Archaeologists Believe They’ve Found a 16th Century Conquistador’s Cross — And Not Just Any Conquistador

Pending final test results, the archaeologists say the cross they've discovered in Arkansas was erected by a 16th Century Spanish explorer and conquistador.

By Nancy Flory Published on April 26, 2016

Pieces of a wooden post presumed to be a 16th Century Christian cross from a Spanish conquistador’s expedition have been discovered at Parkin Archaeological State Park in northeastern Arkansas, The Archaeological Conservancy announced last week. Spanish explorer and conquistador Hernando de Soto landed in Florida on May 25, 1539, and explored the southeastern portion of the United States, including present-day Arkansas, and became the first European to discover the Mississippi River.

His expeditions through Arkansas took him to the Indian village of Casqui, also the name of its chief, whose village was suffering a terrible drought in June 1541. As the villagers prayed to the European “gods,” on July 4, 1541, de Soto, several Dominican priests and a hundred men raised a giant cross and performed Catholic Mass, reports The Archaeological Conservancy.

The exact location was discovered by accident in the 1960s when archaeologists from the University of Arkansas were cleaning up holes left by looters and discovered the top of a large wooden post. At that time, the archaeologists collected samples and covered the post with plastic. In a 1992 study performed by Dr. Jeffrey Mitchem, archaeologist for The Archaeological Conservancy, the 1960s samples were determined to be from A.D. 1515 to 1663; however, the Conservancy had not kept up with the location of the post they’d found years earlier.

According to The Archaeological Conservancy, in 2015 the Elfrieda Frank Foundation “funded a determined search for the remains” of de Soto’s cross, which began early last week. The growth rings of the remains archaeologists found last week will be studied; if dated to the year 1541, the de Soto connection will be confirmed. At that point, Dr. Mitchem will take additional samples for Carbon-14 testing. The Archaeological Conservancy reports that Dr. Mitchem was ecstatic over the find.

This is a very exciting development. The combination of the wooden post segment and the undisturbed large post hold both point to a strong presumption that this is de Soto’s cross from 1541. …Hopefully the dating studies, especially the tree rings, will confirm it.

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