Round stone found on Grand Mesa likely is weaponry from Spanish era
The history of a carefully rounded stone that lay for centuries just beneath the surface of the volcanic debris on the south slope of Grand Mesa is beginning to come to light.
The stone, which was discovered last year by a Mesa State College student intern with the Western Investigations Team, firms up suspicions of the military interest in the Kannah Creek area, and hints that the history is more than one of occupation, but one of combat.
Sometime in the 1600s or 1700s, the stone was fashioned into a sphere, smoothed and jacketed in an iron-copper alloy.
At some point, it was carried into the Kannah Creek area, where, the evidence suggests, it was fired by a Spaniard, presumably in battle.
How exactly it came to be on the hillside where Brandon Mauk found it is a mystery.
Mauk, a 36-year-old biology and forensic student, was sifting through gravel and debris on a hillside overlooking Kannah Creek, where an ancient wall once stood.
“I looked down and saw the ball and it just looked too round to be natural,” Mauk said.
Mauk watched Monday as what’s known about the history of the stone and its covering was unwrapped at Mesa State College by Rick Dujay, director of the center for electron microscopy, and David Bailey, curator of history at the Museum of the West.
The Western Investigations Team is a joint project of the college and museum.
An examination of the ball using a digital microscope showed traces of iron crystals and copper, which match what is known about how the Spaniards of the era fashioned their ammunition, Dujay said.
The Spanish in the 1600s began adding copper to the iron they used to coat stone shot so as to minimize the damage to the barrels of their weapons, especially small cannon, Bailey said.
Some of the crystals, moreover, had a flattened, “polished” appearance, just what would be expected if the ammunition actually had been blasted from a firearm of its day, Dujay said.
The museum’s collection includes an ancient Spanish swivel cannon, just the kind of weapon from which the stone ball might have been fired, Bailey said.
Had the ball been fired from such a cannon, it most likely would have been part of a payload of shot, Bailey said.
The swivel cannon amounted to “an oversized shotgun with very little accuracy,” Bailey said.
It had a range of about 90 feet, but it could fill a wide area with a hail of iron-jacketed stone, regular rock, nails, whatever could be stuffed down its barrel, Bailey said.
The shot from a swivel-cannon blast could have shattered on impact with the surrounding rock, splattering a cloud of lethal, razor-sharp shrapnel back into the air, Bailey said.
The stone eventually will be displayed at the museum as part of the “Distant Cities in the Mist” exhibit, along with a documentary by Michael Combs of Grand Junction.
How it was that the stone shot found by Mauk stayed relatively intact despite a gunpowder blast and the ravages of at least three centuries remains a mystery, one that remains to be investigated and, Bailey said, “I’m working on that.”