19 Dec 2015

First European Settlement in America

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Mid-16th century Spanish artifacts discovered at the site of Tristan de Luna’s 1559 settlement in Pensacola. (photo: University of West Florida)

The Pulse reports that archaeologists have identified the site of the first European settlement in America.

For centuries, the exact location of Tristán de Luna y Arellano’s 1559 settlement in Pensacola — the first multi-year European settlement in the United States — has been a mystery.

Not anymore.

Archaeologists from the University of West Florida announced on Thursday the discovery of one of the most significant historical sites in the nation: the archaeological site of the de Luna settlement, hidden just beneath the surface in the city’s East Pensacola Heights neighborhood.

“Our archaeological team has discovered and can support the statement that the land settlement site of Tristan de Luna has been located within the city limits of Pensacola, Florida,” said Dr. Judy Bense, the university’s current president and founder of its archaeology program. “And we are telling the world today.”

In October, Pensacola native Tom Garner discovered Spanish colonial and Native American artifacts at a privately owned residential lot within view of two previously discovered shipwrecks in Pensacola Bay. The so-called “Emmanuel Point shipwrecks,” located in 1992 and 2006, have also been linked to the de Luna expedition.

The artifacts Garner discovered are definitive evidence of de Luna’s settlement, which lasted from 1559 to 1561 — the earliest multi-year European colonial settlement ever archaeologically identified in the United States. De Luna’s Pensacola settlement predates the Spanish settlement in St. Augustine, Fla. by six years, and the English settlement in Jamestown, Va. by 48 years.

After collecting several artifacts, Garner brought them to the UWF archaeology lab on October 30. Dr. John Worth, associate professor of historical archaeology, is an archaeology and ethnohistory expert and focuses on the Spanish colonial era in the southeastern United States.

“What we saw in front of us in the lab that day was an amazing assemblage of mid-16th century Spanish colonial period artifacts,” said Worth. “These items were very specific to this time period. The University conducted fieldwork at this site in the mid-1980s, as have others since then, but no one had ever found diagnostics of the sort that Tom found on the surface. People have looked for this site for a long time.”
Various artifacts, including Native American beads, have been discovered at the site of Tristan de Luna’s 1559 settlement in Pensacola. (University of West Florida/Special to the Pulse)

Various artifacts, including Native American beads, have been discovered at the site of Tristan de Luna’s 1559 settlement in Pensacola. (University of West Florida/Special to the Pulse)

With the cooperation and support of residents and property owners, UWF began test excavations at the site was able to recover other artifacts. Archaeologists recovered numerous shards of broken 16th century Spanish ceramics found undisturbed beneath the ground’s surface. They are believed to be pieces of assorted cookware and tableware, including liquid storage containers called olive jars. Small personal and household items were also among the findings — a lead fishing line weight, a copper lacing aglet, and wrought iron nail and spike fragments. Additionally, the team recovered beads known to have been traded with Native Americans. These items are consistent with materials previously identified in the shipwrecks offshore in Pensacola Bay.

The artifacts were linked to the Spanish expedition led by de Luna, who brought 1,500 soldiers, colonists, slaves, and Aztec Indians in 11 ships from Veracruz, Mexico, to Pensacola to begin the Spanish colonization of the northern Gulf Coast in 1559. One month after they arrived, the colony was struck by a hurricane, sinking many of their ships and devastating their food supplies. After two years, the remnants of the colony were rescued by Spanish ships and returned to Mexico.

One Feedback on "First European Settlement in America"


Cortes doesn’t count? And there might be some people in L’Anse aux Meadows with a claim as well. Still, cool. I had no idea that Pensacola has such a claim to fame.


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