Week 9 Update

Archaeology Update for the Week of December 5

We’ve been busy this past week, trying to make the most of this good weather.

The large burned rock midden in Block D has been removed completely – but something interesting was found beneath it…

Over in Block D, closest to the well yard and the confluence of Blieders Creek and Comal Springs, the excavation crew was hard at work studying and removing what was left of the large burned rock midden we identified as Feature 45 (see them sped up a little bit with this video!). Last week, we showed you some pictures as the crew bisected it. While burned rock middens can be several feet thick, this one was much smaller and thinner (only about one foot thick), indicating it was not as intensively utilized. Because the feature is so thin, the investigators could not discern any patterning in the dense jumble of rocks that would indicate individual hearths. Small sub-hearths can be found within larger middens because these large features are postulated to have been created as an accumulation of rocks from individual, smaller cooking episodes.Here is a view of what was below the burned rock midden feature (Feature 45).Below this midden, though, archaeologists found an unusually dense accumulation of stone flakes that are the byproduct of chipping rocks to make tools like knives and projectile points. In this lower depth, archaeologists found one discrete pile of large (about the size of your palm) flakes lying next to an extremely dense scatter of smaller rocks. According to Mindy Bonine, one of the field directors, there were more flakes than dirt! Five, five-gallon buckets worth of flakes came out of this dense scatter! If you watched last week’s live video update, you’ll recall that Chris Ringstaff from the Texas Department of Transportation produced a lot of flakes in just 10 minutes as he showed how tools were likely made by prehistoric occupants of this region. But this was a whole lot more! This was definitely a spot where prehistoric flintknappers would dump out their extra flakes as they made tools. Micro-flaking analysis from water screening will give us even more great information about what this location was used for. That’s a lot of flakes! Whew!As a reminder, because these were below the midden, they are older, but we don’t know exactly how old. This is called Relative Dating, a method of approximating the age of different deposits at a site by comparing them to one another.   

A very well-preserved hearth feature in Block C includes some beautiful stone tools… 

Speaking of last week’s live update, we started last week’s video in Block C, looking at Feature 48, a small hearth that was being excavated. This feature had a beautiful projectile point sitting right on top of hearth rocks. As archaeologists continued to excavate, the top layer of rocks were removed and another layer was just below it. This second layer was more circular in shape and contained smaller cobbles. It’s possible this is the remnant of a roasting pit, but more work is needed to figure that out. View of the second layer of rocks that we’ve attributed to Feature 48.

Cool tool alert!

While we were filming, the excavator exposed a stone drill that we held up for the camera. This drill was fashioned from a dart point (prehistoric recycling at its finest!). The original point’s stem looks a lot like a Pedernales Point, which dates to the Middle Archaic period, but as I’d said before, just because a point comes from that time, doesn’t mean that this particular example isn’t associated with a later occupation. As their name indicates, drills like this were used to poke holes in wood and leather by twisting back and forth, drilling into the material. This was one of several specialized tools found in this particular part of the site, giving us some strong evidence that this is an intact living surface used for some particular activities.Stone drill recovered in the vicinity of Feature 48.

Coming up on this week’s Live Update! Taking a stroll through time…

It’s pretty tough, even for us archaeologists, to really comprehend the expanse of time. We toss around ages of occupations and often find ourselves rounding off to the nearest century or even millennium in our analysis and reporting. A lot of that has to do with the challenges of estimating ages with precision, but we are no less prone to generalizing time. But what does 100 years look like? What about 1,000 years or even 10,000?

We wanted to find a way to show visitors just how long people have been living in Texas, how long people have been living at the Headwaters Site (that we know of for sure at this point), and really how long our grandparents, parents, you, and I have been here. So, we turned one of our excavation fences into a scaled timeline of 14,000 years of occupation in Texas! At this scale, each foot equates to roughly 50 years (each meter is 167 years). You begin to get a feel for time when you realize that the signing of the Declaration of Independence is within an arm-span of the present day, but you’d have to walk for almost a minute to reach the earliest site occupations we’ve seen so far at the site.

You’ll begin to feel really small when you extend this timeline beyond the fence, too. At this same scale, modern humans appear 500,000 years ago around the Gristmill in nearby Gruene, Texas. What about dinosaurs? Even though archaeologists don’t study dinosaurs – we often say that if we’re digging up dinosaurs we’ve gone wa-a-a-ay too deep! – according to our model, dinosaurs roamed the earth for a distance of 717 MILES (1,154 km), first arising near the Indiana/Ohio/Kentucky border, closest to Cincinnati, OH and dying out near Tyler, Texas. Those dinosaurs cross through SIX STATES! And the earth itself formed 17,454 miles away. That’s the equivalent of going three-quarters of the way around the globe beginning at the Philippine Sea!   A visual representation of time derived from the scaled timeline at the Headwaters site. So tomorrow, come take a stroll through time with us to better understand visually just how little we’ve been here and how long ago those first people called this site “Home.”  And if you visit us in person, you can see it for yourself!

Do you want to try this little timeline exercise yourself? We’ve posted a write-protected version of the spreadsheet we used to make ours here. Feel free to click that link and make a copy for yourself. The first tab is fully-protected so you can keep your bearings if you make changes. The second tab allows you to make the same timeline we did, but adjust it to fit your wall or fence (or anywhere else, for that matter!). Finally, the last tab is set up to give you free reign to adjust a number of parameters from the scale to the duration of the timeline to the events themselves! Have at it and let us know what you come up with!

Until next week!

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