Magazine article Humanities

Underwater Clues

Magazine article Humanities

Underwater Clues

Article excerpt

FLORIDA RESTING ON A SHALLOW SANDBAR. NOT FAR from where the Bayou Texar drains into Pensacola Bay, are two of Florida's oldest shipwrecks. Archaeologists refer to them, for the site of their discovery, as Emanuel Point 1 and 2. The first is something big - a store ship or galleon measuring eighty to one hundred feet in length. The second is about half that size, its class unknown. Both, the evidence suggests, were part of an eleven-ship fleet commanded by Tristan de Luna y Arellano, a wealthy and well-regarded hidalgo, or member of the Spanish gentry, charged by King Philip II with colonizing the territory then known as La Florida. And both ships, it seems, were forced violently aground on the same night in 1559, victims of a hurricane that, despite the protective cover of the bay, scuttled eight of Luna's ships and, with them, any chance of his mission's success.

"There came up from the north a fierce tempest," the wouldbe conqueror wrote to his king shortly after the disaster, "which, blowing for twenty-four hours from all directions until the same hour as it began, without stopping but increasing continuously, did irreparable damage to the ships of the fleet." The expedition lost colonists to the storm and the supplies meant to sustain them while they settled in on the coast. A history compiled years later by a Dominican friar added that the winds (or, rather, its author claimed, the demons behind them) were so powerful that they drove one of the vessels the distance of an arquebus shot - around two hundred yards - inland, where it was found, miraculously, entirely intact, "not a pin missing."

Of course, today, not a pin of Luna's supposed miracle ship survives. Instead, archaeologists have only archival records and the worn, worm-eaten rubble at Emanuel Point to satisfy their curiosity. The first site "looks like a mud flat with a pile of rocks," says Delia Scott-Ireton, an underwater archaeologist with the Florida Public Archaeology Network. "It's dark and it's muddy - not the kind of place you would want to go fun diving. But, archaeologically, it's absolutely fascinating."

Scott-Ireton, who will give a Florida Humanities Council-hosted talk on the wrecks in Sarasota on May 16, was a member of the state survey team that, in 1992, discovered the larger of the two ships (the smaller one, which is still being excavated, was found almost fifteen years later by two University of West Florida students). "I remember that day," she says. "We ran over something, and the mag" - that is, the magnetometer, essentially, an underwater metal detector - "went off the scale, it defaulted, we'd run over something so big on the bottom. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.