A 21-year-old UF student was honored in the Congressional Record for assisting with a historic discovery.
Ethan White, a UF history junior, was part of the team that discovered the conquistador Hernando de Soto’s 1539 encampment near Orange Lake, Florida. White participated in the multiple-year dig when he was in high school and submitted his findings to the Florida Museum of Natural History.
White said he was shocked at being honored by the U.S. Congress, especially because the excavation happened years ago. It was his first time doing archaeological fieldwork, he said.
“It makes me feel like I have contributed something not only to the community of historians but the community in general,” White said.
White said he is honored to represent UF nationally with the award.
“It made me proud to be a Gator,” he said.
White comes from a family deeply involved in the archeological community, he said. He and his family worked together to discover the lost city of Potano, the town of the indigenous Potano tribe and the location of de Soto’s encampment.
His father, a surgeon and former professional archaeologist, Dr. Ashley White, describes his son as brilliant. He said his son is a talented musician with his own album out on iTunes titled “Rock Man,” and is a UF Anderson Scholar and University Scholar.
“He has all these other interests that are just neat,” he said.
Ashley White said Ethan White spent his childhood visiting different archaeological sites around the world. During the de Soto excavation, he said his son organized groups of student volunteers to photograph and unearth artifacts.
The Whites discovered artifacts in the excavation process that date back to the late 16th century, Ethan White said.
“A lot of this stuff was basically a time capsule, like those crossbow arrows we found,” White said. “They hadn’t been touched by human hands since one of de Soto’s guys loaded the crossbow and shot it.”
Along with the crossbow arrow tips, White said he found chainmail armor and the bones of a domesticated pig the Spanish brought over.
White said he hopes his discovery can get people interested in a period of North American history that often gets overlooked.
“It’s really the story of the roots of the United States before the United States of America was even a thought,” he said.
In regards to his future, White said he has aspirations for law school or academia. For now, the self-proclaimed adventurous spirit will continue to discover pieces of history at UF, he said.
“Archeology is a fun way to play detective, so to speak,” he said.