Storm clouds gathered late Tuesday afternoon in Arkansas City as archaeology students searched for more artifacts from the ancient American Indian town of Etzanoa.
But the director of the dig, Wichita State University anthropology and archaeology professor Don Blakeslee, was anything but gloomy. In fact, he was quite pleased.
“We’ve done pretty well for the first day,” Blakeslee said.
He just had helped his crew of five people to cover six 1-meter square pits with large plastic sheets.
Earlier that day, they uncovered two large earthen pot handles. In addition, they unearthed another piece of pottery, probably from the same large cooking vessel.
Blakeslee and his students arrived Monday for a follow-up archaeological study of Etzanoa.
Based on a new translation of 400-year-old Spanish documents and maps, Blakeslee is convinced that the site of Etzanoa, one of the largest prehistoric Native American settlements, is located in what is now eastern Ark City.
He has led annual summer field schools here to continue work on Etzanoa since 2015.
Etzanoa was a settlement of ancestors of the Wichita tribe who lived along the banks of the lower Walnut River, near its confluence with the Arkansas River, from about 1425 to the early 1700s.
The 5-mile-long settlement was explored in 1601 by Spanish soldiers who estimated the town’s population at 20,000.
The broken-off pieces found Tuesday were in the same pit where another large piece of pottery was found during a dig on the same property last year, Blakeslee noted. That piece was part of the base of the vessel.
If enough pieces are found, the vessel will be reassembled during a later stage of processing of the artifacts.
Joan Bayles, a WSU alum who majored in anthropology and archaeology, is the crew leader of the team. While photographs were taken of the newly found artifacts, she noted the decorative work on the outside of the pot handles, consisting of small circular carvings.
She said the pot handles were found 40 centimeters, or about 16 inches, below the ground surface — just a little lower than where the piece of the base of the pot was found last year.
The WSU field school students, led by Blakeslee, will continue excavating the Etzanoa site for almost a month, until June 9. They are staying at a Cowley College dormitory during the study.
The students include Nikki Estes, a graduate student in anthropology at WSU, and Mitchell Young, an undergraduate anthropology student.
Also on Tuesday, Arkansas City Middle School students worked under the direction of their teachers and Cowley College anthropology instructor Meredith Mahoney in outside field work.
The sixth-graders screened the soil from holes that were dug on middle school property in search of artifacts. Several potential artifacts were found, Mahoney said.
Mahoney on Wednesday conducted the first of several archaeological work sessions for the public, at the former Lincoln Elementary School. She led the seven people who showed up in cleaning and categorizing artifacts.
Most of them were from out of town. Among the visitors was Frances McNulty, of Roanoke, Virginia. She came to Ark City to attend the graduation of her niece, Hannah McNulty, who graduated last weekend from Arkansas City High School. Hannah accompanied her aunt to the public archaeology event.
“What they got out of Ark City is pretty cool,” she said, referring to the artifacts she had viewed. “We didn’t know we had it.”
Others who attended the session said they learned of it on the Etzanoa Facebook page. They included Sherry and Jim VanDyke, of Elbing, a town west of Newton, and Glenda and Bud Freeman, of Yates Center.
Mahoney also will lead public archaeology sessions from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. May 24 and June 7 at Lincoln School, as well as from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. June 3 at Cherokee Strip Land Rush Museum.
This information was provided by Etzanoa Conservancy member Foss Farrar.