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EVIDENCE of the Coronado expedition in southern arizona

how we know this is coronado, rather than just the
spanish period in general

One of the initial questions people ask is why it has taken so long to identify Coronado sites in Arizona.  This is a complex question with many parts. The first is that this was an expedition, and as sizable as it was, it traveled through the area, sometimes rapidly and the traces might be slight. Also, some of the evidence will look no different than, say, fire pits from other periods. Another reason is the some of the evidence has washed away. Some of the encampments were on the floodplain in the shade and have since washed away during high waters. Some of the evidence is buried. Nearly 500 years has passed and many other people have used these areas and geological processes have been at work to cover and obscure the evidence. The expedition probably used the best areas where water was reliable and along well used trails. Therefore, these later occupations have obscured the evidence, moving it, burying it, and is some case, the artifacts were collected and reused by past peoples. Some of the most obvious evidence has been collected by ranchers or hobbyists in the past and much of this has been sold into obscurity or thrown away with the trash after a person dies.  When archaeologists talk to local landowners and gain their trust through respectable behavior, then many more secrets of the past will come into view. Often times this means going out to visit with people rather than expecting them to come to you. The later may happen but many with private collections are fearful about consequences or just simply private minded.


The primary reason evidence of this expedition has not been found is because archaeologists and others have not  known what evidence should look like. Archaeologists, historians, history buffs, and treasure hunters often confuse artifacts related to the Spanish period in general, with those specifically related to the Coronado expedition. Some of the artifacts that can be associated with the Coronado expedition are very distinctive and were made and used during a relatively limited period of time. These are the artifacts that will tell us when and if we have a Coronado expedition site. Since there are so few of these artifacts and so few expeditions and such little activity in this area during this early time, people do not tend to become familiarized with these items and so they may miss them all together.

Another major reason why it has taken so long to find Coronado is the distain among professional archaeologists for metal detecting. Most view the use of these tools as simple vandalism, pot hunting. There is fear that if archaeologists use them, they will be giving the green light to avocationalists and treasure hunters to use them. This logic needs to stop because there is an entire stratum of activity out there that we are not seeing and studying. And while professionals are not seeing it, the treasure hunters and metal detectorists are ravaging the record, with artifacts ending up out of context, in private collections, and the ultimately in the trash dump. 

You can view the short videos on this page to obtain an idea of the types of artifacts identify these sites as Coronado, how archaeologists use these to isolate evidence of this period.

This first video shows how archaeologists differentiate artifacts from specific time periods, with an emphasis on the Coronado expedition.

How Archaeologists Tell Time With Artifacts: Coronado Series
Artifacts that Indicate Vazquez de Coronado from the 1540s

The following video illustrates some of the artifacts that are distinctive of the Coronado expedition. It shows images of them and tells why they are so distinctive. It explains how we can be so sure these are from the 1540 period rather than later in time. The video also explains how past claims for Coronado sites must be dismissed, and have been dismissed by archaeologists, because they do not have the tell-tail signs, the artifacts do not represent the smoking gun needed to prove the presence of this expedition. Some were used throughout the Spanish period and so can indicate a Spanish site, but not necessarily the Coronado period.

Simple but Mighty Nail:
Evidence of Vazquez de Coronado in Southern Arizona

As noted in the previous videos, there is a specific type of nail that has been known for some time to be diagnostic of the Coronado expedition. That is, the nail is quite distinctive and  has a limited period of use in this area and so can tell us clearly that a site is related to this time period, which in this area means Coronado. On some Coronado sites, these nails are quite common and so this video addresses why this is.


Discovery, exploration, and adventure attract most of us to the Coronado expedition.  The following video is a short statement on this urge.

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