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Experts confirmed that Tom Garner’s find at a newly cleared lot along the Pensacola Bay was the site of the land settlement of a doomed 1559 Spanish expedition to the Gulf Coast led by Tristan de Luna. The discovery bolsters Pensacola’s claim as the first European settlement in the modern-day United States, six years before Spain reached St. Augustine on Florida’s Atlantic seaboard. The expedition was scuttled by a hurricane in September 1559, shortly after the fleet arrived in Pensacola. Five ships sank.
"There it was, artifacts from the 16th century lying on the ground," said Garner, a history buff whose discovery has made him a celebrity in archaeological circles.
Part of Luna’s doomed fleet was discovered in Pensacola Bay in the 90s. But the exact site where Luna and 1,500 soldiers, Mexican Indians and Spanish settlers lived for about two years eluded searchers – until now. Many believed Luna’s settlement had washed away in storms or was entombed beneath centuries of land development.