In 2006, Fernbank Museum of Natural History launched an archaeological project along the lower Ocmulgee River of southeastern Georgia. The ongoing effort began with a straightforward objective: recover and interpret archaeological evidence of an early seventeenth-century mission named Santa Isabel de Utinahica. Interpretations of historical accounts put the mission in or near The Forks, a reference to the junction of the Oconee and Ocmulgee Rivers that creates the Altamaha River (Braley 1995; Snow 1990; Worth 1993, 1994, 1995a). Previous tantalizing discoveries of Spanish artifacts in the area offered solid targets for investigation and the project design was simply to investigate as many candidate mission sites as possible.

Spanish artifacts have since been recovered from each of the four sites we have investigated but obvious evidence of Santa Isabel's location still eludes us. We have confirmed instead a Spanish presence both pre-dating and post-dating the mission. From one site there are robust indications of much earlier Spanish contact during the sixteenth century, very possibly associated with the entrada of Hernando De Soto. From another site there is equally compelling evidence of Indian refugees who abandoned coastal mission communities in the late 1600s. And from others there is Spanish material we cannot yet precisely date.