By Brian Nixon, Special to ASSIST News Service (ANS)
Authors Note: I recently attended my second tour of the Piedras Marcadas site. This article is largely based on my first visit with some updates based upon the second visit.
ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO (ANS – May 8, 2016) — When principal archeologist, Dr. Matt Schmader said that the Spanish Conquistador’s used sling-stones “like David and Goliath” my ears perked up. Not because Dr. Schmader used Biblical terminology, but because he said the technology employed by Francisco Vazquez Coronado’s men incorporated weaponry that had been used in warfare for millennia. Sling-stones must have been effective tools for mayhem, I thought to myself.
This was just one of the fascinating components of a lecture and tour given by Dr. Schmader of the Piedras Marcadas — ”village of the marked rocks” — site in Albuquerque, New Mexico. As it turns out, this site — smack dab in the middle of the city near a busy road—is the greatest repository of Conquistador artifacts in the United States, with recent findings topping 1,116 objects.
Dr. Schmader began his lecture entitled, “Thundersticks and Coats of Iron,” with an overview of the history of the Spanish entrance into the new world. Here we learned about how the Europeans saw the world of their day: as a four-part collection of continents — Europe, Asia, Africa, and the New World (originally thought as a series of Islands). Contrary to many myths of modern education, many Europeans did not think the world was flat. The intent of exploration was to find a new trade route to Asia, opening commerce and the export and import of goods. The “discovery” (of course our Indigenous population had already “discovered” it) of the New World by Europeans was an unexpected surprise, leading to various expeditions.
For our purposes — concerning the Piedras Marcadas site — the specific history begins in 1540. This is the year Coronado arrives. As a twenty-nine year old general, Francisco Vazquez Coronado (1510-1554) was chosen to lead the expedition by Viceroy of Spain, Antonio de Mendoza (1495-1552). After raising the sufficient funds (well over a million dollar in today’s money), the expedition went north from Mexico City in two parts: one taking the Sea of Cortez (this assembly never found the other group) and the other company — led by Coronado — commenced by land. In all, the expedition took 845 days, covering 3,900 miles, using 375 conquistadors, between 1,200 and 2,000 mercenary soldiers, bringing along between 5,000-10,00 head of livestock. To say the least, it was a big expedition.
The first human contact the Spanish made were with the Zuni people of modern day New Mexico. This meeting didn’t turn out too well for the Zuni people. War broke out on July 7, 1540, causing the Zuni to flee. The advanced weaponry of the Spanish (crossbows and the newly invented muskets) were too difficult to counter. After a brief stay at Zuni, finding that the city didn’t have goods worth taking (gold, gems, and other precious metals), the Spanish continued East, following the Rio Grande River — “the Nile of the Southwest.”
It was on the journey East (eventually traveling as far as modern day Kansas) that the Conquistadors found the city they called Piedras Marcadas. As mentioned above, the name means “village of the marked rocks.” The name was given by the Spanish due to the proximity it had to petroglyphs (rock art) on nearby lava flows. Interestingly enough, one of the petroglyphs etched during into one of the rocks may be the first picture the Pueblo people carved of a horse and European.
Like Zuni before, the Pueblo people of Piedras Marcadas didn’t fare well when the Spanish arrived in September (a scouting group led by Hernando Alvarado) and October (the rest of the group) of 1540. As it turned out, it was an extremely cold Fall and Winter. The Spanish had a few things on their mind: rest, recuperation, and remuneration—for not finding anything of worth at Zuni. Again, a battle broke out. The Pueblo people were scattered and the Spanish holed up in the city.
Here’s where it gets interesting, at least from an archeological point of view: the Conquistadors left hundreds upon hundreds of artifacts from their stay, all pointing to battles, strife, and a confrontation between two cultures. And these artifacts have been found at the Piedras Marcadas site.
Dr. Schmader has spent countless of hours investigating the unique confluence of artifacts left by these two cultures. Using electro research, similar to X-rays, Dr. Schmader has found that the Pueblo city had roughly 1,000 ground level rooms, with probably more stories above, up to three. He’s discovered several styles of pottery, pointing two varying migrations of Pueblo people from various groups around the Southwest (a migration to the river due to drought, converging in one of the 12 cities inhabited cities along the Rio Grande). He’s discovered the outlining area of Piedras Marcadas: from the petroglyph art — one mile northwest from the city (most likely used for religious purposes) — to the surrounding fields (used to grow corn and harvest food)– to the Pueblo itself (with Kiva’s in the center). In all, Piedras Marcadas was a vibrant area along the Rio Grande, possibly an important center for the various cities along the river.
