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In This Issue

       

If you haven’t heard of Etzanoa yet, you will in the coming years


Cooper family
Dr. Blakeslee examines man-made depressions in a boulder at the Etzanoa site.

For many years, anthropologists believed people of the Wichita Tribe lived on the southern Plains in small villages of 20 to 30 homes, growing food crops, hunting bison, deer and turkey, and residing in thatched-roof houses.

But WSU archaeologist Don Blakeslee has uncovered a different history, one that reveals a culture more sophisticated, organized and resourceful than previously thought. His painstaking work in and around Arkansas City is documenting the story of Etzanoa, a town of perhaps 20,000 Wichita Indians first discovered by Spanish explorers around 1600.

The discovery is groundbreaking not only because of its historical significance, but also because of the potential it has to create a destination for those interested in Native American culture. If fully validated, Etzanoa would be the second-largest settlement of Native Americans found in the United States, just behind Cahokia in western Illinois, which attracts about 400,000 visitors a year.

For Wichita State, the discovery also means recognition and acclaim for the university’s Anthropology Department and for Blakeslee, who specializes in archaeology of the Great Plains. Blakeslee and several WSU students will spend part of their summer at the Etzanoa site along the Walnut River, excavating for specimens that will help verify his discovery.

The WSU Foundation is supporting the project by raising money that Blakeslee’s team will need to continue to make progress. Among his highest funding priorities are these:

  • A cart-mounted magnetometer, used for investigating archaeological remains without excavation. Cost: $64,000.
  • A shelter for excavation sights. Cost: $5,000 at a minimum.
  • A high-resolution 3-D scanning system to place 3-D images of artifacts online. Cost: About $100,000.
  • Ongoing costs for excavation and analysis. “We really need an endowment, so that we don’t have to raise money every year, which makes planning difficult,” Blakeslee said. He estimates these costs are $20,000 annually.

Those who have contributed to the project so far list various reasons for doing so, but one that is always cited is an admiration for Blakeslee, who has been at Wichita State since 1976.

“He has a remarkable mind and a deep interest in the history of our region, which is something I share,” says Bill Ard, a longtime WSU supporter who, with his wife, Donna, has endowed a scholarship for history students. “Wichita State is very lucky to have him.”

Mary Lynn and Bill Oliver also contributed to the project recently, after Blakeslee guided them on a tour of the Etzanoa site.

“We’re excited about helping Dr. Blakeslee uncover this treasure trove of information,” said Mary Lynn Oliver, who majored in anthropology at the University of Colorado. “The Etzanoa project will greatly change attitudes about the population level and the sophistication of the native people in our region in the 16th century. It is exciting that this discovery is in our own backyard.”

Blakeslee presented his findings this spring at the annual conference of the Society for American Archaeology. His discovery was spurred in part by new translations of old Spanish documents preserved at the University of California, Berkley. Those documents were re-translated based on Old Spanish, better reflecting the observations made by explorers who encountered the large settlement around 1601.

His work, Blakeslee said, is gratifying, but also just beginning.

“Work at Etzanoa will continue for the rest of my career and beyond,” Blakeslee said. “It will be an important part of WSU’s future.”

For more information

If you would like to support the Etzanoa project, contact Darin Kater, WSU Foundation associate vice president, at 316-978-3887 or darin.kater@wichita.edu.

Darin Kater