Monday, May 30, 2005


Students to assess sunken ship site


Pensacola News Journal
By Sheila Ingram
May 23, 2005

Group hopes to find lost de Luna fleet
University of West Florida students could discover new underwater archeological relics -- maybe even another Spanish galleon from explorer Don Tristan de Luna's fleet -- this summer.

The shifting of sediments and forceful waves from Hurricane Ivan gave total makeovers to floors of area bays, rivers and the Gulf of Mexico.

The UWF archaeological students will assess how previously discovered historic shipwreck sites fared in the storm and whether previously undiscovered shipwrecks now are exposed.

Early assessments indicate that the area's jewel -- the Emanuel Point shipwreck -- escaped the storm intact. The 100-foot sailing ship that was part of de Luna's fleet in 1559 was discovered in 1992 by a Florida Bureau of Archaeological Research team, off Emanuel Point. At least six of de Luna's 11-ship fleet sank to the bottom of Pensacola Bay during a hurricane, just weeks after de Luna's 1,500 colonists arrived near Pensacola.

The hurricane destroyed the emerging colony and is the reason St. Augustine is known as the oldest permanent city in the United States.

Finding pieces of the de Luna fleet puzzle always is on the minds of marine archaeologists in Pensacola, and Hurricane Ivan may have provided an opportunity.

"It's a real dream," said John Bratten, a researcher at UWF. "We'd love to find the others.

"The UWF students also will survey the downtown waterfront from the mouth of Bayou Texar to Bayou Chico and other shipwrecks, such as the Santa Rosa Island wreck, which sank in 1705 and lies in waters near the Gulf Islands National Seashore.

UWF researcher Greg Cook and a team of students visited the Santa Rosa Island site on Friday."It's in a dynamic environment since the hurricane," Cook said. "One day it will be totally buried under sand, and the next day it will be out of the sand. We're going to try to stabilize it and rebury it.

"The research teams also will visit sites in the Gulf of Mexico and in the Blackwater River, in search of the HMS Mentor, a British ship presumed to be somewhere in the river after it was sunk while fleeing Spanish forces during the Battle of Pensacola in 1791. They will search for a Union Navy vessel called the USS Preble, which sank in 1863 in Pensacola Bay.

"There are as many as 200 to 300 shipwrecks in area waters. More than 50 have been documented archaeologically, but there are others out there," Bratten said.Cook said finding historical shipwrecks is a thrill.

"It's a privilege to work on a site like the Emanuel Point shipwreck," Cook said. "You realize the anguish and heartache of the people at that time, and you can provide information about what life was like then, what they were wearing, what it was like on the ship, what did they want to do. It's small little details like that that get lost and are the most interesting.

"If we found a ship in Tristan de Luna's fleet, you'll probably hear us shouting for joy," he said.

More than 20 students will split their time this summer between the marine archaeology research and unearthing artifacts from an area behind the T.T. Wentworth Jr. Florida State Museum, where colonial forts stood between the 1750s and 1821.

UWF student Hiroshi Toshikage, 30, is working on the downtown excavation now but in about four weeks will be searching for shipwrecks.

All students in the marine program have to be certified divers.

"Underwater archaeology is a newer field," Toshikage said. "You can still find wrecks that nobody has ever seen before because of the hurricane. This is something I've wanted to do since I was a kid."Toshikage said Pensacola is a gold mine for archaeologists.

"I don't think there's anyplace like this," he said.

Elizabeth Benchley, UWF Archaeology Institute associate director, said the colonial archaeology in downtown Pensacola and in the area's waters are intertwined and that splitting the summer program into the two fields for students makes sense.

"It's really exciting to blend them together," she said.

"Lately, the marine archaeology is more romantic for students. There have been years when only one student signed up for underwater archaeology. Lately, there have been more," she said.

"The problem is, there aren't as many jobs in marine archaeology. Students are better positioned for jobs after leaving the university if they know both."


Comments: Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?