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Site yields evidence of Coronado’s expedition

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

The Coronado Historic Site in Bernalillo features the ruins of the ancient Kuaua Pueblo of Tiwa people.

The 125-acre site contains a re-creation of a kiva adorned with murals and historic Puebloan and colonial artifacts.

It has been missing something, though: artifacts proving that Spanish conquistador and explorer Francisco Vázquez de Coronado or his gold-seeking expedition from Mexico were ever there.

Until now.

Among the artifacts recovered during ongoing excavations at the Coronado Historic Site is this stone arrowhead used by residents of the Kuaua Pueblo in the 16th century. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

An ongoing metal detector survey of the area recently uncovered the first evidence that places Coronado’s group there in the form of copper arrow points from crossbows, lead musket balls, chain mail fragments and other artifacts.

The historical artifacts likely tell the story of many Rio Grande pueblos as Coronado and his expedition swept through the area in the winter of 1540.

“The artifacts do not suggest he camped here. The artifacts suggest he killed people here,” said Matthew Barbour, regional manager of New Mexico Historic Sites.

The artifacts were recovered along clear lines of battle now indistinguishable from the scrubby brush around them: copper arrow points and ammunition found in one area and stone arrowheads and slingstones the Tiwa would have used located closer to the village.

The battle would have been one-sided, Barbour said, and likely represents one of many in the greater Tiguex War as Puebloans resisted Coronado’s often forced acquisition of their food and supplies.

When Coronado, along with hundreds of Spaniards and around 2,000 native allies from what is now central Mexico, reached the Albuquerque area, it was winter, and a particularly harsh one.

They relied on supplies from New Mexican pueblos.

Ruins from the 1,200-room Kuaua Pueblo stand at the Coronado Historic Site. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

Archaeologist Clay Mathers, executive director of the non-profit Coronado Institute, began the survey in June 2017.

Though the Coronado Historical Site has been the subject of archaeological excavations and surveys for nearly 150 years, no direct evidence of Coronado’s expedition had been found. Mathers knew they had to be missing something.

Matthew Barbour, regional director of New Mexico Historic Sites, holds a copper crossbow arrow point, lead shot and flattened shot found during an ongoing metal detector survey of the 125-acre site. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

“It seemed like going back to check one last time to see if there was anything substantial was a good idea,” Mathers said.

Mathers said prior work at the site had focused on the contents of the 1,200-room pueblo where 1,000 people once lived, not necessarily the land around it.

Barbour said they hope to have part of the battle site open and have the artifacts on display for visitors next summer.

“We want to tell the story as it happened, but we also want to recognize that the Hispanic population in New Mexico is a direct result of the actions of these individuals. This represents the beginnings of this state,” Barbour said. “The multiculturalism we have today is a result of this expedition in 1540. Whether that history is good or bad, we feel very obligated to tell that story.”