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Big Hole (41TV2161): Two Stratigraphically Isolated Middle Holocene Components in Travis County, Texas Volume II


Texas Department of Transportation


During April and May 2006, an archeological team from the Cultural Resources Section of the Planning, Permitting and Licensing Practice of TRC Environmental Corporation’s (TRC) Austin office conducted geoarcheological documentation and data recovery excavations at prehistoric site 41TV2161 (CSJ: 0440-06-006). Investigations were restricted to a 70 centimeter (cm) thick target zone between ca. 220 and 290 cm below surface (bs) on the western side of site 41TV2161 – the Big Hole site in eastern Travis County, Texas.

This cultural investigation was necessary under the requirements of Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA), the implementing regulations of 36CRF Part 800 and the Antiquities Code of Texas (Texas Natural Resource Code, Title 9, Chapter 191 as amended) to recover a sample of the significant cultural materials prior to destruction by planned construction of State Highway 130 (SH 130). The latter by a private construction firm – Lone Star Infrastructure. This necessary data recovery was for Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), Environmental (ENV) Affairs Division under a Scientific Services Contract No. 577XXSA003 (Work Authorization No. 57701SA003). Over the years since the original award, multiple work authorizations between TxDOT and TRC were implemented and completed towards specific aspects of the analyses and reporting. The final analyses and report were conducted under contract 57-3XXSA004 (Work Authorization 57-311SA004). All work was under Texas Antiquities Committee Permit No. 4064 issued by the Texas Historical Commission (THC) to J. Michael Quigg.

Initially, an archeological crew from Hicks & Company encountered site 41TV2161 during an intensive cultural resource inventory conducted south of Pearce Lane along the planned construction zone of SH 130 in the fall of 2005. Following the initial site discovery, archeologists expanded their investigations to the west across the SH 130 right-of-way, and completed excavation of 10 backhoe trenches, 13 shovel tests, and 11 test units at site 41TV2161. The investigations encountered at least seven buried cultural features and 1,034 artifacts, some in relatively good context. The survey and testing report to TxDOT presented their findings and recommendations (Campbell et al. 2006). The ENV Affairs Division of TxDOT and the THC reviewed the initial findings and recommendations, and determined site 41TV2161 was eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places and as State Antiquities Landmark as the proposed roadway development was to directly impact this important site and further excavations were required.

Subsequently, TRC archeologists led by Paul Matchen (Project Archeologist) and J. Michael Quigg (Principal Investigator) initiated data recovery excavations through the mechanical-removal of between 220 and 250 cm of sediment from a 30-by-40 meter (m) block area (roughly 3,000 m3). This was conducted to allow hand-excavations to start just above the deeply buried, roughly 70 cm thick targeted zone of cultural material. Mechanical stripping by Lone Star Infrastructure staff created a large hole with an irregular bottom that varied between 220 and 260 cmbs. To locate specific areas to initiate hand-excavations within the mechanically stripped area, a geophysical survey that employed ground penetrating radar (GPR) was conducted by Tiffany Osburn then with Geo-Marine in Plano, Texas. Over a dozen electronic anomalies were detected through the GPR investigation. Following processing, data filtering, and assessment, Osburn identified and ranked the anomalies for investigation. The highest ranked anomalies (1 through 8) were thought to have the greatest potential to represent cultural features. Anomalies 1 through 6 were selected and targeted through hand-excavations of 1-by-1 m units that formed continuous excavation blocks of various sizes. Blocks were designated A, B, C, D, E, and F. The type, nature, quantity, and context of encountered cultural materials in each block led the direction and expansion of each excavation block as needed. In total, TRC archeologists hand-excavated 38.5 m3 (150 m2) from a vertically narrow target zone within this deep, multicomponent and stratified prehistoric site.

Hand-excavation in the two largest Blocks, B and D (51 m2 and 62 m2 respectively), revealed two vertically separate cultural components between roughly 220 and 290 cmbs. The younger component was restricted to Block B and yielded a Bell/Andice point and point base, plus a complete Big Sandy point. These points were associated with at least eight small burned rock features, one cluster of ground stone tools, limited quantities of lithic debitage, few formal chipped and ground stone tools, and a rare vertebrate faunal assemblage. Roughly 20 to 25 cm below the Bell/Andice component in Block B and across Block D was a component identified by a single corner-notched Martindale dart point. This point was associated with a scattered burned rocks, three charcoal stained hearth features, scattered animal, bird, and fish bones, mussel shells, and less than a dozen formal chipped and ground stone tools.

Both identified components contained cultural materials in good stratigraphic context with high spatial integrity. Significant, both were radiocarbon dated by multiple charcoal samples to a narrow 200-year period between 5250 and 5450 B.P. during the middle Holocene. With exception of the well-preserved faunal assemblages, perishable materials were poorly preserved in the moist silty clay loam. Charcoal lacked structure and was reduced to dark stains. Microfossils (e.g., phytoliths and starch gains) were present, although in very limited numbers and deteriorated conditions.

The four much smaller Blocks (A, C, E, and F) yielded various quantities of cultural material and features, but these blocks also lacked sufficient charcoal dates and diagnostic artifacts Those artifacts and samples were left unassigned and analyzed separately from the Bell/Andice and Martindale components. The two well-defined components in Blocks B and D are the focus of this technical report. The components provide very significant data towards understanding rare and poorly understood hunter-gatherer populations during late stages of the Altithermal climate period.

This final report builds upon the interim report submitted to TxDOT (Quigg et al. 2007) that briefly described the methods, excavations, preliminary findings, initial results from six feasibility studies, and proposed an initial research design for data analyses. Context and integrity of the cultural materials in the two identified components was excellent. This rare circumstance combined with detailed artifact analyses, solid documentation of their ages through multiple radiocarbon dates, and multidisciplinary approach to analyses, allowed significant insights and contributions concerning the two populations involved. Results provide a greater understanding of human behaviors during a rarely identified time in Texas Prehistory.

The cultural materials and various collected samples were temporarily curated at TRC’s Austin laboratory. Following completion of analyses and acceptance of this final report, the artifacts, paper records, photographs, and electronic database were permanently curated at the Center for Archaeological Studies (CAS) at Texas State University in San Marcos.

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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