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Averitt Lecture Series brings David Hurst Thomas
Archeologist led discovery of lost mission on St. Catherines
W David Hurst Thomas
David Hurst Thomas - photo by Special

Eminent archeologist David Hurst Thomas will talk about his work of discovery at the Spanish mission site on St. Catherines Island as speaker for the 26th annual installment in the Averitt Lecture Series, 3 p.m. Sunday.

The lecture program in the Nessmith-Lane Conference Center on Georgia Southern University’s Statesboro campus is free and open to the public. A reception will follow the lecture.

Thomas, Ph.D., curator of North American Archaeology at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, has titled his lecture “Romance and Reality in the Mythical Mission Past: How We Found the Long-Lost Spanish Mission on St. Catherines Island.”

“I think people can anticipate hearing quite a lot about both the specifics of this discovery as well as how archeologists go about their work,” said W. Bede Mitchell, Ed.D., dean of the Georgia Southern University Libraries.

Mitchell, a member of the board or directors of the Bulloch County Historical Society, is slated to introduce Thomas during Sunday afternoon’s program. The Jack N. and Addie D. Averitt Foundation sponsors the lecture series, and the Bulloch County Historical Society hosts it with further support from corporate members.

Dr. David Hurst Thomas has served in his curatorial role with the American Museum of Natural History since 1972.

He has taught at Columbia University, New York University, the University of California-Davis, the University of Florida, the University of Nevada and the City College of New York and lectured in more than 40 countries.

Born in Oakland, he reportedly visited all 21 California missions with his mother before graduating from high school.  Attaining four degrees in anthropology from the University of California-Davis, Thomas made Spanish missions in North America something of a personal specialty, but not his only area of archeological exploration.

In 1970, he discovered Gatecliff Rockshelter in Nevada, the deepest archaeological rock shelter in the Americas. It dates back thousands of years before the Spanish arrived.


Mission to the Guale

But most relevant here, Thomas discovered and excavated the 16th- to 17th-century Franciscan Mission Santa Catalina de Guale on St. Catherines Island, Georgia.

Founded when the island was part of Spanish Florida, the mission existed more than a century before Georgia was created as an English colony. The New Georgia Encyclopedia gives the 1590s as the decade the mission was established. Its name reflects Spanish efforts to Christianize the Guale, a Native American group who lived in the area.

Thomas also led five excavation seasons at Mission San Marcos near Santa Fe, New Mexico.

In recognition of this mission research, Thomas in 1992 received the Franciscan Institute Medal, and is the only non-Franciscan ever to be so honored with this award, states the brief biography in the Averitt Lecture Series program.


Books and awards

Thomas has written 38 books, including the best-selling “Skull Wars: Kennewick Man, Archaeology, and the Battle for Native American Identity,” edited 98 volumes and published more than 135 scientific papers. Another of his books is “St. Catherines: An Island in Time.”.

In 1989, he was elected to the National Academy of Sciences, and the Smithsonian Institution’s Board of Regents appointed him as a Founding Trustee of the National Museum of the American Indian. He was awarded the Presidential Recognition Award by the Society for American Archaeology in 1991.

The Great Basin Anthropological Association awarded him its Founders’ Lifetime Achievement Award in 2014, and he received the Fryxell Award for Interdisciplinary Research from the Society for American Archaeology in 2015, and the Society for American Archaeology’s Lifetime Achievement award in 2017.

The late Professor Emeritus of History Jack N. Averitt, Ph.D., and his wife the late Addie D. Averitt started the lecture series in 1990. Its stated purpose remains “to present outstanding thinkers and authors who can contribute to the public’s understanding and appreciation of Southern history, literature, and culture.”


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