Much thanks to all who participated and attended the 2019 Texas Archeology Month Fair! With the help of 78 student volunteers and our local professional and avocational archeologists, TARL was able to hold another successful Texas Archeology Month Fair! This year’s fair was attended by 303 guests who were able to visit representatives from 22 different museums, archaeological organizations, and student groups. These groups had booths with a wide array of activities including atlatl throwing, ochre painting, multiple show and tell displays, flintknapping, interactive dance demonstrations, and much more! Much gratitude also goes to our generous donors including the Council of Texas Archeologists, the Texas Historical Commission, the Travis County Archaeological Society, AR Consultants, and the Gault School of Archaeological Research.
Check out some of the highlights from the fair below! (Photos courtesy of Tom Williams, Gault School of Archaeological Research)
Great Promise for American Indians conducted a dance demonstration and pulled the crowd in to learn a snake dance.
Christopher Ringstaff, Sergio Ayala, and Robert Lassen demonstrate flintknapping.
Student volunteers show fair attendees how to use the Atlatl.
Keva Boardman shows our younger attendees how to paint with fat and ochre.
Kenneth Headrick discusses real artifacts vs. reproductions.
On October 19, 2019, The Falls on the Colorado Museum will host its second Archeology Day program from 9:30 am until 3:30 pm. This program will provide the public with a discussion of ongoing research in Texas archaeology. The program will be followed by an artifact identification event (“show and tell”) during which local collectors and others can share their finds and obtain help in identifying specimens.
At 10 am, Dr. Thomas R. Hester will start program with a discussion of “Trade and Technology: Ancient Stone Tools in Texas.” Dr. Hester is Professor of Anthropology, emeritus, at UT-Austin, and serves as a member of the Board of Directors at the museum.
Following Dr. Hester will be Clint McKenzie, speaking on “Archaeology, Radiocarbon Dates and Summary of Black Vulture Rockshelter, Bandera County, Texas”. Mr. McKenzie is working on his doctorate at the University of Texas at San Antonio.
Following these two presentations, light refreshments will be available.
During the afternoon program, from 1-3:30, Dr. Hester and colleagues will help identify artifacts and discuss collections. Their only request is that large, cased collections be limited to one frame due to space.
The museum does not charge admission, but relies on donations from our visitors. Regular museum hours are Thursday through Saturday, from 10-4. The museum is located at 2001 Broadway, Marble Falls. Phone 830.798.2157.
The A. C. Saunders site (41AN19) is an important ancestral Caddo settlement in the upper Neches River basin in East Texas (Figure 1a). The site is one of only a few ancestral Caddo sites with mound features in the upper Neches River basin, particularly those that are known to date after ca. A.D. 1400, but this part of the upper Neches River basin, including its many tributaries, such as Caddo Creek just to the south and west (see Perttula and Walters 2016), was widely settled by Caddo farmers after that time. These Caddo groups left behind evidence of year-round occupied settlements with house structures, middens, and outdoor activity areas, impressive artifact assemblages, as well as the creation of numerous cemeteries (Figure 1b), most apparently the product of use by families or lineage groups.
Figure 1. The A. C. Saunders site in the upper Neches River basin: a, important excavated Caddo sites in the Caddo Creek valley and surrounding drainages in Anderson and Henderson counties, Texas; b, known Caddo cemetery and domestic sites.
What makes the A. C. Saunders site unique in upper Neches River basin Caddo archaeology are the two mound features there, situated on a broad upland landform less than a mile west of the Neches River and a comparable distance north of the confluence of Caddo Creek with the Neches River. The first mound (Feature 1) is an ash mound that has been linked with the use of fire temples and perpetual fires by the xinesi of Hasinai Caddo groups in historic times (Jackson 1936; Kleinschmidt 1982, 1984; Perttula 1992; Wyckoff and Baugh 1980). The second mound, not far to the southeast (Figure 2a), is a thick midden mound (Feature 2) that was deliberately accumulated over a large structure (Feature 3, Figure 2b). The concentrated midden accumulation near the ash mound suggests it may represent the remains of multiple feasting events and other ritual activities where large amounts of food were consumed, clay pipes were smoked, and cooking and serving vessels were used, and thus the discarded fragments of these activities creating the midden deposits. These items constitute a discrete and substantial corpus of material culture remains that have played a large role in defining and framing the archaeological character of what has come to be known as the Late Caddo period Frankston phase (ca. A.D. 1400-1680); the A. C. Saunders site is the quintessential Frankston phase site in East Texas. As such, these material culture remains curated at the Texas Archeological Research Laboratory at The University of Texas at Austin—in particular the large number of ceramic vessel sherds and ceramic pipe sherds from Feature 2 at the A. C. Saunders site—warrant continued archaeological study as a means to better understand the stylistic and technological character of the ceramic vessels and pipes made and used by ancestral Caddo peoples in the upper Neches River basin (Perttula 2011, 2013, 2019). The remainder of the material culture assemblage included Perdiz arrow points, stone drills, mussel shell digging tools, an assortment of bone tools (awls, needles, and beamers), and shell columnella beads.
