Survey Reveals Large Earthwork at Ancestral Wichita Site in Kansas

Related Articles

Related Articles

A Dartmouth-led study using multisensor drones has revealed a large circular earthwork at what may be Etzanoa, an archaeological site near Wichita, Kansas.

Archaeologists speculate that the site was visited by a Spanish expedition, led by Juan de Oñate, a controversial conquistador, in 1601. The earthwork may be the remains of a so-called “council circle,” as it is similar to several other circular earthworks in the region.

“Our findings demonstrate that undiscovered monumental earthworks may still exist in the Great Plains. You just need a different archeological approach to recognize them,” explained lead author, Jesse J. Casana, a professor and chair of the department of anthropology at Dartmouth. “Our results are promising in suggesting that there may be many other impressive archaeological features that have not yet been documented, if we look hard enough,” he added.

 

Archaeological features have various thermal effects. After the ground cools at nighttime, things below the ground cool and emit heat at different rates, enabling researchers to identify features based on thermal infrared radiation. The researchers obtained thermal and multispectral imagery of the site using drones.

Image Credit : Jesse Casana, Elise Jakoby Laugier, and Austin Chad Hill.

The 18-hectare area of the site where the drone survey was conducted is currently home to a ranch property in the lower Walnut River valley, which has been used as a pasture. Topographically, the area is flat with no visible archaeological features. Yet, imagery shows that underground there is an ancient, circular shaped ditch measuring 50 meters wide and approximately 2 meters thick that has been infilled.

As the soil erodes, it fills up the ditch with a different type of soil than was there before, and therefore retains water differently giving it unique thermal properties. The water retention levels also impact vegetation. Using near-infrared imagery, the researchers were able to identify areas that had been infilled because grass growth was more vigorous. As the study reports, the results provide evidence for what may have been a “single, sprawling population center” back in its day.

To confirm that the findings were not an anomaly, the team collected a time series of aerial and satellite images of the area from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and other federal agencies. They found that the circular feature was “faintly visible in June 2015 and July 2017 but not in June 2012 or February 2017.”

The debate is widespread as to what council circles were used for, whether they were astronomical in nature or made for ceremonial, political and/or defense purposes. Casana added, “While we may never know what the council circles were used for or their significance, new archaeological methods allow us to see that people made these earthworks.”

DARTMOUTH COLLEGE

Header Image Credit : Jesse Casana

Download the HeritageDaily mobile application on iOS and Android

More on this topic

LATEST NEWS

Giant Sand Worm Discovery Proves Truth is Stranger Than Fiction

Simon Fraser University researchers have found evidence that large ambush-predatory worms--some as long as two metres--roamed the ocean floor near Taiwan over 20 million years ago.

Burial Practices Point to an Interconnected Early Medieval Europe

Early Medieval Europe is frequently viewed as a time of cultural stagnation, often given the misnomer of the 'Dark Ages'. However, analysis has revealed new ideas could spread rapidly as communities were interconnected, creating a surprisingly unified culture in Europe.

New Starfish-Like Fossil Reveals Evolution in Action

Researchers from the University of Cambridge have discovered a fossil of the earliest starfish-like animal, which helps us understand the origins of the nimble-armed creature.

Mars Crater Offers Window on Temperatures 3.5 Billion Years Ago

Once upon a time, seasons in Gale Crater probably felt something like those in Iceland. But nobody was there to bundle up more than 3 billion years ago.

Early Humans Used Chopping Tools to Break Animal Bones & Consume the Bone Marrow

Researchers from the Sonia and Marco Nadler Institute of Archaeology at Tel Aviv University unraveled the function of flint tools known as 'chopping tools', found at the prehistoric site of Revadim, east of Ashdod.

50 Million-Year-Old Fossil Assassin Bug Has Unusually Well-Preserved Genitalia

The fossilized insect is tiny and its genital capsule, called a pygophore, is roughly the length of a grain of rice.

Dinosaur-Era Sea Lizard Had Teeth Like a Shark

New study identifies a bizarre new species suggesting that giant marine lizards thrived before the asteroid wiped them out 66 million years ago.

The Iron Age Tribes of Britain

The British Iron Age is a conventional name to describe the independent Iron Age cultures that inhabited the mainland and smaller islands of present-day Britain.

Popular stories

The Iron Age Tribes of Britain

The British Iron Age is a conventional name to describe the independent Iron Age cultures that inhabited the mainland and smaller islands of present-day Britain.

The Roman Conquest of Wales

The conquest of Wales began in either AD 47 or 48, following the landing of Roman forces in Britannia sent by Emperor Claudius in AD 43.

Vallum Antonini – The Antonine Wall

The Antonine Wall (Vallum Antonini) was a defensive wall built by the Romans in present-day Scotland, that ran for 39 miles between the Firth of Forth, and the Firth of Clyde (west of Edinburgh along the central belt).

Vallum Aulium – Hadrian’s Wall

Hadrian’s Wall (Vallum Aulium) was a defensive fortification in Roman Britannia that ran 73 miles (116km) from Mais at the Solway Firth on the Irish Sea to the banks of the River Tyne at Segedunum at Wallsend in the North Sea.