Lead Isotope Analysis as a New Method for Identifying Material Culture Belonging to the Vázquez de Coronado Expedition

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Publication Date



Earth Sciences



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Journal of Archaeological Science


Archaeological evidence has become an increasingly important component of efforts to identify the route of the Francisco Vázquez de Coronado expedition through northern Mexico and the southwestern United States (1540–1542). Here, we report the first high-precision lead isotopic measurements of artifacts from two archaeological sites with strong material evidence for the expedition’s presence: Piedras Marcadas Pueblo in New Mexico and the Jimmy Owens Site in Texas. The analysis of lead and copper armaments from both sites reveals that many artifacts have overlapping or extremely similar isotopic ratios. We propose that the narrow range of lead isotopic ratios measured on these artifacts can be interpreted as a geochemical fingerprint for some of the Coronado expedition’s surviving material culture, and provides evidence that we interpret to suggest the expedition derived lead and copper metal from Mexican sources. Such a geochemical fingerprint presents an empirical method for discriminating between artifacts that belonged to the Coronado expedition and those related to subsequent Spanish, historical, or modern activity in the Southwest U.S. Thus, this method could significantly impact the search for and identification of archaeological sites associated with the Coronado expedition.


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