Northwestern State University alumnus Dillon Roy was part of a team of student/staff field archaeologists from the University of West Florida that discovered a shipwreck near Pensacola, Florida, last year.
Roy, a graduate student, was among the divers who discovered the ship, referred to as Emanuel Point III, covered with sand in seven feet of water. The ship was part of a fleet that in 1559 brought Conquistador Don Tristan de Luna and his army to what is now suburban Pensacola, site of the first European settlement in the United States. Most of that fleet sank during a hurricane that struck the coast shortly after Luna’s arrival.
The Emanuel Point Shipwreck Site, Florida’s oldest, was first discovered in 1992 when the Florida Bureau of Archaeological Research conducted an underwater inventory of Pensacola Bay and searchers located the remains of a Spanish galleon. Experts suspected that other vessels from the Luna fleet were submerged in the bay and located EP II in 2006. EP III was discovered about 200 meters from shore, which could indicate it was a small vessel and possibly one of the earliest ships built in the New World.
Roy was one of the divers who returned to the surface with artifacts in their hands. The team from the UWF archaeology program discovered ballast stones, iron concretions, an articulated hull of the ship with frames and hull planking and remnants of ceramics carried on the ship.
“I’m currently working on my master’s degree in historical archaeology focusing on maritime archaeology at UWF,” Roy said. “I’ve been diving since January 2013. When I got out to the maritime portion of field school as a supervisor last summer I had heard that we had a substantial hit from a previous magnetometer survey and that some of the target dives that followed had yielded a few possible pieces of ballast stone. No excavations had been conducted on the possible new site however though.”
When the team investigated the area, the first dive team installed a 1 x 1-meter square grid for a test unit. Dive two’s team, consisting of Roy, UWF maritime archaeology professor Dr. Greg Cook and field school student Rick Ramos, went down with a dredge to begin excavating the test unit.
“Shortly into dredging we uncovered ship structure, confirming that we did indeed have a new wreck,” Roy said. “I think the most thrilling thing about the discovery for me was realizing just how big of a deal this was and that I got to be a part of it. I never imagined that as a grad student that I would be involved with something this incredible.”
Roy, a native of Baton Rouge, graduated from NSU in 2014 with a degree in general studies with a concentration in social sciences and a double minor in anthropology and English.
“I would in no way be where I am today in my studies had it not been for the instruction and mentoring of NSU anthropology and archaeology professors Dr. Pete Gregory and Dr. Tommy Hailey,” he said.
Luna, the conquistador, and about 1,500 soldiers, colonists, slaves and Aztec Indians traveled in 11 ships from Veracruz, Mexico, to Pensacola. Three shipwrecks still remain undiscovered in the bay, but the UWF team possibly found another one, or even all three, based on a few of the magnetic anomalies detected last year. UWF students divided into two groups and excavated the bay for 11 weeks.
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers approved a permit for the UWF team to conduct test excavations through March 2017 to determine the extent of the shipwreck and the type of wood used to build the ship.
A Florida Division of Historical Resources’ special category grant for $290,000 funded part of the excavation. The matching grant awarded to UWF in 2014 provided funding for faculty, staff and students to conduct fieldwork, laboratory analysis, artifact conservation and curation, archival research in Spain and public outreach for two years. UWF will apply for similar grants in the future to fund further excavations.