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Archaeologist Discovers Campsite For Coronado Expedition

April 15, 1996

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Crossbow bolt tips provided the crucial evidence linking a Texas Panhandle canyon to the lost trail of 16th-century Spanish explorer Francisco Coronado, an archaeologist said Monday.

``Only the Coronado expedition in the Southwest was determined to have had crossbow bolts,″ said Donald Blakeslee, an associate professor of anthropology at Wichita State University. ``This is the clincher.″

Finding the campsite may bring scientists a step closer to determining exactly where Coronado went from 1540-42 in the first major Spanish exploration of what is now northern Mexico, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas.

``If Blakeslee is able to show even with a shadow of a doubt that this was a campsite, it is a significant find,″ said Joseph Sanchez, director of the National Park Service’s Spanish Colonial Records Office in Albuquerque, N.M. ``We need to be able to say, `Coronado slept here.‴

It is known that members of Coronado’s group were the first Europeans to view the Grand Canyon. But most records of the 4,000-mile trip, which was begun in a futile search for gold or a wealthy nation to conquer, are fragmentary.

``The Texas portion has been one of the critical problems. There has been a steady stream of speculation about the route,″ Blakeslee said.

The site, in Blanco Canyon east of Lubbock, Texas, was found after a local resident read about the search for Coronado’s trail in a newspaper and remembered someone who had discovered an old chain mail gauntlet _ a kind of metal mesh glove _ there in the 1950s.

The gauntlet’s owner was tracked down at a retirement home and the item purchased for the local historical society.

That led Blakeslee in 1994 to the canyon, where a local man named Jimmy Owens used a metal detector to turn up more than a dozen metal crossbow bolt tips.

Only a dozen similar bolt tips _ similar to metal arrowheads _ have been found in the Southwest, all related to Coronado’s documented travels, and no other European explorers were known to use crossbows in the area. More than 30 tips have been found in Blanco Canyon, where an expedition of some 1,500 people and 5,000 head f livestock is believed to have camped for the winter.

Pieces of Pueblo Indian pots, horseshoes, a sword scabbard tip, buckles and nails have also been recovered, further indicating the campsite is genuine.

Because of the vague route, the Park Service in 1991 said there was no way to map out a recognized historic trail of the expedition. Blakeslee said he hopes to change that through further research, including the hoped-for discovery of a second Texas campsite.

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