Archeological Mystery Solving through Hypothesis Testing

Caleb Curren & Steve Newby

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The years following the monumental effort of the federal "DeSoto Commission" of the late 1930's lead by John Swanton (Swanton 1939) brought national acceptance of the proposed route of the Spanish Soto expedition and numerous Native town locations. Textbooks and encyclopedias used the route maps as illustrations. Roadside monuments were also erected throughout the Southeast. Not until some 40 years later did groups of scholars publish serious challenges to that hypothesis. Heated debates over several route hypotheses were held in the late 1980's. State and federal agencies again formed special commissions to decide the "real route." A route was chosen; new maps were inserted into textbooks; and new roadside signs were erected. Many consider the issue closed despite the fact that . . . .

...throughout the entire present-day southeastern United States there is not one archeological site that can be irrefutably identified as a Spanish settlement or Native town named and described in the chronicles of the 16th Century expeditions of Hernando de Soto (1539-42) and Tristan de Luna (1559-61).

For over a hundred years scholars have attempted to locate and identify even one of these locations. Spanish artifacts are known from numerous archeological sites throughout the Southeast but irrefutable town and colony names cannot as yet be placed on them. This article reports yet another attempt to do so.

The method used in our attempt is the time honored technique used in many scientific disciplines. It is known as hypothesis testing. We use the Spanish writings, archeological data, and topographic maps to construct a hypothesis or model of the location of the settlements, and Native towns mentioned in the writings. Tests are then devised which prove or disprove the entire hypothesis or portions of it. For example, is town-A from the right time period? ...The right distance from projected town-B? ...North of Bay-C? Spanish artifacts at the site? Questions like these and others are vigorously asked of the hypothesis. Archeological surveys and excavations are also activated in many cases to update current knowledge of the sites. It is an arduous, time consuming, and expensive method but it is also reliable and produces new data.

The general stories of the Soto and Luna expeditions are offered in other articles of the PAL journal and will not be repeated here. Suffice it to say that Soto's army was a large powerful expedition composed of both Spanish and Portuguese soldiers as well as African and native slaves. They landed on the shores of Florida in 1539 and traversed the interior in a four year odyssey that cost Soto and half his army their lives. The Luna expedition set out with another large and well financed expedition of settlement in 1559. First a hurricane and then starvation doomed the expedition.

Despite all their sufferings, the people of the expeditions were the first Europeans to see so much of these strange lands and marvelous cultures. The Spanish left us glimpses of the lifeways of the people through hundreds of pages of writings. We seek to add more through archeological identification of their settlements and towns.

Logically, the best chance of locating and identifying the sites is to focus on the most likely recognizable. Logically, the towns inhabited by the Spanish for the longest periods are most identifiable because the Spanish had a longer time to deposit more material items. Our current geographic area of focus is the coastal plain of northwest Florida and southern Alabama and Georgia. The sites upon which we are focused include those listed below.

Most scholars agree that these sites are located within this general region of the Southeast. Once these pivotal locations are discovered, new doors of research will open. Archeology Inc. is currently testing five hypotheses, two previously developed and three new ones. Hyperlinks to maps and research details are presented within this page. Sponsors are also being found to fund this research. If you or your organization would like to be one of these sponsors, contact Archeology Inc. through telephone, e-mail, etc. We plan to publish periodic updates of the results of our testing program in the PAL Journal. We urge professionals and lay persons to contact us if they have data useful to the project.


Bays Ochuse Bay
Filipina Bay
Shoals Bay
Spanish Colony Santa Maria
River Piachi River
Native Towns Mabila
Native Chiefdoms Talisi


Pensacola 1 Hypothesis

Pensacola 2 Hypothesis

Choctawhatchee Hypothesis

St. Andrews Hypothesis

Apalachee Hypothesis



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