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Arts & Culture

Country's Oldest Known Inland European Settlement Unearthed In Western NC

The remains of Fort San Juan.
Robin Beck

A group of archeologists has discovered the remains of the oldest known European settlement in the inland U.S.: a 16th century Spanish fort in western North Carolina. 

Fort San Juan was the largest of six forts built between 1566 and 1568 by explorer Juan Pardo. It’s located five miles north of Morganton at a site that was believed to be an Indian settlement. 

Robin Beck is an assistant professor of archeology at the University of Michigan and was part of the discovery team.  He says the site has something in common with North Carolina's more famous early settlement.

“So North Carolina's Lost Colony was a failed attempt by England, Fort San Juan was a failed attempt by Spain, but Fort San Juan predates the Lost Colony by 20 years,” Beck says.

“And what's also interesting is that Fort San Juan is the first attempt by any Europeans to establish a real colonial presence in the interior of what is now the United States not just out on the coast.”

Beck says the team has uncovered a section of the moat that would have surrounded the fort along with a corner bastion and a graveled entryway into the compound.  Spanish records report that 18 months after the fort was built, Indians in the region rebelled and burned it down.

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