In the spring of 2006, New South Associates’ archaeologists monitoring the placement of well points for construction excavation of the Aviation Rescue Swimmer School (ARSS) at Naval Air Station (NAS) Pensacola in Escambia County, Florida noted the presence of some suspicious artifacts, including fragments of hemp rope and worm-holed wood, from depths between 15 to 20 feet below the surface. New South Associates advised NAS Pensacola of the potential presence of a deeply buried shipwreck on the location. With the well point system in place, archaeologists monitored heavy equipment excavation of the massive pool at the ARSS, which was intended for use in simulating and training for aircraft rescue in water. With everyone now on alert, work continued at a slower pace until large fragments of iron and wood were encountered, identifying the presence of a buried feature. Construction was halted and a Phase II Archaeological Investigation was immediately undertaken to determine if, in fact, this was a shipwreck and to assess its preservation and National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) eligibility.
The archaeological fieldwork determined that the large wooden timbers were part of a very well-preserved wooden shipwreck. Burning on hull timbers suggested that this shipwreck might date to the 1719 French attack on the settlement of Pensacola. However, there is potential that this shipwreck may be from the first Spanish settlement of Florida by Tristan de Luna, which was decimated by a devastating hurricane on September 19, 1559. Limited excavation of the ship took place and portions of the bow, which includes the stem, parts of the starboard hull, hull sheathing, and framing, were identified. Few artifacts were recovered, thus limiting the excavation’s ability to date this vessel.
New South Associates recommended this shipwreck eligible for the NRHP for the information it could provide on ship architecture and construction, and the Navy selected an alternative location to the ARSS. New South Associates assisted the Navy and its contractors in monitoring work at a new location for the ARSS. This well-preserved shipwreck offers significant potential to yield information about ship construction, cargo, and Pensacola history, and the Navy is considering prospects for the future excavation and conservation of this important resource.