Figure 2. A. C. Saunders site: a, plan map of the site; b, plan map of Feature 3 underneath the midden mound.
Ceramic Vessel Sherds
A total of 7344 ceramic sherds have been recovered from Feature 2 at the A. C. Saunders site from plain ware, utility ware, and fine ware vessels; of these, approximately 82 percent (n=6001) are from a known arbitrary level in Feature 2. The plain rim, body, and base sherds comprise approximately 21 percent of the vessel sherd assemblage, and the fine ware sherds account for another 8.8 percent of the assemblage. Utility ware sherds are by far the most common in Feature 2 at the site, representing approximately 70 percent of the ceramic wares. The plain to decorated sherd ratio for the Feature 2 assemblage is a low 0.27.
Defined utility ware types identified in the ceramic vessel sherds (from jars) include Bullard Brushed, Killough Pinched, La Rue Neck Banded, Lindsey Grooved, and Maydelle Incised, as well as sherds from two new types: Mann Punctated (with tool punctated elements on the rim and /or body), and Saunders Punctated (with fingernail punctated elements on the rim and/or body). Based on the number of rim sherds, the most common utility wares are Maydelle Incised (n=64, Figure 3a), Bullard Brushed (n=56, Figure 3b), Saunders Punctated (n=38, Figure 3c), and Mann Punctated (n=26, Figure 3d).
Figure 3. Common utility ware types at the A. C. Saunders site: a, Maydelle Incised; b, Bullard Brushed; c, Saunders Punctated; d, Mann Punctated.
The fine ware sherds are from carinated bowls primarily from a number of varieties of Poynor Engraved (n=68 rim sherds), particularly var. Cook (n=32 rim sherds) (Figure 4a) and var. Hood (n=13 rim sherds) (Figure 4b), as well as Hood Engraved and Hume Engraved vessels. The predominance of var. Cook and var. Hood vessels suggests that Feature 2 at the A. C. Saunders site accumulated between the early 15th century and the mid-late 16th century (see Perttula 2011:Table 6-37). Hood Engraved effigy bowls were also most commonly manufactured by Caddo potters during that era in the upper Neches River basin.
Figure 4. Most common Poynor Engraved varieties at the A. C. Saunders site: a, var. Cook; b, var. Hood.
The sherds from the A. C. Saunders site are from vessels tempered almost exclusively with grog (i.e., fired clay and/or crushed sherds). Between 98.3-98.6 percent of the sherds by ware have grog temper inclusions. Other temper inclusions, such as burned bone and hematite, were commonly added to the grog-tempered paste, and with regularity in the case of hematite in all three wares (11.7-21.1 percent). The few sherds in the different wares that have crushed and burned bone range from 9.1 percent in the plain wares, 9.9 percent in the utility wares, and 9.0 percent in the fine wares.
In addition to the 7300+ sherds from plain ware, utility ware, and fine ware vessels, there are other distinctive characteristics of the Frankston phase assemblage at the A. C. Saunders site. These include strap and lug handles (n=85) on utility ware jars, pedestal legs and bases (n=13) from Killough Pinched jars, spindle whorls (n=29), and one ceramic bead.
Ceramic Pipe Sherds
The A. C. Saunders artifact assemblage from Feature 2 has one complete ceramic pipe and 89 stem and bowl sherds. These pipes are from several defined pipe varieties in the upper Neches River basin (see Perttula 2011). Two of the pipe sherds in the assemblage are part of two different circular platform pipes that have either a series of upper and lower large excised pendant triangles or hatched engraved triangles on either side of the platform.
The remainder of the ceramic pipes and pipe sherds are from elbow pipes, including sherds from Var. A (n=7), Var. B (n=16), Var. C (n=5), Var. D (n=1), and Var. G (n=14), the Neches pipe (Jackson 1933). Another 45 sherds cannot be assigned to a defined Upper Neches River basin elbow pipe variety.
