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Newest Luna Artifacts Yield More Details About 1559 Settlement

University of West Florida archaeologists spent the summer uncovering more details about Tristan de Luna’s 1559 Settlement in Pensacola. Much of the story of the ill-fated Spanish colony is being told through the artifacts that have been discovered.

Just days before the 2017 Luna Settlement Terrestrial Field School concluded at the end of July, excavations at the site yielded one of the season’s most unexpected finds near a thick midden of broken olive jar pieces.

“We were below the level that we thought we were [going to] get most of our artifacts in, and we had just started carefully using shovels to take out the soil,” said first-year archaeology student Kenny Perry.

UWF Archaeology student Kenny Perry holding Luna olive jar neck and rim piece he discovered.
Credit John Worth / UWF Archaeology Institute
UWF Archaeology Institute

The 34-year-old Marine Corps veteran, who’s majoring in bio-anthropology, went on to describe the discovery of what he thought was just another olive jar fragment or sherd. But, then he noticed that this particular artifact had a bit of roundness to it, a different shape than the rest of the material they were finding.

“So we cleaned out around it and excavated a little more and realized that it was the first “whole” neck and rim piece from an olive jar.”

Further, the style of the neck and rim piece is an indication to UWF Archaeology Institute researchers that it may have already been fairly old when Luna brought it here.

Another exciting discovery came in the form of two additional 16th century glass, trading beads, rarely found in the southeast.

“They’re very rare, called Nueva Cadiz beads,” said Dr. John Worth, principal investigator of the Luna Settlement Project. “We’ve found two of them now in different locations from where we found our first one. So, in other words, we’ve firmed up the idea that these little glass trade beads were indeed part of the typical equipment that most of the Spaniards on site had to trade for food and other items with the local Southeastern Indians.”

According to Dr. Worth’s Luna Settlement Blog, a record of Luna’s inventory of trade goods lists two boxes filled with glass beads of all types.

Credit John Worth / UWF Archaeology Institute
UWF Archaeology Institute
Various glass trade beads found at the Luna site.

So far, UWF archaeologists have recovered a total of three Nueva Cadiz beads, six Chevron beads and one seed bead.

In addition to the extraordinarily rare glass beads, Worth noted the discovery of some little clay balls “that may be associated with crossbow hunting of birds, because they did that in 16th century Spain; used little clay balls with special attachments on the crossbow strings.

Additionally, archaeologists added to their collection of copper crossbow bolt tips.

They now have a total of nine, five from the Luna terrestrial site and four previously recovered from the Emmanuel Point I Luna shipwreck.

“All of them are copper, which is exactly the opposite of what they were typically made from in Spain, which is iron,” said Worth.

Along with an abundance of Aztec pottery found on the site, Worth says the fact that the bolt tips were all made of copper by Aztec artisans is more evidence that the Luna Expedition launched from Mexico.

“We’re learning about the first 16th century Mexican colony to the southeast. It [the expedition] was staged in Mexico City, went through Veracruz; the vast majority of its members, including the Aztecs, all came from New Spain, from Mexico.”

According to Worth, all the Mexican exploratory expeditions in the 16th century seemed to have been characterized, in particular, by the copper crossbow tips.

“The Coronado Expedition in 1540-42, which Luna himself was on, was characterized by copper. And, all of this traces back to the original entrance of [Hernando] Cortés and his battle with the Aztecs in Mexico City. He commanded the Aztecs who were supporting him to make crossbow bolts in advance of a battle.”

Credit John Worth / UWF Archaeology Institute
UWF Archaeology Institute
Copper crossbow bolt tip is one of five found at the Luna Settlement site; four were found on one of the Luna shipwrecks.

“There were 50,000 of them made in a period of just a little over 8 or 9 days,” said graduate student James Gazaway. “The Spanish had said we want 8,000 of these made and the Mexican craftsmen turned out 50,000.”

Gazaway, an Army veteran pursuing a Masters in historical archaeology, is exploring a thesis on the military aspect of the 1559 Luna Settlement. He says at the time in the 16th century Spain was transitioning from armies of knights and associated breastplates and weaponry.

“New doctrines are being developed; new styles are being develop,” Gazaway. “Everything is revolving around the incorporation moving from crossbows to arquebuses and muskets, losing of the armor and going to other forms of protection.”

Historical records show Luna was supplied with 49 dozen crossbow bolts and 17 complete crossbows, which would be phased out as a military weapon over the next decade or so.

Gazaway says what he’d like to find now is evidence of the personal weaponry of Luna’s cavalry, which consisted of individually recruited soldiers.

“There was no unified army per say with everybody in the same kind of uniform and the same equipment. There was a lot was mix and match; stuff that had come down through family, stuff picked up on the market, things that were purchased cheaply, things that were purchased expensively if you had the money for it. So, it’s a very mixed bag of what was here.”

As archaeologists look for artifacts related to the 500 soldiers Luna brought with him, Dr. Worth says they may find evidence of their families.

“At minimum 36 had wives, who they brought, and I know for a fact also that some children were brought, too. So whole families actually made the expedition,” Worth said. “I would love to find evidence of children’s toys if they survived, certainly jewelry of the fancy sort that wouldn’t be part of men’s attire.”

To date, the UWF research team has found the remains of an improvised wire-wrapped finger ring. Worth says it appears to be designed for a female because of its small size, but he adds that whether it belonged to a soldier’s wife - or a servant or slave - will not be known until they can confirm orientation of the settlement and what part of the population lived in the specific area where it was recovered.

Get the latest information on the Luna Settlement research by linking to Dr. Worth's blog.

Sandra Averhart has been News Director at WUWF since 1996. Her first job in broadcasting was with (then) Pensacola radio station WOWW107-FM, where she worked 11 years. Sandra, who is a native of Pensacola, earned her B.S. in Communication from Florida State University.