In 1992, archeologists found the first remains of the shipwrecks of Don Tristan de Luna’s fleet on the bottom of Pensacola Bay. De Luna, of course, was the man who first settled what would become Pensacola. But the exact location of the settlement was always a mystery. Was is the operative word.
Surrounded by members of the University of West Florida Archeology Department, university President Dr. Judy Bense stepped to a podium at T.T. Wentworth Museum in downtown Pensacola. "the one peice that has been missing from the study of our earliest Spanish roots is the settlement that goes along with the shipwrecks. And I am here to tell you that we have found that settlement." Bense, who founded the archeology department back in 1980 said this is the payoff of years of searching and researching. "(This settlement) has been looked for by amateurs, by collectors, by Norm Simons the original curator of the museum. It has been on people's minds they have been poking around looking for it fotr as long as people have been in Pensacola."
The actual discovery was made in October by Tom Garner, a Pensacola native with years of historical research experience. It started when he found what he calls an olive jar. "When I found the olive jar it made me very suspicious, but olive jars can have a long time frame (they) can go into the early 1800's. So, it's not necessarily Tristan deLuna. I found a piece of pottery called "Columbia Plain". That piece of pottery screamed Tristan deLuna because you would not find that pottery on any other archeological site in Pensacola. It was at that point I knew. I called up Jan Lloyd at the university archeology lab and I said 'Jan, I'm holding Columbia Plain'. She tells me she about had a heart attack! (She) then called up Elizabeth who then called John , and we started the process of getting permission from the (land) owners to look around."
Elizabeth and John are Dr. Elizabeth Benchley, the UWF Archeology Program’s Director, and Dr. John Worth, Principal Investigator of the program. Garner recalled the moment Dr. Worth realized what the artifacts he found meant. "So I bring these artifacts to the UWF Archeology Laboratory...and John (Worth) comes in and he sits down and he looks at these trays of artifacts." Garner recalls that after some time Dr. Worth looked up and said "Holy Moley!".
For her part, Dr. Elizabeth Benchley says the importance of the discovery has been very emotional. "I cried three times yesterday!". She says the archeological site is in a local Pensacola neighborhood. "We are doing our best not to disclose exactly where it is. We want to protect the privacy of the people who live on this site."
Thursday morning’s announcement was the first time people from outside the project and the university have heard about the discovery. Dr. Bense said that they wanted to tell Pensacola first. Bense says some outside experts were brought in to corroborate UWF’s findings about the artifacts. She also says there are no plans to try and purchase some of the land at the site.
The excavation at the site will be going on for years, as will the laboratory research on the various artifacts that have been recovered. Dr. Benchley says she hopes there will eventually be exhibits of the finds both downtown and at the University.