The Var. A elbow pipe sherds have plain stems and bowls. They range from at least 64-76.0 mm in length, have smoothed exterior surfaces, and have rounded lips; one Var. A pipe has a flat distal knob. Var. B elbow pipes have between two to six horizontal incised or engraved lines on the stem (Figure 5a), and several examples also have horizontal incised lines on the lower bowl and stem or the distal stem knob, or engraved lines on the pipe bowl.
Figure 5. Selected ceramic pipe sherds and pipes from the A. C. Saunders site: a, Var. B. pipe sherd (No. 62); b, Var. C pipe sherd (No. 14); c, Var. G pipe (No. 50) with punctated rows on the collared bowl rim, at the stem, and at the lower stem.
Four of the Var. C pipe sherds have two to five horizontal incised lines on the stem as well as vertical incised lines on the lower stem (see Figure 5b). One pipe sherd has both horizontal and vertical incised lines on the stem as well as a row of tool punctations adjacent to the vertical incised lines. The one Var. D elbow pipe sherd in the A. C. Saunders assemblage is grog-bone-tempered and smoothed on its exterior surface. The stem is decorated with five horizontal incised lines while the lower stem has at least two vertical rows of tool punctations.
The Var. G elbow pipes and pipe sherds have several different decorative element combinations, including incised or engraved lines on the stem between punctated rows beneath the lip or with rows of circular punctations on the lower stem. Other Var. G pipes have punctated rows on the stem or on the lower stem, or have tool punctated rows on both the stem and lower stem. The one complete Var. G elbow pipe (see Figure 5c) is decorated on the bowl, the stem, and the lower stem. There are small circular punctated rows on the bowl lip, five rows of circular punctations at the base of the stem and bowl, and five rows of circular punctations on the stem below the lip. Several of these circular punctations have a kaolin-rich clay pigment rubbed in the punctations.
Jackson, A. T.
1933 Some Pipes of East Texas. Bulletin of the Texas Archeological and Paleontological Society 5:69-86.
1936 A Perpetual Fire Site. Bulletin of the Texas Archeological and Paleontological Society 8:134-174.
1982 Review and Analysis of the A. C. Saunders Site, 41AN19, Anderson County, Texas. Master’s thesis, Department of Anthropology, The University of Texas at Austin.
1984 The A. C. Saunders Site Revisited: A Hasinai Fire Temple? Paper presented at the 26th Caddo Conference, Nacogdoches.
Perttula, T. K.
1992 “The Caddo Nation”: Archaeological & Ethnohistoric Perspectives. University of Texas Press, Austin.
2011 The Ceramic Artifacts from the Lang Pasture Site (41AN38) and the Place of the Site within an Upper Neches River Basin Caddo Ceramic Tradition. In Archeological Investigations at the Lang Pasture Site (41AN38) in the Upper Neches River Basin of East Texas, assembled and edited by Timothy K. Perttula, David B. Kelley, and Robert A. Ricklis, pp. 145-320. Archeological Studies Program Report No. 129, Texas Department of Transportation, Environmental Affairs Division, Austin.
2013 Caddo Ceramics in East Texas. Bulletin of the Texas Archeological Society 84:181-212.
2019 East Texas Caddo Ceramic Traditions. In Ancestral Caddo Ceramic Traditions, edited by D. P. McKinnon, J. S. Girard, and T. K. Perttula. Louisiana State University Press, Baton Rouge, in press.
Perttula, T. K. and M. Walters
2016 Caddo Archaeology in the Caddo Creek Valley of the Upper Neches River basin, Anderson and Henderson Counties, Texas. Special Publication No. 43. Friends of Northeast Texas Archaeology, Austin and Pittsburg.
Wyckoff, D. G. and T. G. Baugh
1980 Early Historic Hasinai Elites: A Model for the Material Culture of Governing Elites. Midcontinental Journal of Archaeology 5:225-283.
Our wonderful participants and instructors all gloved and masked up per TARL protocol.
This past weekend, TARL had the pleasure of hosting instructors from Texas State University, Caroline Znachko and Lauren Koutlias, for our methods in dental pathological data collection. The studies received a series of lectures where the instructors presented on tooth identification in the morning and dental pathology in the afternoon.
Instructor Caroline Znachko aiding students in tooth identification.
