MHC hosts exhibit on ancient Spanish fort, Native American town

Western Carolina University’s Mountain Heritage Center is hosting an exhibit about the earliest European presence and contact with Native Americans in Western North Carolina.

In this painting, Juan Pardo meets the inhabitants of Joara. (Image courtesy of National Geographic)

The “Uncovering Our Forgotten Past: Fort San Juan” exhibit features artifacts from and displays about an archaeological site in Burke County that in the 1500s was a large Native America settlement and, in 1567, a fort established by Spanish explorer Juan Pardo.

Archaeologists have been excavating an area near Morganton now confirmed to be Joara, which was a thriving Native American township established around 1400. Conquistador Hernando DeSoto visited in 1540, with the subsequent arrival of Pardo and a contingent of soldiers leading to building the first and largest in a series of fortifications in the region.

The exhibit was developed as part of a commemoration of the 450th anniversary of the Pardo expedition and is on loan from the Exploring Joara Foundation, a nonprofit public archeology group based in Morganton.

The Mountain Heritage Center gallery is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information, call the Mountain Heritage Center at 828-227-7129.