Berry Site Field School

Exploring Fort San Juan

Archaeological Excavation of a Sixteenth-Century Spanish Fort in Morganton, North Carolina

COVID-19 Update

We hope that you, your family, and friends are safe and healthy.  We are pleased to announce that registration is now open for 2023, and will continue to evaluate the COVID-19 landscape to ensure that the field school can be held safely.

All participants in the field school (directors, students, volunteers, visitors) are expected to take reasonable precautions and to abide by public health protocols, and we strongly encourage all participants to be vaccinated and boosted.  Those students residing in the Wall Center will be required to show proof of vaccination.

Given the realities of the pandemic, should conditions warrant it, it is possible that we must cancel the field school at a later date.  We hope to avoid this, but we also recognize that our public health situations can change rapidly and unexpectedly.  If cancelation is required, all registration fees will be automatically returned.

Session dates, fees, and room and board information are posted below.  Any posted information is subject to change as new information becomes available.

Please do not hesitate to contact us if you have any questions.  Email

Warren Wilson College offers this field school for credit and non-credit participation, and is open to the public. No experience necessary.

We will be glad to answer any questions you may have about the field school. Please contact David Moore at:

(828) 771-2013

June 5-June 30, 2023

Week 1: You may sign up for 1-4 weeks.

Week 2: You may sign up for 1-4 weeks.

Week 3: You must sign up for 2 or more weeks.

Week 4: You must also be signed up for week 3.

2023 Session Dates

Week 1: June 5-9 (FULL)

Week 2: June 12-16 (FULL)

Week 3: June 19-23 (FULL)

Week 4: June 26-30 (FULL)


Room and Board*

*Proof of vaccination is required (initial shot(s) + 1 booster).

About the Berry Site

Following the conquest of the Aztecs in Mexico and the Inka in South America, Spain looked to "La Florida" for more land and riches. Hernando de Soto and his army traveled from Florida through North Carolina in 1540 on their way to the Mississippi River. In 1566, Juan Pardo left the Spanish town of Santa Elena on the South Carolina coast and traveled into North Carolina in search of an overland route to Mexico. Scholars have debated the routes of Soto and Pardo for years, but archaeological investigations at the Berry site (31BK22), north of Morganton in Burke County, provide evidence that both of these Spanish expeditions passed through the Catawba River valley.

The Berry site is a large (nearly 12 acres) Mississippian site that dates to the Burke phase (15th and 16th centuries A.D.) and is believed to represent an ancestral Catawba Indian town. We believe this site to be the location of the native town of Joara, at which Pardo built Fort San Juan in 1567 (20 years before the English "Lost Colony" at Roanoke). Native Americans burned the fort down eighteen months later, in 1568. The field school has concentrated on a small area of the site where 16th-century Spanish artifacts, the remains of burned buildings, and the remains of a filled-in Spanish moat have been located. We believe these structures and moat represent the remains of the Spanish settlement of Cuenca and Fort San Juan. Cuenca and Fort San Juan represent the earliest European settlement in the interior of what is now the United States. 

In 2013 and 2014 field school participants helped to uncover the first direct evidence of Spanish Fort San Juan, a portion of the moat surrounding the fort.  In 2018 and 2019, 2 burned Native American buildings were discovered south of the fort.  Participants in the 2023 field school will explore the relationships between the fort, Native village, and Native mound, including the relationship between these two Native buildings and Fort San Juan.

Site Directors

Dr. David Moore (above middle) will lead the Summer 2019 archaeology field school at the Berry site. David Moore conducted investigations at the Berry site in 1986, 1995, 1997, and 2001-2018. He has directed numerous field schools since 1978 at the Warren Wilson site (31BN29) and other sites in western North Carolina. His book entitled, Catawba Valley Mississippian: Ceramics, Chronology, and Catawba Indians, has been published by the University of Alabama Press. David received his MA and Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and served as the North Carolina Office of State Archaeology's Western Office archaeologist for 18 years before becoming a full-time faculty member at Warren Wilson College.

Dr. Robin Beck (above left), an Associate Professor of Anthropology and Associate Curator of North American Archaeology at the University of Michigan, is co-director of the Berry site field school. Beck is the author of Chiefdoms, Collapse, and Coalescence in the Early American South published by Cambridge University Press, 2013. In 1996, as part of his M.A. project at the University of Alabama, he directed a settlement survey of Upper Creek-Warrior Fork, the tributary of the upper Catawba River along which the Berry site is located. He co-directed a proton magnetometer survey at the Berry site in 1997, and it was during this survey that the burned structures were first identified. He has also worked in the Lake Titicaca Basin of Bolivia and Peru, and from 2000-2001 directed excavations at the site of Alto Pukara in Bolivia as part of his dissertation research. 

Dr. Christopher Rodning (above right) is an Associate Professor of Anthropology at Tulane University. He is the third co-director of the Berry site field school. His edited volume, Archaeological Studies of Gender in the Southeastern United States (co-edited with Jane Eastman) was published by the University Press of Florida in 2001, and he has a recent book, Center Places and Cherokee Towns, published by the University of Alabama Press in 2015. Chris has been involved in the archaeology of western North Carolina and the Appalachian Summit area since 1994.

The three directors completed Fort San Juan and the Limits of Empire: Colonialism and Household Practice at the Berry Site, an edited volume about the Berry site, in 2016, published by the University Press of Florida.

Dr. Rachel Briggs, Teaching Assistant Professor at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, is a new co-director at the Berry site field school. First participating in the Berry site field school in 2003, she has continued to be an important part of the Berry site crew and research team. She completed her PhD on Mississippian foodways and pottery at the University of Alabama in 2017. 


Abra Meriwether (B.A. Sociology and Anthropology, Warren Wilson College, 2011) is the Archaeology Laboratory Assistant at Warren Wilson where she helps to direct the Archaeology student work crew and manages the yearly curation tasks associated with the Berry site Field School. She wrote her senior thesis in Sociology and Archaeology on an analysis of post holes at the Berry site. She has been part of the Berry site crew since 2009.