Any burned rock associated with a find, such as campfire stands, should be collected for dating by thermoluminescence techniques. Scientists can work with a well-burned sample the size of a golf ball, but larger pieces are preferred.
The search for hard proof of early Spanish presence is continuous, though inconclusive. A review of early sixteenth century artifacts found in Florida was conducted by John Goggin. As usual, ceramics provide the most reliable bench marks of archeology because of distinctive patterns associated with particular cultures and time periods.
Goggin concentrated on majolica, or tin-enameled earthenware. A single, but good sized, sherd of a distinctive type of majolica called "Yayal blue on white" was washed out on the beach of Old Tampa Bay at Safety Harbor where a large Indian town was located.
This type of pottery appeared in the West Indies by 1500 and reached its maximum popularity in the middle of the sixteenth century.
At nearby Seven Oaks, four fragments were found of "Columbia plain" majolica typical of the same period. Another piece of this type was found on Upper Matecumbe Key. Majolica pottery known as "Isabella polychrome" has been found on Mound Key near Fort Myers Beach and at St. Augustine.
Beads and bells undoubtedly distributed by Soto have been found in several Florida mounds. The most notable are three south of Lake Rousseau. They were recently excavated by Jeffrey Mitchem, of the Florida State Museum, in association with the Withlacooche River Archeology Council. Both Narvaez and Soto passed nearby.
The most diagnostic of Withlacooche artifacts recovered were tubular glass beads and sheet-brass "jingle" bells. The beads are both round and square in cross section and in various colors. Spherical glass and rock crystal beads also were found, but these are not so easily dated. The hawk bells are approximately one inch in diameter with a strap loop. Similar bells of sheet-copper or cast brass were distributed by several Spanish explorers.
The Tatham mound yielded several iron objects, including a palm-sized plate with rivet from a brigandine armor jacket composed of overlapping plates attached to a canvas backing. It is interesting to note that Ocala, possibly the Cale where Soto's men buried a large quantity of iron, is about 30 miles east of the Tatham mound.
The difficulty of Spanish artifacts in association with Indian burials -- as evidence -- is that portable objects were carried great distances before being laid to rest. As pointed out by Jeffrey Brain, curator of the Peabody Museum of Archaeology, Harvard University, positive proof of a Spanish army track must come from Spanish burials or isolated finds of lost Spanish weapons. Inasmuch as the Spaniards took pains to conceal their burials, and hunted assiduously for valuable lost weapons, discovery of specific Spanish locations will depend upon a great deal of luck.
A brass hinge or clasp found at Seven Oaks is similar in style and workmanship to Spanish objects manufactured in the first half of the sixteenth century. It may have been an ornament for leather-covered chests or horse trappings.
Coins are exciting archeological finds because of the specific date of minting. However, they can-not be relied upon for pin-point accuracy. Their intrinsic worth causes them to be widely circulated and kept indefinitely. The collecting of old coins is not a new hobby.
About all that can be said of coins is they can-not be lost prior to the date of minting. Thus, we cannot leap to a conclusion that a small copper coin found on the beach at Safety Harbor -- bearing the likeness of John III of Portugal who reigned from 1521 to 1577 -- was dropped there by the Gentleman of Elvas.
A MODERN ADVANCER
This, then, is the limited archeological proof we have of Spanish presence in Florida during the years in which Ponce, Narvaez and Soto touched there: a few chips of blue and white pottery, a small coin, a few glass beads, a helmet, a shirt of linked chain, tiny bells, scraps of iron, and a brass hinge.
All of this material could have found its way in an Indian's tote bag to the places found. And it could have been obtained from a wrecked ship, dead soldier or Spanish trader as easily as it could have been lost by explorers on the spot.
Additional, significant traces of America's intrepid adelantados who opened up a New World undoubtedly still lie mouldering in the earth -- awaiting a modern "advancer" to shed new light of understanding on history.
And it could be you!