Each lecture was followed by hands on tooth identification and pathology identification with case studies from TARL. These case studies allowed participants to observe a series of individuals marked by supernumerary teeth, abscesses affecting the alveolar process around dentition, linear enamel hypoplasias, and caries. Participants learned methods for recording both dental presence and all of the unique characteristics of each dental arcade.
Instructor Lauren Koutlias aiding in participants in dental pathology identification.
We are grateful to our expert instructors for sharing their knowledge with our participants and thank you to all of our wonderful participants for taking part of your weekend to participate in this TARL workshop! TARL looks forward to having more successful workshops in the near future!
To suggest future workshops or to aid in providing a workshop please contact TARL staff in the comments section or through email.
We are delighted to announce that all TARL internship spots are taken for the 2019-2020 long session! Our interns are integral in achieving our mission here at TARL and we are thrilled that the UT students have eagerly sought out these positions. The internship program provides students with the opportunity to explore their interests in archaeology and best practices in curation. If you are an interested student please reach out about our open internship spots for the 2020-2021 sessions.
TARL has been delighted to host a series of curation workshops in conjunction with the Texas Archeological Society. Two three-day workshops focused on collections management, curation ethics, proper curation techniques and aiding in the repackaging of artifacts from TAS field schools including Musk Hog, Oblate, and data entry for the Columbus field school. Attendees received hands-on experience in processing artifacts, creating condition
assessments for field and lab reports, database systems inventorying and artifact tag creation along with box tag creation. We are delighted to be continuing this series of curation workshops by supporting the regular TAS curation day over the weekend once a month.
TAS participants inventorying artifacts.
To all of our wonderful attendees and TAS members, thank you for your support of Texas Archaeology!
The analysis and write-up of the 2002 TAS Field School excavations at the Edd Melton Site in Bell County, Texas, yielded surprising finds. After excavation and inventorying, the Edd Melton Site assemblage showed an interesting co-occurrence of burin spalls and the unusual finds of 24 perforated freshwater mussel shells. Burin spalls are tools struck deliberately at an approximate ninety-degree angle to the face of the flake or core. A working hypothesis that burin spalls were tools used for working the mussel shells was formulated after Prof. Fred Valdez of UT-Austin alerted the authors to the meaningful correlation of burin spalls and carved shell. In Valdez’s work in the Mayan culture area of Belize, long burin spalls are associated with carved shell (Valdez, pers. Com.). It is accepted generally in Mayan archeology that specialized burins are tools for working shell artifacts.
The hypothesis derived from this correlation is direct: the site burins were tools to carve, perforate, and drill the perforated mussel shell on the site. It was decided to test the hypothesis by conducting an experiment of high magnification examination of site burins and comparing them to burins worked experimentally on modern shell.
The conduct of the experiment proceeded timewise in two phases. The first phase involved the production of chert burin spalls and their application to modern shell surfaces to identify actual shell wear on tools. The second phase was the high magnification use-wear analysis of both the experimental burins and the archeologic burins recovered from the Edd Melton site. Relevant patterns could then be compared with reliability. Christopher W. Ringstaff of The Texas Department of Transportation kindly donated expert skill and Bell County chert material to produce the experimental burin spalls. Marilyn Shoberg of TARL and Texas State University conducted the second phase of the experiment. All the microscope work was conducted at the Microscopy Laboratory, the Texas Archeological Research Laboratory, UT-Austin. This study of the combination of experimental archeology and microwear analysis is reported in great detail in the report on 41BL1138 forthcoming in the Bulletin of the Texas Archeological Society in the fall of 2019.
The analytical method for microwear analysis is patterned after the work of Semenov (1964) comparing a complex of wear traces including edge damage, micropolishes, and striations to those attributes on experimental tool analogs at magnifications greater than 100x. Keeley (1980) improved the “high-power approach” to include kinematics of use or angle of attack to describe more clearly how striations in micropolish reflect the action used in specific tasks. The microscope at TARL used for this analysis is a reflected-light differential-interference Olympus BH2 microscope with Nomarski optics. The interpretation of wear traces is based on comparison with experimental tool analogs used in a broad range of experiments. In conjunction with the analysis of this sample of four small tools from 41BL1138, experimental burins were used individually cutting, drilling, slicing, and graving fresh water mollusk shell; and analyzed for reference.
The analysis indicates that three of the small tools from the site were used in manufacturing tasks on shell; two used as drills, one used cutting. One tool was used cutting soft animal tissue. One of the drills has additional use of one edge in scraping shell.
