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Looking for Clues: Archaeology students contributed to Luna Settlement research during summer field school

| By: Jordan Ardoin |

two students digging on deluna site
Undergraduate and Graduate Students work together in the UWF summer field school program.

In 1559, Tristán de Luna y Arellano led 1,500 Spanish colonizers to settle in Pensacola on their way to South Carolina. Spread across a rectangular stretch of flat land measuring 300 by 250 meters, the settlement included soldiers and a few of their families. Due to a hurricane destroying their supply ships and essentially starving the colonizers, the settlement lasted only about two years. Even so, as these people lived, worked, ate and worshipped in Pensacola, they left traces of their lives and day-to-day activities.

This summer, a Division of Anthropology and Archaeology field school gave graduate and undergraduate students the opportunity to get their hands dirty—literally and figuratively—at the Luna site.

During summer field school, on the same land where Luna settled, UWF archaeologists dug beneath the surface at several sites, searching for those traces. Dr. John Worth, professor of anthropology at UWF and principal site investigator of the Luna Settlement, explained that the Luna team primarily uses domestic refuse to inform their hypotheses about the Luna site.

At the site, students excavated up to 70 centimeters underground. In one feature, students uncovered 16th-century barrel bands, Native American pottery and other artifacts that hint at the settlers’ daily activities.

Worth described the students’ work on the site as a scientific process. Finding artifacts was not enoughstudents needed to be able to hypothesize about why a specific object might be in a specific location. By searching for the context of the artifacts they found, students helped paint the larger picture of what life looked like on the Luna settlement in the 16th century.

Worth said, “We’re not looking for things, we’re looking for clues. It’s all part of that information package, and it’s the science that comes first.”

In order to put the artifacts they found in context, students at the Luna site meticulously documented the placement of objects in the ground both vertically and horizontally. That meant digging in organized 10 centimeter levels and recording the exact level at which an artifact was buried. It also included using a total station to create 3D models of each excavation.

According to Christina Bolte, graduate student and field director of the Luna settlement site, much of the work she and other students did during this summer’s field school was based on testing hypotheses. Sometimes the Luna team started by looking at the big picture as described in historical documents and searched for evidence to back that up. Sometimes the discovery of a certain artifact in a certain location sparked its own hypothesis about what that big picture might have looked like.

Bolte said, “We’re using the dirt and the archaeology to test those hypotheses. You use both in order to come to a more thorough understandingit’s really all about the testing that happens.”

Through their scientific process of testing hypotheses and putting artifacts in context, students of the field school contributed to the story of Luna’s settlement in Pensacola.

Elizabeth Benchley, director of the Division of Anthropology and Archaeology and the Archaeology Institute at UWF, described the collective excitement of the field school’s uncovering of the Luna settlement as follows: “You never know what you’re going to find next and what part of the story will be filled in.”

For more information on the Division of Anthropology and Archaeology’s field schools, visit the division’s website.