Ancient Lost City Discovered In Field In Kansas

Yes, you read that headline correctly. Normally when one thinks of lost cities, they picture crumbling ruins in a dense jungle or the remains of a settlement lost in the mountains. Despite what the Indiana Jones movies may have taught us though, lost cities and archaeological wonders can sometimes be found in what seems to be the most mundane of places.

Such is the case with this discovery, situated in Arkansas City, Kansas. Archeologists and anthropologists believe they have uncovered definite evidence for the city of Etzanoa, a city first described by Spanish conquistadors in the 16th century. The city could be one of the oldest native American settlements in the country, second only to the Cahokia site in central Illinois. Located just northeast of the present-day city, the site extends approximately 10 miles and follows the bend of the nearby river. Locals have long collected arrowhead and bit of pottery scattered around the area but were unaware that their city held a much larger secret, lying just below the surface.

A grass Wichita native house from the late 1800s, similar to the described huts in Etzanoa. Source: WikiCommons

The Lost City Of Etzanoa

Back in 2013, Donalds Blakeslee, an anthropologist from Wichita State University began searching for the mysterious site when he first became interested in the Spanish conquistador’s forays into what is now the Midwest. Although primarily based in Mexico and the Southern/Central Americas, the Spaniards desire for riches pushed them into the heartland of the Midwest. Translated records dating from 1601 told the story of Juan de Oñate, a conquistador who set out from New Mexico into southern Kansas, searching for the mythical land of Quivira.

Along the way, Oñate and his group ran into a tribe known as the Excanxaques, who told them of a nearby settlement called Etzanoa. The city, as described by Oñate, consisted of over one thousand thatch roof low-rise houses, surrounded by vast fields of beans corn and squash. All in all, the conquistadors estimated that the village contained over 20,000 people. Unfortunately, the conquistadors did not reciprocate the local’s initial hospitality and began to take hostages. The Etzanoans fought back with a force of over 1,500 men and drove the Spanish to flee back to New Mexico, never to return again.

A map drawn by a Wichita native in 1602, showing the location of various native American settlements. Etzanoa is represented by the diagonal line between two circles at the top center of the map. Source:

French explorers returned to the location about a century later but did not find anything of note. By that time, the city had been abandoned, most likely due to plague or agricultural degradation. After that, the city fell off the record and became the stuff of legends.

The Discovery

In many ways, this discovery has been a long time coming. Locals in the area have been finding artifacts from the ancient city since at least the 1900s. Arrowheads, pottery shards, bones, and leftover bits of native religious iconography have frequently been found in the area, but no one has been able to put all the pieces together until now. One could say the scales began to tip in 2013 when Blakeslee took an interest in Oñate’s translated documents and the lost city he described. “I thought, ‘Wow, their eyewitness descriptions are so clear it’s like you were there.’ I wanted to see if the archaeology fit their descriptions. Every single detail matched this place.” Blakeslee told the L.A. Times.

Another piece of the puzzle fell into place in 2015 when an anthropology student Mitchell Young found a rusted horseshoe nail at the site. Blakeslee believed that the horseshoe nail was traded from one of Oñate’s men to a native, further evidence that the conquistadors made contact with the native people living in Etzanoa. Preliminary discoveries in 2016 found initial evidence for the location of the site, but it has not been until now that the site has been thoroughly excavated and is ready for public tours.

A photo of the discovered horseshoe nail. Because the nail does not show signs of use, Blakeslee believes that it may have been a gift or traded for something. Source: Wichita State University

Locals in the area are excited to have this age-old mystery solved. Warren McLeod, the man whose backyard was the location of the battle between the conquistadors and natives, has long wondered why so many artifacts have been discovered in the area. “Now we know why,” McLeod said, “there were 20,000 people living here for over 200 years.”

Still not much is known about the inhabitants of Etzanoa. It is thought that nomadic groups of native began to form permanent settlements close to nearby rivers, and the city of Etzanoa possible emerged around early 1400 A.D. Like most native tribes in the Midwest, the Etzanoans most likely subsisted off of North American staple crops, such as beans, corn, and squash; along with hunting for bison deer and elk. It is believed that the Etzanoans are ancestors of the modern-day Wichita Nation.

The first contact between natives in the area of the Arkansas bend and Europeans was with the Spanish conquistador Francisco Coronado in 1541. Coronado named the area “Quivira” and estimated that around 25 villages were located in surrounding land. Most importantly, Coronado believed that the natives in the area were hiding untold amounts of gold and riches. It was stories of this fabled gold that led Oñate on his expedition during which he recorded his visit to Etzanoa.

It has been a great past few months for fans of archaeology and ancient history. The discovery of an ancient lost secret in the Americas comes in on the heels of another ancient discovery in another part of the world, where archeologists discovered both that the ancient pyramids of Giza have hidden undiscovered chambers, and that the pyramids themselves are able to focus electromagnetic energy. In addition, archaeological evidence unearthed near Stonehenge in England has shed some light on the potential creators of the mysterious monument. It is good to know that even in an age where most of the world is considered to be “discovered”, there are still new secrets to unearth and ancient mysteries to solve.

Alex Bolano

Alex Bolano is a graduate of UMSL with his MA in philosophy, with an area of concentration in the history and philosophy of science. When he isn’t nerdily stalking the internet for science news, he enjoys tabletop RPGs and making really obscure TV references.

Cite this article as:
Alex Bolano. Ancient Lost City Discovered In Field In Kansas, Science Trends, 2018.
DOI: 10.31988/SciTrends.28581
*Note, DOIs are registered Friday weekly and therefore may not work until then.

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