Pensacola was one of a handful of colonial period communities in the Southeastern United States. Colonial historical archaeology is a major focus of the Archaeology Institute and several extensive grant and contract sponsored investigations have been conducted both on land and underwater. Terrestrial investigations have been conducted at the well preserved 1698-1722 Spanish presidio, Santa Maria de Galve, the 1722-1752 Presidio Isla de Santa Rosa, the 1754-1763 Presidio San Miguel de Panzacola, the 1763-1781 British Fort of Pensacola, the 1781-1821 Spanish town of Pensacola, and recently the 1741-1761 Mission San Joseph de Escambe.
Beginning in 2009, one of the UWF terrestrial archaeological field schools conducted archaeological survey designed to locate the northernmost Spanish mission associated with Pensacola's colonial presidios, Mission San Joseph de Escambe. Using a combination of historical records and systematic shovel testing, the well-preserved mission site was located along the Escambia River in the community of Molino, Florida. Continuing research at the site will include a UWF summer field school in 2010.
UWF Public archaeology returned to downtown Pensacola in the summers of 2005 and 2006. Excavations were conducted at the Commanding Officer’s compound inside the former colonial fort that was located downtown between 1756 and 1821. Today, this area is within the UWF Historic Pensacola Village behind the T.T. Wentworth State Museum and has been set aside as an “archaeological” park.
Pensacola was the site of three 18th century frontier presidios (fortified frontier settlements) supported by New Spain (Mexico) to protect the western border of Spanish West Florida from French intrusion from Louisiana. The presidios were named Santa Maria de Galve (1698-1719), Santa Rosa (1722-1752), and San Miguel (1754-1763). The first two presidios were destroyed - the French burned Santa Maria and Presidio Santa Rosa was destroyed by a hurricane. Presidio Santa Rosa can be considered the "Crown Jewel" of Pensacola's 3 presidios. Not only was it the largest Mexican/Hispanic colonial settlement on the Gulf of Mexico, but it is the best preserved because of its catastrophic ending, immediate abandonment, and following isolation. The site has been nominated for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places.
The UWF Anthropology department conducted excavations at this first permanent Spanish settlement of present-day Pensacola from 1995 to 1998. The four years of investigation uncovered a great deal of information concerning both Presidio Santa María de Galve and 18th-century colonial Spain. The site produced a wealth of professional papers and publications including 4 symposia at local, regional, national, and international conferences; 11 master's theses; and an academic book on the presidio - Presidio Santa María De Galve: A Struggle for Survival in Colonial Spanish Pensacola, edited by Dr. Judith Bense.
In early 1990, an unprecedented concentration of Colonial features and artifacts associated with the Colonial forts in Pensacola were uncovered as the pavement was being removed from streets in the Historic District of Pensacola for an urban renewal project. This discovery heralded the beginning of archaeological investigations in downtown Pensacola.
The Colonial Archaeological Trail was a project of the UWF Archaeology Institute and the Historic Pensacola Preservation Board conceived as an endeavor to expose hidden Colonial archaeological remains in Pensacola and to display them in present-day context.
This was a multiyear study of households in the colonial town of Pensacola between about 1755 and 1821. Archaeologists began excavation in a downtown park (Ferdinand Plaza) and conducted two terrestrial field schools there followed by laboratory methods classes. The remains of a very large building were found near the fort gate, which probably was a trading post on the first floor with a residence on the second floor. This building was used only for a short while (ca 1755-1766) when it was demolished for expansion of the British fort in 1767. Archaeologists also found refuse pits, which contained many high status artifacts, and portions of two lower class households on the far eastern side of town, which were smaller and occupied for several decades during the late 1700s and early 1800s.