Reprint of Pensacola News Journal article,
Sunday, August 13, 1995.

Site of Spanish Colony Found

Archaeologists unearth artifacts at Pensacola NAS
By: Bill Kaczor Associated Press

Archaeologist have found the place where Spain occupied Pensacola for a second time, but the site of what is thought to be the first European colony in the United States remains a mystery.

One archaeologist has suggested the earlier 1559 site, which the Spanish abandoned after only two years, has gone undiscovered because it never was in Pensacola to begin with. Instead, it might have been on Choctawhatchee Bay, some 50 miles east.

After a summer of digging that concluded Aug. 4, the University of West Florida Archaeology Institute has pinpointed the location of Santa Maria de Galve at the Pensacola Naval Air Station. It was established in 1698 139 years after the first colony.

"It is a spectacular find," said institute Director Judy Bense. "What we have here is a sealed ... protected land surface of the Spaniards." University students and volunteers, many of them Navy personnel and family members, have unearthed pieces of Spanish and Indian pottery, trade beads, a Spanish coin dating from 1700 to 1715 and a French gravy bowl probably left behind when France occupied Pensacola from 1719 to 1722.

Among the more interesting finds are a few pieces of Spanish floor tile, possibly still where they were originally laid nearly three centuries ago, two feet below the present surface. The site of the settlement, or presidio, is about 300 feet wide and 600 feet long on a bluff overlooking Pensacola Bay. It is now covered by parking lots, buildings, lawns, baseball fields and a parade ground in front of the Defense Photography School.

The dimensions are based on where artifacts were found when archaeologists did a series of shovel tests, digging 1.5-foot-square holes a couple feet deep, throughout the part of the base where historical records indicated the presidio probably had been. Five-foot square holes then were dug at several places.

This summer's digging, however, failed to turn up any traces of Fort San Carlos de Austria, a wooden structure that was part of the colony, or of the earlier 1559 settlement established by Tristan de Luna.

Bense is planning larger excavations next summer in hopes of uncovering remains of the fort, although funding may be in jeopardy. This year's dig was paid for with a $70,000 grant from the Defense Department's Legacy Program, that program is being slashed by 80 percent next year. "I hope we are one of the 20 percent left," Bense said. She has been lobbying Florida congressional delegation members to keep the project going. Although disappointed the Luna site was not found, Bense said she is not searching for any one colonial community. She previously unearthed Spanish and English sites in downtown Pensacola.

Luna colony elusive

Caleb Curren, director of the private Pensacola Archaeology Lab, has focused, however, on the Luna colony. He also has conducted studies at the naval air station and other sites along Pensacola Bay.

Sixteenth century Spanish artifacts, including a coin, pieces of pottery and an iron gun rest, have been found at various sites in Pensacola, Gulf Breeze and on Santa Rosa Island, but none has turned up on the naval base. The scattered discoveries, however, are insufficient to prove the colony of about 1,500 people was at any of the sites.

Curren said he has not yet given up on Pensacola, but also is pursuing a new hypothesis the first colony may have been on Choctawhatchee Bay near Fort Walton Beach. Spanish 16th century artifacts have been found there.

Filipa vs. Ochuse

A problem with his theory is the recent discovery of a 16th century shipwreck in Pensacola Bay. Evidence so far indicates it was part of Luna's fleet, although a positive determination has not been made. One of Luna's ships was beached and six others sank in a hurricane shortly after he arrived at the bay the Spanish called Ochuse. Curren said one explanation may be that Pensacola Bay is what the Spanish called Filipa, which was about 50 miles west of Ochuse and was always thought to be Mobile Bay in Alabama.

The shipwreck could have gotten there because Luna landed first at Filipa, which would be Pensacola Bay under the new theory, before proceeding to Ochuse, or Choctawhatchee Bay if he is right, and returned at least one more time, Curren said.

The hypothesis also would require other rewriting of history. Luna's inland exploration at the Mobile and lower Alabama rivers would have to be shifted eastward to the Escambia and Conecuh rivers. Curren said he is conducting studies at promising sites in Century and Andalusia, Alabama in search of evidence to support hypothesis.
"We are not saying we have absolute proof," Curren said. "It may be all wrong." But he added: "Archaeology is wonderful in one major way because we can test this stuff... take the shovel, and we go out see if it's true or not."

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