Visit Pensacola celebrates the discovery of a third 16th century shipwreck from Tristan de Luna’s Spanish fleet in Pensacola

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Nicole Stacey
Visit Pensacola
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De Luna Ship Discovery

The Emanuel Point III, found by the University of West Florida archaeology program in Pensacola Bay, is the newest piece to the puzzle of a nearly 500-year-old mystery

Pensacola, Fla. (January 10, 2017) — Prized for its sugar-white sands and calm, emerald-green waters — Pensacola has long been a tourist mecca on Florida’s Gulf Coast. What most people don’t know, however, is that the first tourists to set foot on its shores weren’t really tourists at all. They were conquerors.

In 1559, a hardened group of settlers landed in present-day Pensacola. Led by Spanish conquistador Don Tristan De Luna, the group included 1500 soldiers, colonists, enslaved Africans and Aztec Indians who traveled in 11 ships from Veracruz, Mexico, to Pensacola to begin the Spanish colonization of the northern Gulf Coast.

The town they founded would become the first multi-year European settlement in North America. It would have been the first permanent settlement had a hurricane not scuttled six ships and destroyed the settlers’ supplies a mere five weeks years later, dooming the expedition to failure.

The Luna settlement in Pensacola lasted from 1559 to 1561, which predates the Spanish settlement in St. Augustine by six years and the English settlement in Jamestown, Virginia, by 48 years.

In October of 2016, the University of West Florida archaeology program – which consists of a select group of 13 full-time professional archaeologists, nine support staff and numerous graduate students — announced the discovery of a third shipwreck from the Spanish expedition that brought Luna to Pensacola in 1559.

Buried in sand in just 7 feet of water in Pensacola Bay, the Emanuel Point III was discovered by UWF summer field school students while scuba diving. 

"We chose a shallow spot with a sandy bottom to dive to give the students a break after we'd been in another part of the bay where it was deeper and darker," said Greg Cook, assistant professor of anthropology at UWF.

"We thought there probably wasn't anything there, but had found an anomaly when we surveyed and decided to let the students have fun investigating it. Within two minutes, the divers came up and said they felt stones with their probes. Later that afternoon the first artifacts were found. I said that day, 'You know, it shouldn't be this easy.' "

The UWF team has discovered ballast stones, iron concretions and the articulated hull of the Emanuel Point III galleon, including frames and hull planking, as well as remnants of ceramics once carried on it.

The Emanuel III discovery comes less than one year after UWF archaeologists identified the terrestrial site of Luna's colony in a developed neighborhood on the bay, marking the earliest European settlement in the U.S.

The discoveries made at the site of the Luna settlement signify that the three shipwrecks discovered in Pensacola Bay were wrecked at the anchorage site for the entire Luna fleet.

Emanuel Point I was discovered in 1992 by the Florida Bureau of Archaeological Research. Emanuel Point II was found by UWF in 2007.

Three shipwrecks still remain undiscovered in the bay, but the Emanuel Point III is the newest piece to the puzzle as the UWF team searches for answers to a nearly 500-year-old mystery.
A Florida historical marker for the Emanuel Point shipwrecks, located at the Pensacola Visitors Information Center on Gregory Street overlooking Pensacola Bay, commemorates their discovery. The marker includes text in English and Spanish and includes the history of the wrecks and the Luna settlement. 
Though the three shipwrecks are still being actively researched and are not open to visitors, there are still plenty of other places to experience Pensacola’s Spanish heritage. Here is a list of some of the best ways to get up close and personal with Pensacola’s rich history. 

To learn more about Pensacola's history, or to start planning your vacation today, go to 


About Visit Pensacola

Visit Pensacola is the destination management organization for Escambia County which includes Pensacola, Pensacola Beach and Perdido Key. With over 450 years of rich history and 18 miles of sugar-white sand beaches bordered by the emerald-green waters of the Gulf of Mexico, visitors from all over the world are lured to our pristine shores every year. Visit Pensacola supports the community vision of tourism by serving as the central body responsible for building tourism as an economic engine for our community through leadership, connection, collaboration and communication.