Artifacts from Central Texas site date back 16,000 years

The artifacts. (Photo courtesy of Gault School)
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WILLIAMSON COUNTY, Texas (KWTX) Newly discovered prehistoric Native American artifacts found in the dirt near Florence date back 16,000 years which makes them the oldest man-fashioned tools ever found in North America.

Nancy Velchoff Williams, co-principal investigator for the Gault School of Archeological Research (GSAR), which oversees the remote archaeological dig site in Williamson County, said the new discovery shows the site was occupied far longer than the 10,000 to 12,000 years experts initially believed.

She said people have been living throughout Central Texas, especially along rivers and waterways, for much longer than archaeologists first thought.

Gault bears evidence of continuous human occupation beginning at least 16,000 years ago, and now perhaps earlier, which makes it one of a few but growing number of archaeological sites in the Americas where scientists have discovered evidence of human occupation dating to centuries before the appearance of the Clovis culture at the end of the last ice age about 13,500 years ago.

Dr. Michael B. Collins, GSAR chairman, said a paper published this month in the journal Science Advances, reports the discovery of some 150,000 artifacts from the specific site, including 10 projectile points.

Investigators also have found four human teeth associated with the site, but no bones or burials have been located there, Collins said.

The article, based on the paper submitted by Collins, Williams and a handful of others at GSAR researchers entitled “Evidence of an early projectile point technology in North America at the Gault Site, Texas, USA,” tends to turn some accepted archaeological orthodoxies on their heads.

For decades archaeologists have subscribed to the "land bridge" theory when considering how man got to this continent.

But what GSAR and others now suggest is this part of the world was populated far earlier than first thought and those who were here back then probably got here by boat, not land bridge.

Most who study the issue believe Clovis technology spread through the indigenous population as those "Clovis" people moved across the land, but Collins now believes "Within a wider context, this evidence suggests that Clovis technology spread across an already regionalized, indigenous population," he wrote.

"Within this new framework, the prevailing models of Clovis origins and the peopling of the Americas are being reevaluated," the report says, because "Current research on the early human occupation of the Americas no longer recognizes Clovis as the expression of a founding population."

Collins says evidence at Gault shows "cultural manifestations at least two thousand years before the appearance of Clovis."

The latest discoveries come from 2002 excavations in Area 15 at the Gault Site.

"This report focuses on the age of deposits, determined by optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) ages obtained from the lowest deposits in Area 15 that contain a material that predates Clovis, referred to as the Gault Assemblage."

"This projectile point assemblage is unlike anything in the early archeological record of the Americas and indicates complex behavioral activities associated with a group or groups who colonized the New World," the report points out.

"The evidence from Area 15 at the Gault Site demonstrates the presence of a previously unknown projectile point technology in North America before (16,000 years ago)."

The report goes on to say the sites dates to "at least 16,000 years," but points out other evidence being evaluated may push that date one to two thousand years earlier.

Diggers have focused on the Gault site for 90 years

The Gault site has been on diggers’ radars since before 1929 when James E. Pearce, the first professional archeologist in Texas, learned of the Gault Farm site and excavated there.

Over the next 60 years, artifact collectors destroyed upper deposits with uncontrolled digging but when the initial layer of the dark, rich soil played out, they stopped.

Then in 1990, a collector dug just a little bit deeper and discovered Clovis-era artifacts accompanied by several unusual and never-before-found incised stones.

Collins and Thomas R. Hester, both then with the Texas Archeological Research Laboratory, in 1991 carried out testing at Gault site that provided results sufficient to confirm the collector's story.

The Gault site, midway between Fort Hood and Georgetown, long known as a treasure trove of ancient Indian artifacts, is situated in a small wooded valley with a spring-fed creek and an unlimited supply of excellent flint or chert.

"The site was occupied intensively during all major periods of the prehistoric era," an article published in Texas Beyond History, says.

After Collins and Hester confirmed the value of the site, the landowner, in spite of the archaeological importance of the acreage, continued to allow uncontrolled pay digging at the site.

Then when the property changed hands and the new owners recognized the importance of the property, they halted pay digging and turned the site over to Collins, Hester and their team to investigate in 1998.

"Since 1998 a major excavation project has been underway at Gault, led by Collins," Texas Beyond History says.

"The Gault site is attracting national and international attention because of the wealth of new information on Clovis culture that is emerging from right here in the Heart of Texas."

A gathering of hundreds of individuals over the years, by far most of them volunteers and students from Texas A&M University, University of Texas at Austin, and Brigham Young University, have provided the muscle.

Williams is the Director and Lab manager for the Gault Project and is currently a Board officer with the Gault School of Archaeological Research and managed and directed the excavations at the Gault site for four years from 2008t to 2012 before joining The Gault School of Archaeological Research as a staff member.

Collins is a Research Professor at Texas State University in San Marcos and has specialized in the study of lithic technology and worked with prehistoric collections from North, Central, and South America, as well as the Near East and southwestern Europe, the Gault website says.

He said Wednesday even after a lifetime, the discovery around the next corner is the next one he's looking for.

"Oh, it's changed so much since I first started," Collins said, "Oh, my gosh, yes! I've seen truly dramatic changes in my time."

But it’s not all archaeology, he said.

"We've seen such major advances in our sister sciences, like DNA and identification, its just amazing the things we can learn today," Collins said. "It's a whole new world."


(Photo courtesy of Gault School)