Mapping Spanish Settlement at Santa Elena, 1566–1587: An Integrated Archaeogeophysical Approach

Document Type



Santa Elena, located on Parris Island along the coast of South Carolina, was the first capital, and northernmost permanent settlement, of Spanish La Florida. Over two decades of occupation (ad 1566–1587), five forts were successively built while by ad 1569 a burgeoning Spanish settlement of over 200 people, complete with artisans, farmers, and Jesuit missionaries, flourished. Here, we articulate the results of recent, full-coverage ground-penetrating radar and magnetic gradiometry surveys with over 40 years of extant archaeological data to elucidate organizational characteristics of the Spanish settlement at Santa Elena. In particular, we use geophysical data to identify the potential locations of buried Spanish wells across the site. We identify roughly 200 potential well locations and compare these locations to the distribution of Spanish artifacts across the site yielded through a full-coverage shovel test survey, the arrangement of Spanish structures known from large-scale block excavations, and the likely position of roadways and house lots. This new data is used to contextualize and refine extant understandings of Santa Elena's town plan while also contributing to a broader research program devoted to exploring Spanish colonial life and settlement in 16th-century North America (The Santa Elena Landscape Project). As Santa Elena is a National Historic Landmark currently threatened by rising sea levels, this work contributes to an efficient, minimally invasive research program devoted to exploring the Spanish settlement at Santa Elena and to documenting the range of cultural resources present at the site for the purposes of protection and remediation in the context of significant, ongoing shoreline erosion.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

APA Citation

Lulewicz J, Thompson VD, DePratter CB. Mapping Spanish settlement at Santa Elena, 1566–1587: An integrated archaeogeophysical approach. Archaeological Prospection. 2019;26:239–250.