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Archaeological Data Recovery Of A Burned Rock Midden At Site 41CM412, Comal County, Texas
Texas Historical Commission
The Comal Independent School District (CISD) retained Pape-Dawson Engineers, Inc. (PapeDawson) to conduct cultural resource investigations for the proposed construction of a new high school (High School #4) near the city of Garden Ridge in southern Comal County, Texas. The CISD High School #4 Project (Project) includes construction of buildings, parking lots, roadways, and associated utility installation for the new school campus. After the identification of a State Antiquities Landmark (SAL)-eligible burned rock midden at site 41CM412 during the preliminary archaeological survey, a data recovery investigation was undertaken within this portion of the site.
Pape-Dawson archaeologists initially identified site 41CM412 during an intensive archaeological survey for the Project between December 11, 2017, and January 10, 2018, under Texas Antiquities Permit No. 8244. Comprising the entire 40.4-hectare (ha; 99.8-acre [ac]) survey area, site 41CM412 is a multi-component site containing early to mid-twentieth century structures, a light scatter of historic artifacts, an extensive scatter of prehistoric lithic material (both tools and non-tools), and a large burned rock midden. While the historic component of the site, as well as the extensive lithic artifact scatter, were determined to be not eligible for designation as a SAL, Pape-Dawson’s survey effort concluded that the burned rock midden demonstrated research value. Following completion of the initial survey, Pape-Dawson archaeologists coordinated with the Texas Historical Commission (THC), who concurred that the burned rock midden feature at site 41CM412 met the requirements for SAL designation.
As impacts to the burned rock midden at site 41CM412 could not be avoided during the proposed Project construction, Pape-Dawson archaeologists conducted a data recovery investigation of the midden deposits. Since CISD is a political subdivision of the State of Texas, compliance with the Antiquities Code of Texas (ACT) was required for the investigation. Pape-Dawson completed the data recovery field effort under Texas Antiquities Permit No. 8361 between March 19 and April 3, 2018.
The data recovery Project Area included a buffer of 0.66 ha (1.63 ac) surrounding the 0.21-ha (0.51-ac) midden area within the overall 40.4-ha (99.8-ac) site boundary. The primary goals of the investigation were to (1) assess the age or age range of the midden accumulation; (2) identify if the type of burned rock formation was sheet, domed, or annular; (3) identify the fuel sources and types of food processed at the midden; (4) determine if a heating element was present within the midden or if the rocks were heated elsewhere; and (5) determine if the accumulation of burned rock was gradual over a period of time or rapid during a phase of intense usage.
To address these research questions, the investigation consisted of a program of systematic shovel testing, mechanical excavation of two archaeological trenches, and the hand-excavation of two 1-x-1-meter (3.3-x-3.3-foot) units, as well as five 50-x-50-centimeter (19.7-x-19.7-inch) columns. Melanie Nichols served as the initial Principal Investigator (PI), and Dr. Karissa Basse assumed responsibility as PI during report production. Field efforts were led by Melanie Nichols, with assistance from Jacob Sullivan, Virginia Moore, Megan Veltri, and Dr. Nesta Anderson. Light Detection and Ranging imaging and drone footage were collected on site by David Leyendecker and Angela Livingston. Geographic Information Systems and laboratory assistance was provided by Jacob Sullivan, Sheldon Smith, Ann Marie Blackmon, and Mikayla Mathews. Curation for the Project was completed by Ann Marie Blackmon and Mason Miller. Special studies, including macrobotanical analysis, faunal analysis, projectile point analysis, magnetic susceptibility testing, and radiocarbon dating, were conducted by Dr. Leslie Bush, Melanie Nichols, Chris Ringstaff, Dr. Charles Frederick, and Direct AMS, respectively. Brooke Bonorden served as editor, and Zachary Overfield oversaw quality control and quality assurance.
The data recovery investigations resulted in the horizontal and vertical refinement of the boundaries of the burned rock midden (Feature 1) within 41CM412, which dates to the Archaic period. In addition, two internally embedded features—a possible heating element (Feature 1.1) and an earth oven pit (Feature 1.2)—were identified. A historic-age midden (Feature 2) was also identified during investigation. In total, the prehistoric assemblage collected from site 41CM412 consists of 3,224 prehistoric artifacts, including 3,156 lithics (17 projectile points, 2 dart point preforms, 29 bifaces, 3 unifacial scrapers, 1 perforator, 5 edge-modified flakes, 2 cores, 1 blank, and 3,096 pieces of unmodified debitage), 47 faunal bone fragments, 10 pieces of ocher (21.16 grams [g]), 1,395.4 g burned clay, 2.46 g charcoal, and 2,910 pieces of burned rock (214.29 kilograms). The historic- and modern-age material recovered from the site largely consists of metal, glass, cut faunal bone, and mortar. All cultural material was collected and brought back to the Pape-Dawson Laboratory in Austin for processing and analysis aside from FCR, which was analyzed and discarded in the field.
Based on the results of the fieldwork and subsequent analyses, the burned rock midden at site 41CM412 appears to have largely resulted from a series of long-term, or perhaps seasonal occupations occurring from the Early to Transitional Archaic periods, with a concentrated occupation evident during the Middle Archaic. The vertical distribution of artifacts at the site points to multiple occupations occurring on a landform with a slow sedimentation rate. Integral heating elements and earth oven pits (Features 1.1 and 1.2, respectively) within the Feature 1 midden suggest the site contained a center-focused cooking facility. This facility is represented by the annular formation of the overall midden and on-site heating of the rocks. Task specific activities at the site include earth oven baking (as evidenced by burned rock midden deposits) and tool manufacturing and maintenance (as evidenced by a high percentage of small, tertiary flakes within the artifact assemblage). Processing of predominantly meat products also occurred at the site, given the presence of faunal bone within the overall Feature 1 matrix and general lack of packing material in the earth oven. Ancient fuel sources appear to be hardwoods of oak and potentially juniper. In addition, trace evidence of hickory/walnut/pecan family nuts indicate these plants may have also been processed as a food source. Although not all cultural components of the site were stratigraphically discrete, the burned rock midden deposits illustrate evidence of use and reuse over several millennia. This sequence significantly contributes to our understanding of Archaic cooking models and burned rock formation processes.
In accordance with the criteria in 13 ACT 26.10, Pape-Dawson’s data recovery of the SAL eligible portion of site 41CM412 has mitigated any impact associated with the construction of the Comal ISD High School #4. As a result, Pape-Dawson recommends no further work for the site. The THC concurred with the Pape-Dawson’s recommendation on April 13, 2018 and allowed construction for the Project to proceed. Furthermore, Pape-Dawson received concurrence from the THC for the draft report of investigation on October 23, 2020.
Following completion of the final report, artifact discard decisions will be coordinated with the THC. Project records, photographs, and select collected artifacts will be curated at the University of Texas at San Antonio Center for Archaeological Research.
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