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Agency

TxDOT

DOI

https://doi.org/10.21112/ita.2008.1.19

Abstract

Data recovery excavations at the Varga Site were conducted in two phases during 2002 by archeologists from the Cultural Resources Department of TRC Environmental Corporation’s (TRC’s) Austin office under contract to Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) Scientific Service Contract No. 572XXSA004. This mitigation program was necessitated by the proposed reconstruction of the crossing of a Ranch to Market Road over Hackberry Creek, immediately south of the site in northeastern Edwards County. These archeological investigations were conducted as part of the responsibilities of TxDOT under existing federal and state legislation for the protection of cultural resources.

Geoarcheological trenching and hand-excavations within the existing 31 m wide road right-of-way of 7- m-wide paved Ranch to Market Road focused on the alluvial fines in the first terrace overlooking Hackberry Creek immediately adjacent to a spring. The southern edge of the terrace contains relatively fine-grained sediments ranging from 15 to 150 centimeter (cm) thick that overlie coarse stream gravels that extend to an unknown depth. The modern ground surface had been impacted by road construction and maintenance activities, as well as by light erosion.

Block Excavations were conducted on both sides of the pavement and resulted in the hand-excavations of a total of 207.75 square meters (m2), including 83 m2 (66.2 m3) in Block A on the western side and a 124.75 m2 (38.26 m3) area in Block B on the eastern side. Archeological deposits in the investigated part of the site extend to the southern lip of the first terrace and extend about 50 m to the north. The excavations yielded evidence of a multiple component campsite with three distinct and a fourth less distinct prehistoric components. In Block A, the 100 to 150 cm thick fine-grained sediments yielded four intact cultural components. Block B only targeted the youngest, Toyah component. The fine-grained alluvial sediments that comprise the first terrace contain discrete occupations radiocarbon dated to the Late Prehistoric period Toyah phase (ca. 290 to 660 B.P.), the Late Archaic period (ca. 1,700 to 2,300 B.P.), and the Early Archaic period (ca. 5,200 to 6,300 B.P.). A Middle Archaic period (ca. 3,900 to 4,800 B.P.) component was also recognized, but was not as clearly defined as were the other three components. Krotovina disturbance was relatively extensive in parts of the investigated site area. Nevertheless, the archeological deposits exhibited a high degree of contextual integrity.

The Toyah phase component contains a rich assemblage of cultural material (ca. 65,000 pieces), including lithic debitage (ca. 26,000), quantities of highly fragmented bones (ca. 18,700), small burned rocks (ca. 16,000), formal and informal stone tools (ca. 1,850), scattered ceramic sherds (ca. 100), and 11 burned rock features. This component was radiocarbon dated by 14 accepted dates to between 290 and 660 B.P. Preservation was generally good, but mixing and probable overprinting contributed to poor horizontal patterning and an inability to identify discrete activity areas.

The Late Archaic period component consists primarily of a large, nearly 6 m diameter lens of burned rock that is interpreted as an incipient burned rock midden with an indistinct central pit oven. This feature was associated with a buried A horizon and exhibited a high degree of stratigraphic integrity. However, beyond the ill-defined boundaries of this burned rock feature, limited lithic debitage assemblage (ca. 1,800), a few mussel shell fragments, five isolated burned rock features, scattered burned rocks, and occasional chipped stone tools (ca. 30) totaling less than 6,000 pieces. Identified dart point styles associated with this midden include Frio, Marcos, Ensor, Castroville, and Edgewood. This component was radiocarbon dated by 11 accepted dates to a 600-year period between 1,700 and 2,310 B.P.

The Middle Archaic component was not well-defined, but definitely present and dispersed below the Late Archaic component and above the Early Archaic component. These materials were vertically distributed over a 20 to 40 cm thick zone that lacked completely sterile levels or visible breaks in the stratigraphy between the other cultural events. Lithic debitage (ca. 4,400) dominates the recovered assemblage (ca. 6,000), with limited burned rocks (ca. 3,000), a few formal chipped stone tools (ca. 25), and moderate frequency of vertebrate remains (100 g) also present. Two poorly organized burned rock features were also identified and documented. Five Early Triangular projectile points and one Carrizo point fragment occurred within this component. Two wood charcoal assays and one radiocarbon date on a deer bone directly date this Middle Archaic component to ca. 900-radiocarbon year period between 3,910 and 4,820 B.P. These three absolute dates are stratigraphically in order compared to the radiocarbon dates from the cultural components above and below.

The Early Archaic component was defined by quantities of dense cultural debris (ca. 135,000) within a roughly 30 cm thick zone directly on top and mixed into coarse river gravels and below the Middle Archaic component. The cultural material varied in depth from a shallow 50 cm below datum (bd) at the north end to a much deeper 120 cmbd in the southern end of Block A. The recovery of a robust assemblage of dart points (170 specimens) that consisted of Group 2—Early Corner-Notched, Bandy, Martindale, Gower, and Merrell dart points indicates that this zone represents many occupations that occurred over a relatively broad time frame. The dart points were associated with a diverse tool assemblage (ca. 1,300). Organic preservation was poor in this lower stratum, but occasional fragments of animal bone, plant seeds, and wood charcoal were recovered. Fifteen organic samples of diverse materials yielded radiocarbon dates that document a minimum use period of 1,080-radiocarbon years from 5,200 B.P. to 6,280 B.P.

Greater insight and understanding of each of these four components represented was made possible through the employment of numerous technical analyses, including the radiocarbon dating of 66 samples, six optically stimulated luminescence dates, use-wear analysis and organic residue identifications on 156 stone specimens, petrographic analyses on 18 pottery and one local sediment samples, pollen and phytolith analyses on 25 paired samples, instrumental neutron activation analysis on 261 chert samples and 18 pottery sherds, fatty acid composition on eight pottery sherds and 94 burned rocks, stable carbon and nitrogen analyses on 112 samples, macrobotanical analyses on 44 float and 75 individual charcoal samples, and granulometric and compositional studies on 10 sediment samples. The combined results have contributed significantly to a greater understanding of the Varga Site as a whole and documented specific information concerning the behaviors of the people who occupied the site. These and other technical analyses are urged for other excavated sites in the future to continue to broaden our understanding of the human behaviors at specific sites and throughout the broader region. This will add to a growing database that will foster a better understanding of prehistoric lifeways across Texas.

Licensing Statement

This is a work for hire produced for the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), which owns all rights, title, and interest in and to all data and other information developed for this project under its contract with the report producer. The report may be cited and brief passages from this publication may be reproduced without permission provided that credit is given to TxDOT and the firm that produced it. Permission to reprint an entire chapter, section, figures or tables must be obtained in advance from the Supervisor of the Archeological Studies Branch, Environmental Affairs Division, Texas Department of Transportation, 125 East 11th Street, Austin, Texas, 78701.

 

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