It is well documented in Spanish history that Coronado passed through what is now
the central U.S. in the year 1541. And it is also recorded that in the spring
of 1541 he camped in a canyon in western Texas. While in this canyon he
experienced a storm with baseball size hail that was reportedly two hands high
on the ground. Coronado's 500 soldiers and 1,000 Mexican Indian recruits
suffered greatly. The hail broke all their pottery, dented their armor, and
scattered the horses.
A detector equipped with a mini-coil easily located targets missed by the archaeologists during excavation and screening.
This site was known to exist but had never been found-that
is, until local relic hunter Jimmy Owens and his White's Spectrum XLT made the
scene. Jimmy was searching the floor of Blanco canyon and began finding
arrowheads made of brass and some funny looking nails. Jimmy did not recognize
these artifacts to be Native American, so he decided to take them to his local
museum, where the curator took pictures and sent them to Texas archaeologist Jay
Blanco Canyon must have seemed an oasis to Coronado and his weary men when they reached it in the spring of 1541.
Jay immediately recognized the points as Spanish crossbow points from the
1500s, and the nails were a tee-headed nail only seen in one other site, also a
Coronado camp, in New Mexico. Jimmy could tell by everyone's excitement that
this was no routine find. Dr. Don Blakeslee from the Wichita State University
archaeology department and Lou Fullen from Texas Heritage services were called in
to supervise the dig.
Working together, detectorists and archaeologists alike came away from the project with greater understanding and appreciation of one another's skills, values, and goals.
Jimmy called White's Electronics and asked for help with
equipment and manpower to run the detectors, and that's where I came in. The
detector crew consisted of:
- Jimmy Owens, Floydada, Texas
- Brian Barrett, Canyon, Texas
- Bill Cornelius, Houston, Texas
- Troy Ellison, Lubbock, Texas
- Steve Howard, Sweethome,
- Oregon Randy Smith, Tulsa, Oklahoma (author)
Our job was to search the area, flag each signal, determine the depth and note
if the target was ferrous or nonferrous. We found thousands of targets, mostly
7-8" deep. Where ever there was a concentration of signals the archeologist
would mark off a 6' square and methodically dig down, screening and recording all
objects, metallic or not. They were using the White's Classic 3 with a 4" coil
to pinpoint and mark targets inside the square. We would also check the waste
dirt under the shaker screen's. The archaeologists were shocked as nearly every
time the detector would find something in the waste dirt that they had missed.
Most of the detectorists had their units set with audio discriminators turned
off, allowing them to hear every target at maximum depth.
Video/film crews also visited the Coronado campsite excavation, documenting teamwork between detectorists and archaeologists.
Brian Barrett was
detecting in a mesquite thicket and noticed something sticking out of the edge of
a sinkhole. It appeared to be a flint tool of some kind. Archaeologists dug
down and found 33 neatly stacked monoliths stone scrapers which dated 6,000 to
8,000 years old.
One thing I learned about detecting in west Texas is that you
don't wear headphones. Why? Rattlesnakes! Blanco Canyon is approximately 100'
deep, and very little wind reaches the floor. It reaches 100 degrees in the
shade, which also attracts the snakes.
Detectors played a key role in systematic searching of the site, pinpointing artifacts such as brass crossbow points, buckles, horse hardware, and nails left by Spanish explorers.
Approximately 30 crossbow points were
found, along with pieces of Spanish buckles, horse hardware, brass ornaments with
carvings of flowers, a piece of a knife handle with a dog carved on it, and lots
of the tee-headed nails.
Archaeologists are not finished with this site. They
will be digging here for years to come. And it's important to note that if it
were not for Jimmy Owens and his metal detector, it would not have been found.
And although Jimmy volunteered to give up his site to the archaeologist, he has
continued to help in the exploration of this site and has learned and enjoyed it
much more. We met some good friends on this dig, and I am still amazed at how
well everyone got along and respected each other. Yes, we learned a lot form the
archaeologists, but they learned form us as well. In fact they were in awe of
how accurate we were with our detectors.
One keen-eyed searcher noticed an exposed flint artifact, leading to the discovery of a cache of monolithic stone scrapers dating back 6,000-8,000 years.
I encourage you get with your local
detector club and volunteer your services to a local museum or university. I am
sure you will find it just as rewarding as Jimmy Owens has. If you recall,
detectorists helped to search the Custard-Little Bighorn battlefield, and now
Coronado's spring camp in Texas. I am sure that our hobby will continue to help
rewrite and preserve history for future generations.