A complex people lived here 7,000 years ago

DAVID TEWES
Sunday, April 2, 2006

A study of ancient human remains and artifacts found in the Guadalupe
River floodplain of south Victoria County shows that a relatively
advanced people who had contacts with others living hundreds of miles
away populated the area.
“We did not know this culture existed. Period,” said Bob Ricklis, the
lead archaeologist studying the items. “We didn’t know anything about
it.”
He said not only did it exist, but it apparently did well. He said the
people had lifespans comparable to modern-day people and had contacts
with others as far away as what later became the Southeast and Midwest
United States.
“They are more advanced than we would have expected,” Ricklis said.
Ricklis is director of the Corpus Christi office of Coastal Environments
Inc., which conducted the archaeological dig to unearth and study the
human remains and artifacts discovered at the Buckeye Knoll site near
the Invista plant.
The excavation was done for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as part the
project to widen and deepen the Victoria Barge Canal. While the canal
improvements affected only a small portion of the site that contained no
human remains, a corps official has said it’s standard procedure to
examine the entire site.
Daniel Castro Romero Jr., general council chairman for the Lipan Apache
Band of Texas Inc., said the find is an important one. He said he
believes Native Americans originated here and this cemetery confirms
that.
“We’re rewriting history because of what’s been found out here,” he
said. “This is of great importance.”
He said not only does it rewrite the history of the region, but of the
nation.
The excavation produced a large collection of artifacts dating back from
500 to 10,000 years, Ricklis said. A prehistoric cemetery thought to
date back at least 7,000 years was also discovered.
“It’s one of only three of that magnitude in North America,” Ricklis
said. He noted that the other known cemeteries older than 5,000 years
are Carrier Mills in Southern Illinois and Windover on the east coast of
Florida. He also said archaeologists didn’t even suspect that people in
Texas had major cemeteries 7,000 years ago.
“It’s a sizeable cemetery,” Ricklis said. “We excavated about 80
burials, but there are a lot more than that in the site.”
He estimated there could be as many as 200 burials there that date back
7,000 years. Based on radiocarbon dating, he said, the oldest of the
human remains tested dates back 8,500 years.
Ricklis said researchers are confident the site was occupied as far back
as 10,000 years ago because of flint points found there that are known
to be from that period. “Specifically, we found dart points of the
Golondrina, St. Mary’s Hall and Wilson types, all known to date to
before 9,000 years ago.”
Ricklis said he has no idea where the predecessors of these Native
Americans originated, but there is nothing to indicate a European
connection. He said they could be part of an early population that may
have come from northeast Asia.
But he added some in the field question that and believe there may have
been immigrants from Europe or the Pacific region who contributed to
early American populations.
“Probably the most interesting thing we have regarding the cemetery is a
lot of artifacts found with the burials and placed in the graves as
offerings,” Ricklis said.
He said those artifacts are evidence of links to the Mississippi River
Valley, the Southeast United States and possibly even Mexico.
Examples include bannerstones, flint projectile points, beads, shell
pendants, and bone and antler tools for working flint. A bannerstone is
a piece of stone that was worked by pecking and grinding into an oblong
shape. It was typically 4 to 6 inches long, carefully crafted and
usually smoothed, sometimes to a polish.
“The bannerstones are not typical of Texas,” Ricklis said. “The ones we
have are of a certain type much more common in the Mississippi Valley
and the Midwest.”
Also found were plummets, or teardrop-shaped stones, that have been
drilled and are more typical of the Southeast for this time period.
Ricklis said he still doesn’t have the final report on the physical
anthropology showing the sex and age of the people. But the study showed
there were several individuals who lived to be 70 years old and still
had their teeth, indicating they led relatively healthy lives.
“We do see that these people are quite healthy and some of the diseases
we see in later populations of Native Americans were not present,”
Ricklis said.
He said he’s not sure what the typical lifespan would have been for
these people. But he said he would expect hunter-gatherers to have had a
lifespan of 45 to 50 years.
“There is nothing indicating death from other than natural causes,”
Ricklis said. “Old age is just one of the natural causes. There are many
children and young- to middle-aged adults in the cemetery, as well.”
It appears they had a diet that was a mix of plants and animals they got
from the local river floodplain and the prairie environment. There were
also indications they brought food from the coast.
Their meals from the floodplain and prairie consisted of things like
deer, river fish, local plants and possibly buffalo. The coastal meals
included saltwater fish and oysters.

? David Tewes is a reporter for the Advocate. Contact him at
361-580-6515 or dtewes@vicad.com, or comment on this story at
www.VictoriaAdvocate.com.

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