Maritime Culture Landscape Defined by Luna Settlement
Since 1992, when the first of Tristán de Luna y Arellano’s sunken vessels (dubbed Emanuel Point I, or EPI) was discovered in Pensacola Bay, the University of West Florida’s (UWF) Division of Anthropology and Archaeology, its Archaeology Institute, and volunteers have doggedly pursued every facet of his 1559-1561 New World expedition.
On October 2, 2015, evidence of Luna’s (as he is commonly known) terrestrial settlement was discovered in a residential neighborhood overlooking the anchorage of Luna’s fleet, thus validating America’s first multi-year settlement. In June 2016, the third Luna vessel destroyed in the September 1559 hurricane, was pinpointed.
The archaeological milestones have continued to astound professionals, engage students, and delight community activists.
UWF’s College of Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities hosted a panel discussion of the Luna Settlement at the Experience UWF Downtown Lectures Series Feb. 1 at the Museum of Commerce. More than 250 people attended.
The Luna Settlement is located on 100 percent privately-owned land. Dr. Elizabeth Benchley is director of the Division of Anthropology and Archeology, the Archaeology Institute, and co-principal investigator of the Luna Settlement investigation. “We have contacted over 120 property owners to request permission to search for evidence of Luna on their land, and so far, only five owners have turned us down,” she said. “This is a truly amazing neighborhood, and we are very grateful to them all.” Dr. John Worth, co-principal investigator for the Luna Settlement, reviewed major Spanish expeditions prior to Luna – including the discovery of the “Bay of Ochuse” (Pensacola Bay). Spain’s King Philip II, who commanded and financed the expedition, directed Luna to travel “from Veracruz, Mexico, establish a beachhead at Ochuse, and then make a land route to the native province of Coosa, (near modern Calhoun, Georgia), then descend the Appalachians to Santa Elena, (Beaufort, South Carolina),” said Worth. The goal was to transport people and wealth back to Spain bypassing the treacherous Florida Straits which were inhabited by pirates and unfriendly natives.
Associate Professor, Dr. Ramie Gougeon discussed late prehistoric Native Americans in the last century before Spanish contact. “We don’t have names, or precise dates,” Gougeon began. “Where there are similarities in artifacts, it can sometimes tell us about ethnicity, political entities and social groups.” Gougeon noted that our region is a study “of influence from elsewhere,” pointing to the Mobile Tensaw Delta area and lower Mississippi Valley and Ft. Walton culture as overlapping here. “Things get quiet when the Luna Settlement ends,” he continued. “And for close to a century we don’t have very many reports from this region.” When the Spaniards return, they are reporting all new names of Indians – different groups who have settled in the Pensacola area. His project is to “tease out this very dynamic period of people moving around the Pensacola Bay region around the time of contact and afterwards.”
Co-principal investigator of the Emanuel Point II (EPII) shipwreck, Dr. Gregory Cook, summarized findings from EPI and EPII, both of which were supported by Florida Division of Historical Resources (DHR) special category grants. The newest find, named EPM59, for Emanuel Point Magnetic Anomaly 59, was encountered June 20, 2016, during a Combined Archeological Fields Method course. “Items collected from EPM59 the first day included ballast stones and 16th century Majolica pottery,” Cook recalled. “To have the historic context of both land and underwater gives us a cultural maritime landscape, which is very exciting in terms of studying this site.”
Anthropology Department chair, and co-principal investigator of EPII, Dr. John Bratten, entertained the audience with sidebars on some artifacts he has handled since he began working as a conservator on EPI – including a cat’s remains which were shipped to Brussels, Belgium in hopes of extracting DNA. “There are some people there very interested in tracking the domestic feline’s movement from the Old World to the New World,” he explained.
Bratten confessed enjoying “finding things one wouldn’t expect to find.” An example was an ivory manicure set from the shipwreck. The arms unfold so one could clean fingernails, between teeth and even the ears. A sharp-eyed student noticed a reed inside the unit and determined it was a built-in whistle. Amber rosary beads, balance scale weights, buttons, buckles, straight pins, aglets, mirror pieces and pipes “all tell us stories about the people on-board the ships and in the settlement.”
Community outreach efforts were shared by Florida Public Archaeology Network (FPAN) associate director, Dr. Della Scott-Ireton. Community meetings with impacted landowners are ongoing, “sharing with them plans and making sure we have their buy-in and approval,” she said. Public lectures, multi-media efforts, articles, exhibits and a dedicated website have all contributed to the public’s awareness. Specially arranged site tours of the colony’s settlement provide individuals an opportunity to experience the same views the colonists saw in 1559. Scott-Ireton, a scuba instructor, was also instrumental in developing a “Dive into the PAST” (Public Archeology Shipwreck Tour) at the EPII site. “This is a science and academic tour as opposed to sport diving,” she explained. Certified Advanced Divers are given an overview, orientation dive, and allowed to assist grad students with excavating and sorting materials.
The Luna Settlement will undoubtedly uncover more finds to showcase Pensacola – America’s first settlement, through its maritime cultural investigation. To learn more about these efforts, visit uwf.edu/luna.