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“Unearthing Our Forgotten Past: Fort San Juan” welcomes visitors to the Smith-McDowell House through December. Photo courtesy WNC Historical Association.

Visitors to the Smith-McDowell House’s newest exhibit, “Unearthing Our Forgotten Past: Fort San Juan,” can help celebrate 450 years of discovery.

The traveling history lesson was developed by the Exploring Joara Foundation that documents the Juan Pardo expeditions through Western North Carolina.

Several decades ago, archaeologists identified a site near Morganton as the location of Joara, one of the largest Native American towns in what is today Western North Carolina.

Joara was occupied from approximately 1400-1600 A.D. Two Spanish expeditions, led respectively by Hernando de Soto and Juan Pardo, visited the town in the 1500s. The Pardo expedition was part of a larger effort to establish a string of forts from the coast of present day South Carolina to Mexico.

In 2013, archaeologists confirmed that Joara was also the site of Fort San Juan, which was established by Pardo in 1567, nearly 20 years before the English settlement at Roanoke on the coast of North Carolina and 40 years before the settlement at Jamestown.

Through various artifacts uncovered by the archaeologists, the exhibit showcases the Spanish occupation of Fort San Juan and the lives of the native people who lived in the Joara area.

The Exploring Joara Foundation, Inc., engages the public in archaeology in the Carolinas, and emphasizes the discovery of the Native American town of Joara and Fort San Juan.

The exhibit will be on display through December. The gallery is open from 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday to Saturday. Reservations are recommended. The Smith-McDowell House is located at 283 Victoria Road in Asheville beside the A-B Tech campus.

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