes you into an asshole. Furthermore, it discredits any claims you make. You now must provide actual evidence from an outside source.

    Furthermore, off-topic, a but a thing I was helping a group of students study and gather information, regarding the rapid evolution of social media since this past presidential election;

    The rhetoric TASART has used, and the bullying / pure assholish nature of his post, with all disregard of any semblemce of social civility, is a pattern very reminiscent of someone who frequently engages in political argumentative garbage full of formal logical fallacies, unwillingness or inability to fact-check, and outright attacking someone for no darn reason! It is a phenomenon that seems to have started in 2015 and 2016, with the running of none other than Donald Trump himself.

    It coincides with the prevailing attitude of anti-science and anti-intellectual garbage with the following topics:

    Far left:
    – Anti-vaccine
    – Extreme “animal rights” activity that equivocates animals with Han intelligence and emotions.

    Far right:
    – Flat Eart “theory”
    – Creationism
    – Anti-climate change

    While these sorts of topics and outrageous personal attacks have always been around, it was right around the time TASART decided to leave it’s message that this sort of behavior really started becoming more and more prevalent.

    (Yes. I said “it’s,” because it is a troll, and nothing more. That isn’t to say that what it said isn’t true; there is no outright proof that it is, and the troll making the claim needs to provide and outside source. Having said that, it very well be true. But the manner in which it said what it said, was trollishness in nature. )

  12. I want to inform everyone there was a def. Treasure he was one of the richest people in the world when he came back as gov of cuba after killing the former governor of cuba for the beheading of the INCAN king antahualapa. They had almost fullfilled there promise to get their king back. Treasure certainly that’s all they took n this is why the dissolution of the inca came about. Then apon his return as the gov being on ship 400 horses began to destroy n risk sinking that cargo w the horses, they landed on the far side of cuba and urged all others to meet him in Havana he was going to drive the horses accross the island, where they sailed onwards and de soto’s cleverness to hide his fortune that he had also hidden from the crown. He doubled back to his ship losing his entire army. Where he then sailed into Charlotte harbor and due to the shallowness of the bay and arrival during high tide was then marooned until the next months high tide. Where he was was in the bay where the disbursed INCAN empire’s slain king from the betrayal of the Spanish was prince herriengga also know as chief ucita hatter of the spaniards from loss of his nose n killing of his father king antahualapa. Now stuck here before knowing the Indians here were Incan decent began to fullfill his plan n duties to the crown to propagate citrus to prevent scurvy. Where his treasures weight was hiding under in the landing crafts his plan in high gear launched now realizing through conflict and stark contrast knew his treasure was in peril either address n face the open ocean in risk being capsized headed to the only know and previous mapped option was the myakka or the pease rivers between the two lie chief ucita Incan prince an undocumented bye the spaniards battle ensued they fought in the swamps n ended fleeing up the pease river all the way to the the citrus planting in Tocaste, where his treasure’$ final resting place. Further proof being he than returned to his ship sailing out n reuniting w his fleet and then the planned Tampa Bay landing and further proof was where hwy 60 east established beginning came from was the direct path of all his army direct root to go and find a land route for his planned return and recovering of his then hidden treasure never making it to histories knowledge because he was hiding a vast amount from the crowns grips also using a Portuguese chronicaller so he being the only dual speaking in tongues began the process of securing the CURSED treasure of the INCAN empire.

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