The photomicrograph shows the wear on one of the two archaeological tools used drilling shell.
Burin spall 123, lateral facet @ 500x; overlapping groups of subparallel troughs in bright platy micropolish originate at the edge of a flake scar at the utilized end of the burin. The tip of the tool is beyond the bottom of the photomicrograph. The orientation of the striations (arrows) to the edge of the tool reflect the kinematics of use or angle of attack, i.e. sequential actions parallel and oblique to the tip as in piercing and twisting motions.
Experimental burin spall used drilling shell @ 500x. Smooth subparallel troughs of variable width in micropolish reflect the angle of attack when the drill bit was inserted into the shell. Sharp single striations across the long sleeks are from grit particles dragged across the edge in a subsequent action. Patches of very bright angular debris are embedded in the polish.
The diagnostic wear traces observed in this study of experimental burins used on fresh water mollusk shell are bright patches of platy micropolish with long subparallel troughs of variable width, and with angular particles or bright debris of considerable variability in size embedded in the micropolish.
1980 Experimental Determination of Stone Tool Uses: A Microwear Analysis. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.
In 1972 and 1975, University of Texas (UT) archaeologists conducted investigations on sites located within the proposed Bayou Loco Reservoir or Lake Nacogdoches project area in Nacogdoches County, Texas; the Nacogdoches Archeological Society also completed archaeological investigations on the project. Bayou Loco is a southward-flowing tributary of the Angelina River. During that work, extensive excavations were conducted at the Mayhew (41NA21) and Deshazo (41NA13/27) sites, and the results of work at those sites has been published by Kenmotsu (1992) and Story (1982, 1995). Much more moderate archaeological investigations were conducted in 1975 by UT at four other sites: Pleasant Hill (41NA19), Riser (41NA20), Iron Rock (41NA22), and Loco Bottom (41NA23) (Figure 1). Without detailed analysis in 2018 of the project records and recovered artifacts curated at the Texas Archeological Research Laboratory at The University of Texas at Austin, the results of the archaeological work at these sites had not been made available before now.
Figure 1. The general locations of the four sites tested by UT at Lake Nacogdoches. Figure prepared by Lance Trask.
What the UT archaeologists found out was that the valley was occupied as early as the Middle Archaic (ca. 8000-5000 years ago) and Late Archaic (ca. 5000-2500 years ago) periods, but the first evidence of a substantial use of the land only took place during the Woodland period (ca. 2500-1150 years ago) by Mossy Grove peoples. Each of the four sites have evidence for settlement by Woodland period hunters and gatherers. Ancestral Caddo peoples that may be descendants of Mossy Grove groups lived and occupied the Bayou Loco valley from as early as ca. A.D. 900, but the most intensive settlement of the valley was after ca. A.D. 1400-1450 (during the Late Caddo period), and particularly after ca. A.D. 1680 and as late as ca. A.D. 1720 or so during the Historic Caddo Allen phase. There is a very high proportion of brushed sherds in the utility wares at the Iron Rock and Loco Bottom sites, as well as at the Mayhew and Deshazo sites in the reservoir project area. Taken together with substantial amounts of Patton Engraved fine ware ceramics, as well as the recovery or reporting of early 18th century European glass beads from the two sites (Figure 2), and substantial numbers of European goods at the nearby Mayhew and Deshazo sites, this indicates that they were occupied by Caddo peoples during the Historic Caddo period, and that they were a part of the community of Caddo peoples that lived along Bayou Loco during the period of early European contact and settlement (cf. Jackson et al. 2012; Prewitt 2019). These Caddo peoples appear to be affiliated with the Hainai Caddo, the preeminent ancestral Caddo group in East Texas at that time.
Figure 2. White oval-shaped glass bead from the Iron Rock site. Figure prepared by Paul Marceaux.
These Caddo peoples were farmers that lived year-round in farmsteads, hamlets, and villages dispersed across the Bayou Loco valley, and in a number of other drainages in the Angelina River basin. As best as can be determined from the archaeological investigations, the four sites tested by UT in 1975 were places of one to several ancestral Caddo houses that had associated trash midden deposits, and were likely surrounded by fields and maintained landscapes with available wild plant foods, wood for fires, and wood and grass for construction purposes. These settlements were probably occupied for at most 1-2 generations of Caddo families, before they were abandoned or the farmsteads moved to another location in the valley.
