Back in April 2017, Mysterious Universe reported on the discovery of a “lost city” near Arkansas City, Kansas. The ruins of the once thriving, fortified city of Etzanoa were discovered by Donald Blakeslee, an anthropologist at Wichita State University. Prior to finding any proof of the settlement, the academic community was largely in agreement that the city was a myth, an invention of the Spanish conquistadors who went looking for a city made of gold and concocted wild stories about a native town that stretched for miles. After discovering proof of Etzanoa, however, the “lost city” is now considered one of the largest native settlements in North America alongside the lost city of Cahokia, and it might prove to be the absolute largest. Donald Blakeslee believes that excavation of the site will continue for decades and will rewrite the history of early native settlers of the great plains. Since the initial discovery, development of the area as a historic tourist attraction and landmark has moved quickly: guided tours of parts of the ruins are now open to the public and plans are being drawn for site development, museum exhibitions, and more archaeological expeditions.
The city of Etzanoa was highly developed and big—at least five miles across. Blakeslee says that the approximately 20,000 inhabitants of Etzanoa possessed the infrastructure for processing “industrial quantities” of bison, likely spoke multiple languages, and traded at great distances. This, he says, shatters the “Hollywood image” of native people in the great plains. The ancestors of the Wichita who lived in this city—and, Blakeslee thinks, many other cities like it in the region—were an urban, industrious people, a far cry from the popular conception of the early indigenous peoples of North America
Blakeslee says that there is still much more to find, and the next dig is scheduled for June:
The archaeological community knows about this, and we have been getting help on equipment. This year, in June, we will be ground-truthing. Finding out what is there. You don’t know until you dig holes.
According to Blakeslee, there’s a lot more holes to dig too. He says that while this project is starting in Arkansas City, there are a number of equally impressive lost cities to be found in the area:
There was one south of Winfield, another near Augusta, several in Rice County, McPherson County and Marion
The town of Arkansas City, Kansas was built nearly on top of the remains of Etzanoa. That’s one of the challenges facing the Etzanoa Conservancy Board as it strives to make the site a recognized landmark in the public mind. Hap McLeod, president of the Etzanoa Conservancy Board, says that a feasibility study is being conducted this summer and from there the board hopes to develop a five-year-plan of development that may include purchasing more land and developing a river walk and kayaking route so visitors can the stone artwork of the Etzanoans.
For now, the guided tours being offered are limited in their scheduling and access, but that will soon change. Currently tours run on Saturdays, at the price of $10 per person and visit four of the major locations around town. In June the , Cherokee Strip Land Rush Museum will be opening an exhibit on Etzanoa and putting together a traveling exhibit that other museums and schools can request.
The site is quickly gaining national and international attention. McLeod says that the discovery has changed Arkansas City:
People are more aware of it. We have more tourism, but we are working to make this a national and world historic site.
Here’s hoping the board can strike the delicate balance between important archaeological site and tourist attraction.