But within a few minutes of diving, the student archaeologists reported that their probes were hitting rock under the sand.They excavated by hand to find large cobbles — the same sort used as ballast in 16th-century ships. That wasn't enough evidence to prove that they had found a shipwreck, though, Cook said."The shipwrecks themselves are giving us insights into these amazing machines they were developing for these voyages that were never really happening before," marine archaeologist Greg Cook, of the University of West Florida, told Live Science. "It went from being a pretty well-prepared expedition, 24 hours later, to being a survival camp," Cook said. The rest tried to push inland, but they lasted only until 1561 before abandoning the settlement.[Images: See the Lost Luna Shipwreck and Artifacts] The recently discovered ship was part of a fleet that was led by Don Tristan de Luna, a conquistador who attempted to be the first European to establish a permanent colony in North America. After the disaster, the king of Spain gave up on colonizing the land around the Gulf of Mexico and decided to focus on the East Coast instead, Cook said. Augustine, Florida, which was founded four years later in 1565, would go on to achieve the title of the first permanent North American settlement.Ships often dumped ballast if they had to take on more cargo, and those piles of rock can mimic the look of a wreck.
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The Spanish fleet launched from Vera Cruz, Mexico, Cook said, with 12 ships carrying a total of 1,500 would-be colonists onboard. The first lost ship in the de Luna fleet, the Emanuel Point I, was found in 1992, and the second, dubbed the Emanuel Point II, was discovered in 2007.
In 2015, a local historian noticed pottery shards at a construction site in a residential neighborhood abutting the bay.
The bay is full of metal garbage, he said, from old fishing traps to dumped cars and even discarded pizza ovens, so the team wasn't expecting a blockbuster find.
"Nine times out of 10, it can be some wire rope from a barge, or a fish trap or crab trap," Cook said.