Week 4 Update

Archaeology Update for the Week of October 31

Happy Halloween, everyone! In honor of this unique holiday, here’s probably the scariest archeology-related scene in the history of movies, the Ark Opening scene from “Raiders of the Lost Ark”. It sure scared a five-year-old me when I saw this in the theaters back in ‘81 (so any youngsters out there should probably leave that link blue)!

Well, the rain is hopefully receding into our rear-view mirror but it still put a cramp in our progress last week. Most of last week our team was not able to get out to do any excavations. For those of the crew who live in Austin, this rain has really been a pain because we’ve been boiling our water due to the sediment buildup from flooding upstream. Not pretty… To minimize the chance that this rain will continue to… er… rain on our parade, we rolled out a giant tent to keep over key excavation blocks. Now our crews can continue to work even if it’s raining. We also put up some berms around the blocks to redirect any water that may be heading that way.

We started excavations back up on the 30th and also had our first tours! What fun to see folks coming through to learn about this site! The tour participants got to head out and learn about the work that we are doing, the history of the site, and get their hands dirty by taking a turn at screening, one of the main components of any major excavation. Here are some pictures of the tour group working.The archaeological tour’s final stop! The screening area. Here tour participants can try their hand at screening to find artifacts. While they don’t get to keep them, these visitors’ finds are contributing to our research at the site.Here’s Headwaters Assistant Manager, Lauren Strack, helping some tour participants peer through the soil to find ancient artifacts.Do you see the woman running the camera? That’s a film crew from Spectrum News! They came out yesterday to learn about the excavations and talk to some of the staff at the Headwaters. Here’s their coverage of the excavations!

We’re going to be hosting the first of our weekly live videos on YouTube Live on November 1! Set your calendars for 10 AM (pretty-much) every Thursday! And be sure to subscribe to our channel to be notified when we go live.In the news this week, some of you may have seen the coverage of the recently-published finds from the Debra L. Friedken Site (41BL1239) in Bell County, Texas. Among the nearly 640,000 artifacts they’ve recovered from their investigations at the site, they have found an early projectile point (a dart point with a distinctive split stem) and numerous other stone artifacts below an identified Clovis deposit. Clovis cultures, with their own distinctive, fluted type of points, were long considered to be the earliest to arrive in the New World, arriving from what is now Russia roughly 13,000 years ago. Optically Stimulated Luminescence (OSL) dates from sand grains (OSL actually measures how long ago a grain of sand was last exposed to light!!!) from this Friedken site above and below these new points points indicate that this site was occupied by people roughly 2,000 years earlier! Along with findings from the Gault Site (41BL323), also in Bell County (clearly Bell County was the place to be for these earliest inhabitants!) and sites elsewhere in the country, that long-held Clovis first model has been eroding over the past several decades as new sites are explored.

Archeologist Side Note: It’s fun to think that even when I was going to college and graduate school back in the ‘90s, the Pre-Clovis hypothesis (e.g. people were actually here before Clovis cultures) was pretty new and often viewed suspiciously (even in my classes!). Nowadays, it’s well-understood and accepted. SCIENCE MARCHES ON!

What makes the published findings from the Friedken site so pivotal is that up until now, all of these pre-Clovis sites had artifacts but those artifacts weren’t any different from the later deposits. Archeologists had to rely mostly on the fact that the earlier finds were below the Clovis occupations (something called the Law of Superposition that says that the object are oldest at the bottom and get younger as you go up so if you find something below a certain layer, that lower layer is older) and various radiocarbon dates. Certainly scientifically-valid but, not without the potential for misinterpretations. What was needed was a site with those very early deposits that included artifacts that were completely different in design from those later deposits (we archaeologists call those “diagnostics”). These new points from the Friedken site, coined “Western Stemmed” by the archaeologists overseeing the project, fit the bill! We now have examples of diagnostics from Pre-Clovis cultures. Very exciting stuff!

Hopefully we’ll have some more actual excavation updates for you this time next week. Cross your fingers that the rain holds off. We Central Texans try not to make a habit out of not wanting rain, but enough is enough!

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