Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Another kind of Spanish Treasure

The information for this article was sent in by one of our readers. Thank you Roy!

Most of you know that when the Spanish came to the Americas they were looking for gold and silver. They also took anything else they thought could be valuable. In the case of this story, we are talking about glass beads. Most of this "treasure" is from the local Indians at the time.The Spanish traded corn to the Indians for some of the beads and the rest are from the Indians burying their dead with glass beads.

Just off the coast of Georgia lies an island known by the name of St. Catherine’s Island or Santa Catalina. This island was the first outpost of the Spanish in the region of what is now Georgia. Prior to the arrival of the Spanish in 1575 the island was being used by the Guale Indians. According to scientific sources the island has been inhabited for the last 4000 years and when the Spanish arrived they found the Gaule. The Guale were a tribe of Indians that lived along the coast and traded with the Spanish after their arrival.

In the 16th century the Spanish established a mission on the island known as the Mission Santa Catalina De Guale so that they could convert the local tribe to their way of thinking. The outpost was the capital and administrative center for the province of Guale, named after the indigenous people. It was considered to be one of the Spanish’s “most remote and wealthy outposts". The island itself is about ten miles long and as much as three miles wide depending on where you are.

Over the last several years (since 1974) the American Museum of Natural History from New York has been helping with an archeological dig on the island under the pretence of learning about history. In actuality what they are doing are exhuming the graves on the island that are in the cemetery and near the alter of the old mission.

During their “investigation” they have unearthed more than 70,000 glass beads. The beads are thought to have come from several different countries including China, France and India. In studying the beads they have concluded that some of them are Venetian, others are Bohemian and even Baltic in origin. I wonder if they have dug up anything else of interest that they aren't telling us about? How many stories have you heard about hidden treasure connected to a Spanish mission?

It was thought that the beads were buried with the more important people of the Guale community and a lot of those appeared to be children. They haven’t put a value on the beads and I doubt they will since this is for “scientific purposes” but it is interesting that the Guale Indians had beads from all over the world. This would indicate that there were some pretty extensive trade routes even before the Spanish arrived. All but about 2000 of the beads have been found in graves.

The island has been privately owned for many decades. According to Wikipedia;

“The island is now owned by the St. Catherine’s Island Foundation, and the island's interior is operated for charitable, scientific, literary, and educational purposes. The foundation aims to promote conservation of natural resources, the survival of endangered species, and the preservation of historic sites, and to expand human knowledge in the fields of ecology, botany, zoology, natural history, archaeology, and other scientific and educational disciplines. The island is involved with the conservation of the ring-tailed lemur. It was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1969.”

I guess if you own your own island you can dig up what ever you want, especially if it is in the name of “science”.

I know this isn’t your ordinary treasure story and it’s definitely not anything any of us can go look for but I found the story interesting and thought some of you might too.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi! Just came across your blog and want to comment that the image at the top is of the British St. Catherine's Island in Wales. There are no above-ground visible ruins of Santa Catalina de Guale and archeologists just discovered the site of the mission town thirty years ago.