Spanish Coin That Predates Columbus by 200 Years Found in Utah

May 10, 2019 Updated: May 10, 2019

A Spanish coin that predates the arrival of Christopher Columbus was discovered in a U.S. national park, according to reports.

A coin minted in the 13th century, about 200 years before Columbus arrived in America, was discovered on the floor of Glen Canyon National Recreation Area in Utah, according to the Daily Mail.

It’s not clear how the coin or another coin, which was minted in Madrid in 1660, arrived in Utah.

Spanish explorers came to North America in the 1500s and began exploring north. There is no record of the Spanish being in America in the 13th century.

A hiker found the coins in the park, Business Insider reported, adding that he turned them over to the National Park Service. One was the size of a quarter and the other was the size of a dime.

Archaeologist Brian Harmon told the National Parks Traveler: “When he picked them up he didn’t think that they were anything significant.”

He added, “In fact, he was quite aware of the cultural resource protection laws that we have in place. So when he picked them up he thought they were just some sort of cool modern thing. And it was only when he took them back home and got a closer look that he realized that these were old Spanish coins.”

How did these two coins arrive in Utah? (National Park Service)

Harmon said his team is working with a coin expert.

One of the coins, namely, “was minted in Madrid, Spain, probably in 1662 or 1663,” he told the website.

“The smaller coin of the two, the visitor did some Internet research, and thinks it’s probably mid-to-late 13th century. Doing some Internet eyeballing on my own, I kind of agree with that, but neither he nor I are coin experts,” Harmon explained.

Harmon said that there “are three possibilities” as to how the coins arrived in Utah.

“And any of those could actually be the case. The most exciting one is that these coins were actually brought there by some early Spanish settler or explorer. Which would be very exciting, because there’s really no strong evidence of early Spanish in this part of Glen Canyon. We do know that Dominguez and Escalante came through in 1776, trying to find a way from Sante Fe to California, but other than that, there’s just almost no other evidence for that sort of early Spanish presence here,” he said.

He noted that Dominguez and Escalante never got close to Utah, referring to the Dominguez–Escalante expedition conducted in 1776 by two Franciscan priests, Atanasio Domínguez and Silvestre Vélez de Escalante.

Side profile of a Spanish coin believed to date to 1660s found at Glen Canyon. (National Park Service)

“The second possibility is that these coins were traded by, again, early Spanish settlers or explorers, to some Native American group, or individuals, who then either carried them to this location, or the coins were traded down the line,” he told the website. “And essentially got here through Native American hands, which is also a really neat story if that were the case, because it sort of captures one more interaction of these two cultures coming together, or multiple cultures coming together.”

The most probable explanation is the least interesting, he said.

“The last possibility, which is very unexciting but cannot be ruled out at all, is that these coins in fact are a modern deposit. Because they’re such two different dates, 1600s and probably early 13th century, and because when the visitor found them he described a lot of modern trash and garbage in the area that would be associated with things coming off of houseboats and/or land camping. There is a very real possibility that these things were modern,” added Harmon. “That someone’s coin collection was either intentionally or accidentally lost.”