Spanish Coins Found in Utah

PAGE – Late last year, a hiker near Halls Crossing in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area found some pieces of metal on the ground with some other litter.

The hiker, a man from Colorado – asking to be anonymous – at first thought the two coins were recent trash. After picking them up and taking them home, a closer looked made him realize that he might have some very old coins.

So, he turned them into Glen Canyon NRA. Since then, investigators at Glen Canyon NRA have provisionally concluded that the coins are authentic, however were probably part of a modern coin collection – perhaps accidentally or intentionally dropped by a visitor to Lake Powell.

 After visiting the location where the coins were found, park staff believe their presence near Halls Crossing is modern, based on three observations.

First, the dates of the two coins are earlier than the earliest known Spanish presence in the area, namely the Dominguez and Escalante Expedition of 1776. The coins are dated from sometime between 1662 and1664, and between 1252 and 1284. Second, the coins were found in a scatter of modern houseboat trash that included 15 U.S. coins dating from 1974 to 2016. Third, the coins were found in a canyon bottom, a setting unlikely to preserve ancient deposits. The lack of nearby places having potential to contain ancient deposits suggests the coins are not associated with either 17th or 18th century Native Americans or Spanish explorers.  

Spanish coin experts Dr. Fernando Vela Cossio and Luis Fernando Abril Urmente assisted Glen Canyon NRA with the identification. The coins are being stored in a climate-controlled environment to protect them and are not on public display.

The coins do tell two important stories.

First, the visitor who found the coins and turned them into the park showed great respect for the history and resources in the park. Instead of keeping them, the visitor ensured everyone could learn about the coins. Second, the coins’ exact location and what they were found with has contributed to educated guesses about their history. This is why archeological artifacts should be left in place and reported to the land management agency. Their location is just as important as what they are.