The most abundant artifact category at the Bayou Loco sites are sherds from ceramic vessels made, used, broken, then discarded at the ancestral Caddo settlements. Most of the sherds are from vessels tempered with grog or crushed sherds, with the regular use of burned bone or crushed pieces of hematite as additional temper inclusions. The sites are dominated by brushed utility wares from Bullard Brushed and Spradley Brushed-Incised jars, likely used primarily as cooking and storage vessels (Figure 3). Brushed pottery comprises 72.3-84.2 percent of the decorated sherds from the Bayou Loco sites occupied after ca. A.D. 1680. Incised, punctated, and incised-punctated decorative classes are relatively abundant among the vessel sherds not decorated with brushed marks, as are Lindsey Grooved sherds, and sherds with neck banded and appliqued-punctated decorative elements.
Figure 3. Brushed-incised, brushed-lip notched, and brushed-appliqued rim and body sherds from the iron Rock site: top row, Spradley Brushed-Incised; lower left, brushed-lip notched rim sherd; lower right, brushed-appliqued rim sherd. Figure prepared by Paul Marceaux.
Fine ware vessel sherds with engraved, engraved-punctated, and engraved-brushed decorative elements only comprise between 6.6-13.8 percent of the decorated sherds at the Bayou Loco sites. The principal fine ware type is Patton Engraved, a diagnostic element of Allen phase sites in the Neches and Angelina river basins (Figure 4), but there are also sherds from Poynor Engraved and Hume Engraved vessels; most fine ware sherds are from carinated bowls, but there are also bottles and compound bowls in the assemblages. Fine wares used for serving foods and holding liquids appear to have been regularly used by the inhabitants at each of these Historic Caddo sites.
Figure 4. Patton Engraved and Hume Engraved rim and body sherds from the Loco Bottom site: b, e-l, Patton Engraved; a, c-d, Hume Engraved. Figure prepared by Paul Marceaux.
Jackson, M. K., T. Middlebrook, G. Avery, H. Shafer, and B. Meissner
2012 Trade and Cultural Interaction along El Camino Real de los Tejas During the Spanish Colonial and Republic Periods in Nacogdoches County, Texas. 2 Vols. Nine Flags Museum, Nacogdoches.
Kenmotsu, N. A
1992 The Mayhew Site: A Possible Hasinai Farmstead, Nacogdoches County, Texas. Bulletin of the Texas Archeological Society 63:135-174.
Prewitt, E. R.
2019 Bayou Loco: Investigations and Speculations. Journal of Northeast Texas Archaeology 80:1-16.
Story, D. A. (editor)
1982 The Deshazo Site, Nacogdoches County, Texas, Vol. 1: The Site, Its Setting, Investigations, Cultural Features, Artifacts of Non-Native Manufacture, and Subsistence Remains. Texas Antiquities Permit Series No. 7. Texas Antiquities Committee, Austin.
1995 The Deshazo Site, Nacogdoches County, Texas, Vol. 2: Artifacts of Native Manufacture. Studies in Archeology 21. Texas Archeological Research Laboratory, The University of Texas at Austin.
We are delighted to announce that The Prehistory Research Project(formerly known as The Gault Project) will be returning to its roots: Starting early summer 2019 the PRP staff will move the project from its current home at Texas State University in San Marcos to Building 5C at TARL.
Some of you (indeed many of you) are long-familiar with the old Gault Project but for those who might not be, it was a research project that was formed under the auspices of the TARL family and operated out of TARL Building 5A from 1999 to 2009. The Gault Project was created to help manage cultural materials that were being excavated from the Gault Archaeological Site which is located 40 miles north of Austin. The Prehistory Research Project (PRP) expanded its research from the Gault Project to dedicate research efforts beyond the Gault Site to exploring the early human occupations of the Americas.
Volunteers and professional Archaeologists hard at work in Area 15 of the Gault Site
Background in Brief
The Gault Archaeological Site is named for the original owner, Henry Gault whose farm had a colorful past; attracting unwanted collectors, as well as professional and avocational archaeologists for over a century. Thankfully, science and education prevailed and helped stop the damage being done from pay-to-dig operations by the late 1990s. Archaeologists were eventually allowed unrestricted access to the property to conduct excavations when the owners, Ricky and Howard Lindsey granted a 3-year access – 1999 to 2002 – for Dr. Mike Collins to investigate the site. These excavations revealed a prolific, multi-component, well-stratified site representing almost every stone-age culture known in Central Texas.