In the middle of the site is a large indentation, probably the site of the Kiva. This area is one of the great mysteries of the Piedras Marcadas site: from the way the pottery is spread out around the indentation, to the fact that at some point in the past someone dug out the area (whether this was the Pueblo people or the conquistadors is unknown). Dr. Schmader has conducted low intrusive digs in the area to study the wall structures found below land to determine if there is a water well that the Spanish document in their expedition notes. Findings are inconclusive at this time.
Concerning the Spanish presence at Piedras Marcadas, Dr. Schmader has found the largest collection of Spanish Conquistador artifacts in the United States. These items range from copper alloy belt buckles, lace aglets, copper bells, chain mail, sewing needles, copper awls, and medallions, among other fragments of unknown items. To put it in perspective: of the known sites Coronado visited on his expedition, only 2,000 artifacts have been unearthed thus far, 1,116 being found at Piedras Marcadas.
Some of the artifacts discovered at Piedras Marcadas have cloth fiber attached to them—linen or cotton. Other artifacts have residue from horses. And there is great evidence of the various weapons used: from sling-stone rocks to primitive swords used by the mercenary soldiers (large sticks covered with obsidian blades) — to arrowheads made by the mercenary soldiers—to crossbow bolt heads used by the Conquistadors.
Even the copper used for the items has been traced to mines in Central Mexico, pointing to the fact that the Coronado expedition took great care in preparing for the journey, using craftsman from the region to forge the goods.
Most of the artifacts have been found 2-4 inches below the surface.
Overall, two-year Coronado expedition was a fiasco: at least from a financial standpoint. The investment failed. They didn’t find the gold, jewels, and precious metals they hoped. Furthermore, Coronado and one of his general’s were tried for abuse of Native people. Coronado was acquitted but the general was fined.
What they did gain, Dr. Schmader pointed out, was geographical knowledge. They were able to map the area. Also, they were the first Europeans to see the Grand Canyon, the Rio Grande, and the various Pueblo communities, locators that helped future expeditions.
From a Pueblo perspective, the arrival of the Europeans was catastrophic, leading to the eventual conquest of their people and way of life. Pueblo’s were burned down, robbed, and devastated.
Listening to Dr. Schmader discuss the various pottery, artifacts, and city layout—I couldn’t help think that I was standing on someone’s former home, a conquered people. Though fascinated by the archeological discoveries, I was saddened by the depth of violence found in the human heart, one that could bring so much destruction upon a relatively peaceful group of people. Not much has changed, I thought to myself. We still live in a world full of violence; Cain and Abel are alive and well on our planet.
But to the credit of Dr. Schmader and the larger archeological community, an agreement was established with the various Pueblo tribes throughout the area—restricting the type of archeological work done on the site, leaving it as place of remembrance, with most of the scientific work being done from ground level (though two small holes have been cut into the earth to establish certain geographical locators). The work Dr. Schmader conducts uses high-tech equipment for the research, allowing the natural depletion of the soil, mixed with metal detectors, to help unearth and locate the artifacts.
As our tour came to an end—with the attendees (including novelist, Dennis Herrick, and a British pottery buff) we listened as Dr. Schmader told of an occasion when an Elder from a nearby Pueblo, Isleta, toured the site. As this 94-year old Elder looked around the area, giving names to many of the artifacts, pointing out that certain items belonged with other items—like a rock with a stone grind. The Elder said, “This may be the first time since 1540 this land has heard its native language.”
From this story, one of the attendees — whose house backs up to the site — mentioned that he grows corn from the seeds from the area. A friend of his, a Pueblo man, asked for samples, saying, “This may be the corn of my forefathers and mothers; the corn of my people.” After he shared the story, we all paused, reflecting on the words.
Dr. Schmader then responded, “I don’t like to use the word, abandoned, when referencing the departure of the Pueblo people from this site. For one can never abandon their home. I like to use the concept of re-location. Piedras Marcadas still lives in the culture of its people; they still inhabit it with their memories.”
To learn more about the Coronado’s expedition — and read articles by Dr. Schmader — check out the book, “The Latest Word from 1540”: (http://unmpress.com/books.php?ID=12863130775127&Page=book).
To read a fictional account of America’s First Indian War, check out novelist, Dennis Herrick’s book, “Winter of the Metal People”: http://www.amazon.com/Winter-Metal-People-Untold-Americas/dp/1620062372.
Photo captions: 1) Dr. Schmader lecturing to the group. 2) Broken ax head. 3) Pottery Shards. 4) Various artifacts. 5) Brian Nixon.
About the writer: Brian Nixon is a writer, musician, and minister. He’s a graduate of California State University, Stanislaus (BA) and is a Fellow at Oxford Graduate School (D.Phil.). To learn more, click here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brian_Nixon.
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