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Spanish President Visits Site of First Pensacola for 300th Anniversary

Judith A. Bense

There are innumerable ways that we can make archaeology a productive and exciting part of a community. The special nature of our field captures the imagination of the public and provides a springboard from which we can instill an appreciation for the buried resources and the professionals educated to decipher them. Taking this approach has paid great dividends for archaeology in my community--Pensacola, Florida--and for the archaeology program at the University of West Florida.

The key to moving from a soft money "walk-on" to the head of the best-known program on- and off-campus is the combination of professional research interests with public interests. We usually have an ongoing public archaeology project which is high profile and linked to a topic of public interest. It can be as general as finding and showcasing the walls, building foundations, and cannons from the colonial Fort of Pensacola under the streets and parking lots of downtown. It can be as exciting as finding and excavating a sunken galleon in Pensacola Bay from the ill-fated 1559 Spanish settlement attempt.

The latest "town-gown" archaeology project is the First Pensacola site, which was established in 1698 and is currently located on the U.S. Naval Air Station. This particular project has had an extra added dimension of international politics and diplomacy due to Spain's interest in celebrating its role in U.S. history.

The little Spanish garrison named Presidio Santa María de Galve, manned by convicts from Mexico City jails, was established in 1698 overlooking the pass into Pensacola Bay. It barely survived for 22 years under almost constant attacks by English-led Creeks. Although it had been studied by historians, the site's location had been lost. We knew that locating this lost settlement followed by a public-friendly excavation during the celebration of its 300th anniversary would provide a golden opportunity for archaeology to make both a scholarly and public contribution. So in 1995, archaeology and history students and professionals from the University of West Florida Archeology Institute launched the First Pensacola Project. We found the 5-acre site in 1995, with almost 60 percent of the site preserved, under a parade ground and softball field. The treasures included burned fort walls, burned buildings, cannons, weapons, a sealed midden and features, and a plethora of cultural material. Historians found thousands of documents through the efforts of a private researcher with a 15-year obsession with this settlement who has copied and translated hundreds of documents.

In the spring, the Florida vice consul to Spain, Maria Davis, conducted a delegation to Spain to ask Queen Sophia and the head of the Spanish Navy to participate in the kick-off celebration of their colonial settlement in Pensacola. They assented. On June 9, 1998, the spectacular four-masted tall ship Juan Sebastián de Elcano entered Pensacola Pass just below the bluff of the Presidio accompanied by the Navy Precision Flight Team, the Blue Angels, flying overhead. A delegation of dignitaries and others arrived, which included the Spanish naval attaché, the international press, and a living descendant of Tristan de Luna, leader of the Spanish attempt to colonize Florida in 1559. The next day the president and prime minister of Spain, José María Aznar, arrived in Pensacola met by Undersecretary of the U. S. Navy Jerry M. Hultin, Spain's Ambassador to the United States Antonio de Oyarzabal, Florida Governor Lawton Chiles, Admiral Patricia Tracey, Commanding Officer of the Naval Air Station-Pensacola Captain Michael Denkler, and Pensacola Mayor John Fogg. There was a ceremony at the base of the bluff below the site of the 300-year-old Presidio Santa María de Galve. Our archaeology students, archaeologists, and historians took part in this celebration, including fielding questions from the press on our discoveries about the "First Pensacolians." The next day a flotilla of local yachts sailed out to the shipwreck site of the vessel in the 1559 Luna fleet, and a wreath was laid while "Taps" was played and a prayer was said.

These festivities mark only the beginning of the celebration of the 300th anniversary of this small Spanish Presidio. For the actual anniversary date in November, a major portion of the fort will be reconstructed, markers will be in place, reenactors will be present, and King Carlos and Queen Sophia of Spain may very well be in attendance. Archaeology has made a big contribution to this event, and we have been at the head of the line from the international press stories to the receiving line at major events.

Archaeological sites and archaeologists have the potential to be a part of this country's historical celebrations, and I encourage all of you to look for opportunities such as this to communicate the value of archaeology to the present and future.The payoff is unbelievable. It makes great archaeopolitics!

Judith A. Bense is chair of the Government Affairs Committee and director of the Archeology Institute at the University of West Florida in Pensacola.

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