One of the most iconic features of the modern Jacksonville landscape is Fort Caroline. This National Park Service (NPS) memorial honors the first French settlement (La Caroline) in North America (1564-1565). Following its downfall at the hands of the Spanish, the fort became the scene of a Spanish garrison known as San Mateo (1565-1569). Although today’s replica of Fort Caroline receives thousands of visitors (including out-of-state tourists) a year, currently no material evidence has been found relating to the French colony of La Caroline or the later Spanish fort. Colonial documents concerning the forts, however, do exist and point to its location within the broader Ft. Caroline area of modern Jacksonville. With the 450th anniversary of the La Caroline Colony fast approaching, the Archaeology Lab at the University of North Florida (UNF) received a State of Florida Historical Resources Matching Grant to undertake a systematic archaeological search for evidence of these two historic landmarks. Working primarily along the south bank of the St. Johns River, lab personnel have dug over 600 shovel tests examining a varied of areas for evidence of the French and Spanish occupation. The French and Spanish Forts represent a significant establishment of European contact in the middle of the Mocama, Timcucuan, and the natives who greeted the French.
A primary intent of the present investigation was to intensively survey these several project loci in search of evidence for the La Caroline colony (1564-1565) or the later Spanish Fort of San Mateo (1565-1569), which occupied the same spot of Fort Caroline. The search for La Caroline is part of the University of North Florida’s broader Mocama Archaeological Project (MAP), a collaborative, multidisciplinary research program that combines archaeological survey, excavation, and standardized and specialized analysis; GIS mapping; and documentary and archival research. It is committed to the search for Mocama Indian villages and European colonial communities in order to reconstruct the sixteenth century social landscape of northeastern Florida. Beyond locating these settlements and exploring their physical layouts, this long-term program is designed to research the social history and culture of the region’s sixteenth and seventeenth century Native Americans in the face of European contact, colonization, and missionization. The Lab’s goal is to focus on natives and newcomers as dynamic and interacting communities rather than as static and isolated entities.
Equally as important as locating evidence of the fort and contact-period Mocama Indian communities was documenting and evaluating the significance of all cultural resources within the project areas; this included previously recorded sites. The potential for encountering archaeological sites of all time periods was deemed high, based on the topographic and environmental conditions (i.e., hammock environments adjacent to tidal marshes) of the project loci. To this end, basic information on the horizontal and vertical dimensions of each site was sought, and our study addresses fundamental questions such as who inhabited a site, when was it occupied, what resources were exploited, and what was the nature of past occupations. Our ultimate objective is to generate data that will increase and refine our understanding of northeastern Florida’s rich cultural heritage.
This project has been financed in part with historic preservation grant assistance provided by the Bureau of Historic Preservation, Division of Historical Resources, Florida Department of State, assisted by the Florida Historical Commission. However, the contents and opinions do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the Florida Department of State, nor does the mention of trade names or commercial products constitute endorsement or recommendation by the Florida Department of State.