Rewriting History Of Early North American Man

Date: 2001-02-08

New discoveries in a valley on the eastern edge of the Texas Hill Country will prompt rewriting the history of early North American man, predict Texas A&M University archaeologists who are co-directing excavations at the artifact-rich site.
Texas A&M anthropology professors Harry J. Shafer and Michael R. Waters have co-directed the Texas A&M Gault site field school in a joint project with the University of Texas. Their work, along with the work of 15 Texas A&M graduate and undergraduate students, has led to the uncovering of what Shafer calls "the most intensively occupied Clovis site currently known in North America."

The term Clovis refers to the oldest recognized archaeological culture in the Americas, spanning the period from 11,500 to 11,000 years ago, and it is recognized by the trademark Clovis point, a large leaf-shaped lancelet spear point with a concave base and deep flutes going up the central shaft of the point, which was used to hunt mammoth and bison, said Waters.

He and Shafer believe the quantity and quality of the artifacts excavated at the Gault site will produce more information than previously available about the Clovis culture, significantly enhancing understanding of the earliest occupants of Texas and North America.

The significance of the Gault site, Waters said, is its uniqueness. While the majority of Clovis sites are what archaeologists refer to as "single event" sites, such as where animals were killed, the Gault site is a campsite where people came year after year, he explained.

"Most of the artifacts that have been used to identify Clovis sites have been either surface finds or found around kill areas where these early hunters have killed and butchered mammoths and bison," Shafer said. "Very few campsite situations have been found for Clovis and those that have, have been very thin."

"What we have here, at Gault, is at least five stratigraphically separate occupational events - something unheard of and unprecedented in PaleoIndian archaeology," Waters added. "This will enable us to get a picture of the Clovis culture as it progressed throughout the course of 500 to 700 years," he explained.

The Gault site, which extends more than five acres, is situated at the head of a creek, near a series of springs in Central Texas. The Gault site is on private property, and its owners have stipulated that its specific location not be revealed, Shafer noted.

First excavated in 1929 for information about late prehistoric and Archaic peoples, the Gault site was not known to house Clovis artifacts until this past decade, Waters said. Excavations by archaeologists at the University of Texas confirmed the initial Clovis presence in 1991, and the joint field school project between the two universities started soon after, he noted.

Shafer joined the Texas A&M faculty in 1972 and was the department's first archaeologist. He brings 37 years of research expertise in such areas as Texas prehistory, North American archaeology, Southwestern archaeology, Maya archaeology and prehistoric stone technology. He teaches both graduate and undergraduate courses in archaeology.

Waters specializes in geoarchaeology, Late Quaternary geology and PaleoIndian archaeology. He brings more than 20 years of research experience in PaleoIndian archaeology and geoarchaeology to the project. He instructs graduate and undergraduate courses in archaeology, PaleoIndian studies, geoarchaeology, and Late Quaternary geology.


This story has been adapted from a news release issued by Texas A&M University.