The Testimony of Hands

San Gabriel de Yunque

The Colonists: Beyond the Edge of the Known World

In 1598, northern New Mexico was as remote an outpost of European culture as could be imagined. The Spanish had been established in New Spain (Mexico) for only three generations, and the new settlement of San Gabriel was hundreds of miles beyond the prior frontier of Spanish settlement. The 400 colonists set forth in a train of 83 wagons and carts, driving a giant herd of livestock. One they arrived at their destination they were mostly on their own; supply caravans were a rare event.

Given the new colony's isolation, it's not surprising that colonists relied on the local Pueblos for food and other goods, or that they adopted elements of Pueblo life (such as the local adobe architecture). At the same time, they brought along the types of objects they needed to maintain their Spanish identity and their roles as conquerors and bearers of a new religion. Some of their belongings were discovered at San Gabriel three and a half centuries later. You can find out more about those belongings by clicking on the thumbnails.

68.43.115f, chain mail 68.43.54, hawk bell 68.43.62f, weights 68.43.38, bowl of a spoon 68.43.17, lead musket ball 68.43.69, two buttons 68.43.59, chain 68.43.56, porcelain fragment 68.43.36, mayolica fragment 68.43.90, glass fragments

By archaeological standards, San Gabriel is an almost perfect "time capsule." The settlement existed for such a short time that mixing of objects of different ages isn't a problem (as often happens at sites used for many decades or centuries). The site thus provides an excellent understanding of the material life of Spanish colonists in northern New Spain about 1600.

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