Archaeologist Don Blakeslee and his crew of seven field school students are back at work on a hillock just east of the Walnut River in Arkansas City to unearth more artifacts from the long-lost city of Etzanoa.

Etzanoa summer dig

Photos by Foss Farrar

Wichita State University archaeologist Don Blakeslee shows field school student Mary Mailler, a doctoral student in art theory from Texas Tech University, how to level a shelf of earth in an excavation trench 26 feet long by 6 1/2 feet wide. Seven students under Blakeslee’s direction are working throughout the month of June to uncover artifacts from the site, part of the large settlement of Etzanoa, where 20,000 ancestors of the Wichita Nation thrived 400 years ago.

They are searching for additional clues about how one of the largest prehistoric Native American communities in North America lived 400 years ago.

“This was a swanky neighborhood,” said Blakeslee, describing the dig site.

He has conducted summer field schools each year since 2015 in Ark City to learn more about Etzanoa, a settlement of at least 20,000 ancestors of the Wichita Nation.

Between 1450 and 1715, Etzanoa thrived as a community of farmers and bison hunters who lived in clusters of beehive-shaped, grass-and-wood houses surrounded by agricultural fields of corn, beans and squash.

Blakeslee worked with his students on Tuesday, the second day of this year’s archaeological field school, as they excavated a trench 26 feet long by 6 1/2 feet wide. The students worked under the shade of a carport recently installed above the dig area.

They were following up on work at this same site by previous field school participants during the last couple of years.

The crew chief this year is Joan Bayles, who has nearly completed a master’s degree at Wichita State University.

The other students in the field school are from Arizona and Texas, as well as from WSU. “We advertise our field schools and got a lot of interest,” Blakeslee said.

“We dug here because we thought it was a trash mound,” he added, referring to the dig site. “What we found out was that this is a natural hillock above a big concentration of features.”

In archaeological terms, a feature represents a collection of circumstances representing some form of human activity conducted centuries ago. Examples of features include pits, walls and ditches.

“There were probably a cluster of houses here, or right near here,” Blakeslee said. “There were a lot of housing clusters in this area, probably five, with agricultural fields in between.”

Blakeslee’s efforts to uncover more information about Etzanoa involve more than just conducting annual field schools.

This spring, drones, LIDAR and thermal-imaging equipment were used to map a wide area, including the dig site. The data from those studies currently is being processed, he said.

The field school will continue until the end of June.

Blakeslee will summarize the findings of this year’s dig at a public meeting. It will be held at 6:30 p.m. June 27 at the Wright Room in Cowley College’s Brown Center.

This information was provided by Etzanoa Conservancy member Foss Farrar.