ARKANSAS CITY, Kan. (KSNW) – The Lost City of Etzanoa may have had up to 20,000 Native Americans living on the banks of the Walnut River inside current Arkansas City.
Now drone footage has uncovered a new find.
There are likely council circles belonging to the Etzanoa peoples of the area. The lost city is now considered the second biggest Native American city to be found.
“This is the next big thing here,” said Dr. Donald Blakeslee, Professor of Anthropology at Wichita State University.
Blakeslee has been working on digs to uncover artifacts on the far east edge of modern-day Arkansas City. On private land, they have found pottery and shards that could be arrowheads and other artifacts.
But the council circles are new, and they could reveal a lot about the Etzanoa natives believed to be ancestors of the Wichita natives.
“This is a circle, defined by a trench that has since been filled with dirt,” said Blakeslee. “The grasses are a different color so we know it is here. But the grasses only show it for a couple of weeks out of the year in some cases.”
So a drone team from Dartmouth came to the site and used drone thermal imaging to survey the site, and they found what Blakeslee believes are definite council circles.
Blakeslee says it adds to the mystery of the Etzanoa culture.
There are other council circles in McPherson, Rice, and possibly Marion counties in Kansas. Blakeslee says those are likely also Etzanoa peoples and ancestors of the Wichita peoples.
So what are council circles?
“It might be defensive, they might have been headquarters for the elite,” said Blakeslee. “They might have been gathering places for warrior societies.”
There are at least three on the site where Blakeslee has mentored teams working on excavating what may have been homes of the Etzanoa peoples living on the site.
Some council circles have been identified in other counties in Kansas. But many of those sites have been tilled or covered over in years gone by.
“This is the undisturbed one that should give us the answer if we do it right,” said Blakeslee. “But doing it right means thermal imaging isn’t enough. We want to use magnetometry, ground-penetrating radar, conductivity, resistivity. There are a whole bunch of techniques we have available to us. We only have part of the equipment.”
Blakeslee says he is putting the call out across the country to help uncover and discover more.
He says the Etzanoa natives lived in the area from around 1450 to the 1700’s. Etzanoans, Blakeslee says inhabited Marion, Butler, Rice, and McPherson counties.
The Arkansas City area is unusually large and covers a total of several miles.
“The people who lived here were semi-nomadic. It’s unusual in that it was big,” said Blakeslee. “The Spanish accounts (Conquistadors in 1601) are very clear and is what enabled me to identify this as the spot. There were very clear accounts that they traveled beside the town for a little over five miles. Ok. And that is exactly how long this site is on this side of the river.”
There is evidence of large numbers of Native Americans living along the Walnut River at Arkansas City in many areas. That includes freshwater springs and the remnants of a cave where a battle may have taken place with Spanish Conquistadors in 1601.
The site with the so-called council circles is the family land of Jason Smith.
“And you can’t go anywhere out into a field in this vicinity, any day you’re going to find broken arrowheads, you’re going to find flint. Something. You walk out of a pasture and you have a handful of it. It’s just littered,” said Smith. “It’s been like that since I was a little kid. My uncle was a geologist and he used to take us out and we’d go flint hunting and looking for arrowheads and stuff and we had a good time. And he told me back then, I was less than 10 years old, and he told me there was a huge encampment of Indians that lived here at one time.”
Smith is now very excited to know more about the discovery of those council circles.
“What is it?” said Smith. “I can’t wait to get that hole dug completely out. I keep teasing Dr. Blakeslee here I am going to bring my skid steer (industrial dirt mover) out and we can do it a lot quicker. He just cringes when I say that.”
Smith laughs and looks at Dr. Blakeslee and they both share a laugh. Both know it is painstaking work to excavate a site with research teams. It takes hours of sifting through dirt to find the evidence.
But Blakeslee says the Etzanoa culture definitely did leave behind evidence that stretches far beyond the Arkansas City area.
“By every measure I can come up with, these people specialized in bison products and their whole stone tooled technology is aimed at bison and bison processing,” said Blakeslee. “Their hunting grounds we believe were south of Arkansas City today.
He also says there is evidence of the Etzanoan peoples trading with others in Missouri, South Carolina and even into Mexico. There is mounting evidence the Arkansas City site was massive.
But Blakeslee, while fascinated with the process of uncovering bits and pieces of the lost city of Etzanoa, remains most interested right now with the new find.
“Council circles,” ponders Blakeslee. “Just what will we find? There are at least three layers down below from what ground-penetrating radar has found. This is going to tell us a lot. It could be a very rich find.”