As is often the case when conducting large-scale archaeological excavations (and as many an avocational and professional can attest), it was the final few days of that 3-year excavation lease that last minute testing revealed artifacts well-below the known Clovis zone. These findings were convincing evidence of older occupations at the site and led to renewed negotiations with the landowners for several years. In early 2007 Gault was purchased by Dr. Collins and the deed ownership donated to The Archaeological Conservancy.
Excavations resumed by 2007, however in the summer of 2009, a generous invitation to move the project to San Marcos from the Anthropology Department at Texas State University was accepted by Dr. Collins and Dr. Clark Wernecke. The relocation of such a high-profile group of researchers would prove beneficial in Texas State’s quest for recognition as an emerging research institution. It was clear that the Gault Site had mounting evidence that would eventually re-write prehistory of the earliest peoples in the Americas. Thus, The Gault Project grew and expanded to become The Prehistory Research Project.
Artifacts from the deepest stratigraphic levels at the Gault Site, named the Gault Assemblage. These artifacts are dated to between 16,000 and 21,000 years old.
Today, the PRP is an active, vibrant project that supports research across the globe with a special interest in all early archaeological evidence, from North, Central, and South America, where sites much older than 13,500 years ago are being discovered or rediscovered on a consistent basis.
A tour group from the Society for American Archaeology explore the Gault Site with Dr. Michael Collins
Moving to TARL
As of August 31, 2019, our 10-year arrangement with Texas State University will end on a high note as some of our biggest and most prominent accomplishments have occurred under the auspices of Texas State University. But we are more than ready to move back home to TARL. We will be bringing with us a dedicated team of researchers and, in conjunction with the Gault School of Archaeological Research (GSAR).
Our move to TARL is very much a homecoming for the Gault Archaeological Site and the Prehistory Research Project. We are thrilled to re-unite with our colleagues and begin a new collaborative partnership with the great folks at TARL and the University of Texas at Austin that we believe will create exciting new opportunities and make archaeology accessible to all!
In the meantime, look for additional details as we get closer to making this endeavor happen, and would like to extend our thanks and gratitude to Texas State University for hosting the project over the past decade and thank all of our friends, colleagues, volunteers, and students who have supported us throughout our time there.
Heartfelt Gratitude and Thanks to TARL for a much-anticipated homecoming!
A recent collaboration between the Center for Big Bend Studies of Sul Ross State University and the Texas Archeological
Research Lab focuses on advancing the analysis of both plant and human DNA at Spirit Eye Cave. The impetus for the maize
research follows from the results of radiocarbon dated cobs that confirm the presence of Late Archaic maize at the cave.
Housed at TARL are additional corncobs from a private collection that was recovered in the late 1990s from a collector in
California. The morphology of the cobs in this collection are consistent with older examples from southern New Mexico
and it is possible they are older than previously dated examples. In addition to dating the specimens housed at TARL, BioArch
at the University of York is sequencing the DNA so we can understand the phylogenetic history of this maize in regards to
previously sequenced specimens from the American Southwest and Mexico.
This is important because the role of maize in Late Archaic groups in the eastern Trans-Pecos is assumed to be minimal.
As Mallouf (2005:239) suggests “the use of cultigen was cursory at best, possibly serving only as a dietary supplement, and
may have been restricted to occasional, relatively haphazard and experimental plantings in suitable soils near springs or along
segments of larger drainages …” However isotopic analysis from several eastern Trans-Pecos burials suggests opposite trophic
patterns. As a general statement Piehl (2009:81) states, the Late Archaic individuals look, “similar to incipient agriculturalists in
the Jornada-Mogollon region” whereas the Late Prehistoric individuals, some presumed to be agriculturalists, look like Archaic
populations, “outside of the eastern Trans-Pecos or Lower Pecos regions, rather than incipient agriculturalists or those relying
on maize agriculture.” Although Piehl’s results were limited, they indicate maize may have had a longer and more significant role
in the region than was previously assumed.
Sampled Cob from Spirit Eye Cave
In addition to the maize research, we extracted samples to sequence the DNA from an individual that was part of the Spirit Eye
Cave collection recovered in California. Much like the maize research, the combination of mtDNA and radiocarbon data will help
us understand the individual’s phylogenetic history and provide a step forward for future collaboration for both descendant
communities and researchers grappling with heavily looted sheltered sites in Texas.