Oldest City Can Also Boast an Historic Ocean Bottom

Article excerpt

Just offshore from the historic homes and streets of St.

Augustine, archaeologists might have found -- for the first time

-- wreckage of a 17th century Spanish ship.

The discovery would represent a new chapter in research into

the city's past, and would be the first time a colonial Spanish

wreck was recovered this far north on Florida's Atlantic coast.

"It is a new window, and one we haven't looked in before,"

said Jim Miller, Florida's chief archaeologist. ". . . It is

very important, no doubt about it. It has the potential to lead

to a very careful and very productive research program over many

years."

Wreckage including cannon, anchors and a stone grinding wheel

were found about three weeks ago, a half-mile offshore.

"It is going to provide the first opportunity to look at the

ships that made St. Augustine possible in the first place," said

John W. Morris III, part of a research team from the non-profit

Southern Oceans Archaeological Research which made the find.

Initial findings suggest the debris may be from a cargo

vessel as large as 120 feet.

From the remains, researchers speculated the ship sank

between 1670 and 1730, possibly overcome by a storm while

sailing for St. Augustine from Spain's main colony in Cuba.

St. Augustine was a Spanish colony from its founding in 1565

until the mid-18th century, when Florida was ceded to British

control.

The Spanish returned several decades later, remaining until

1821.

Despite extensive historical research onshore, archaeologists

have for years been frustrated in attempts to find Spanish-era

shipwrecks in North Florida.

The discovery last month was made under 27 feet of water

during an 11-week search of 55 potential sites.

Heavy seas, a broken boat motor and poor undersea visibility

hampered the search of sites by Morris and fellow researchers

Marianne Franklin, Norine Carroll, Kelly Bumpas and Andrea

White.

The group, almost out of money and time, was checking one of

the southern sites and found an anchor sticking out of the sand,

Morris said.

"It felt marvelous. I sat down there for a few minutes and

fanned the sand away from it," he said. "I came up and told

Marianne that `We have an anchor and it is Spanish and pretty

early,' and she looked over the side and said `No way!' We were

yelling and screaming halfway back to the dock."

Researchers plan to spend the next few months trying to

identify the ship based on information gathered during dives at

the site.

They will return next spring to study the site and the eight

cannon and three anchors found in it. …