Friends of Northeast Texas Archaeology




The M. S. Roberts site is located in Henderson County, Texas and it represents one of the few known Caddo mound sites in the upper Neches River Basin in northeast Texas (Figure 1). The site is situated along Caddo Creek – an eastward-flowing tributary of the Neches River (Perttula et al. 2016; Perttula 2016; Perttula and Walters 2016). The site is located southeast of Athens, Texas. When first recorded, the single mound at the site was approximately 24 m long and 20 m wide and roughly 1.7 m in height (Pearce and Jackson 1931). Directly west of the mound was a large depression, which has since been mostly filled, and likely represents the borrow pit for mound fill. The mound is situated at the southern end of an elevated alluvial landform.

The site was first reported to Dr. J. E. Pearce of the University of Texas in September 1931. In October of the same year, archaeologists from the University of Texas began investigating the mound and defining the extent of the associated settlement (Pearce and Jackson 1931). Researchers obtained a surface collection from the site and excavated an unknown number of trenches in the mound where portions of at least one burned and buried Caddo structure was identified. Their excavation notes document that the mound began as a 25 cm deposit of yellow sand constructed on the undisturbed brown sandy loam that defines the alluvial landform. A structure had been built on the yellow sand and then at some point had been burned. The burned structure was then covered with mound fill at least a meter in depth. Materials collected from the surface as part of the 1931 investigations indicate the presence of a Caddo habitation area surrounding the mound and suggest the site was occupied from the fourteenth to the early fifteenth centuries (Perttula et al. 2016; Perttula 2016; Perttula and Walters 2016). At that time, the landscape around the mound was a used as a cotton field and subject to extensive plowing. Today, the landscape is part of a residential ranch development where landowners are stewards of the site with a focus on preservation and research.

In January 2015, with the permission of the landowners, renewed interested in the site began with a surface collection and the examination of the artifact collections from the 1931 work held by the Texas Archeological Research Laboratory (Perttula et al. 2016; Perttula 2016; Perttula and Walters 2016). A series of shovel tests and auger holes were then dug in the mound and surrounding habitation area in mid-2015. Shovel tests and auger holes documented organically-stained and charcoal-rich areas within the mound that were thought to represent the remains of several burned Caddo structures, and also identified non-mound habitation deposits at the site. An initial aerial survey was also conducted to map the landform topography, estimate the extent of the current mound dimensions and borrow pit, and to reconstruct changes in the shape and size of the mound since it was first recorded in 1931 (Perttula et al. 2016). The survey employed a small Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) to map the roughly 20-acre property surrounding the site at a 2 cm per pixel resolution. The aerial survey of the mound and surrounding landscape and the creation of a high-resolution digital elevation model reveal that the mound dimensions have changed significantly from what was reported in 1931 (Perttula et al. 2016).

For example, aerial data document both the mound and borrow pit features and show that the mound measures 43 m North-South and 26 m East-West, and is roughly 1 meter above the surrounding terrace surface (Perttula et al. 2016). The aerial survey demonstrates that the mound has elongated over the last century since it was first recorded, likely related to historic landscape modification.

In January 2016, the site was again revisited. The purpose of the fieldwork was to better define the spatial extent of archaeological deposits in the non-mounded habitation area and investigate the stratigraphy of mound deposits, identify cultural features in the mound, and hopefully obtain charred plant remains or unburned animal bones from these deposits for AMS dating.

To help evaluate and identify the distribution of cultural features in the mound and the surrounding non-mounded habitation area, an area just over 1 hectare or 2.8 acres was surveyed using magnetic gradient and a second aerial survey was completed to refine the overall landscape topography (Figure 2).

The magnetic gradient results document the subsurface location of at least two interpreted structures within the mound, the possible locations of three 1931 UT trenches, and several possible pit features proximate to the mound. The combination of aerial and geophysical data and the excavation results are revising our understanding of the archaeological remains and preservation conditions of the site.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.


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