Long-lost Fort Discovered off Carolina Coast

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July 30, 2016

Archaeologists have discovered remains of the long-lost first capital of Spanish Florida.

A team of archaeologists from the University of South Carolina and the University of Georgia, digging on Parris Island, off the coast of South Carolina, have found remains of the fort of San Marcos, on Santa Elena, the first permanent Spanish settlement in North America.

Using ground-penetrating radar and other high tech tools, the archaeologists have constructed a map of what the 15-acre settlement would have looked like. On that map are forts, farms, shops, taverns, and a church. No such map has survived.

Spanish settlers founded Santa Elena in 1566, a year after the founding of the first Spanish settlement in North America, St. Augustine. The fort of San Marcos was built in 1577.

Santa Elena was strategically located to protect Spanish shipping interests and quickly became the capital of Spanish Florida, with Pedro Menendez de Aviles as the first governor. Conflict with England, however, resulted in the Spanish abandonment of Santa Elena after 21 years.

Santa Elena itself was built on the remains of a French settlement, Charlesfort, which appeared in 1562 and disappeared the following year. Attacks by English ships, spearheaded by Sir Francis Drake in 1586, convinced Spain to pull back to the mainland, to St. Augustine, in 1587.

Remains of the settlement were initially found in 1979, underneath a modern golf course. On the site now stands the Santa Elena History Center.

Results of the dig appear in a report in the Journal of Archaeology Science Reports.

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