Texas Archeology – The Prehistoric Period
Past cultures have left behind thousands of places across Texas evidence of how they lived. These places that contain the tools and other remains of lost of abandoned by long-ago people are called archeological sites. And for thousands of years of Texas history, these sites are the only source of knowledge. No other state can boast a richer array of historic and prehistoric sites or a more valuable legacy for present and future generations. What are some examples of major archeological sites?
Prehistory in the New World is defined as the long period of human occupation before the beginning of European exploration. Prehistoric sites include:
- Some of the most significant and earliest Paleoindian sites (10,000-6000 B.C.) in North America, including ancient Bison and mammoth kills in far West Texas and the high plains.
- River terraces with occupations going back at least 12,000 years along the waterways of north-central Texas.
- Coastal campsites of nomadic peoples who evolved a lifestyle based on hunting, fishing, and gathering wild plants that ensured their survival over thousands of years.
- Some of the finest examples of Indian rock art (pictographs and petroglyphs) in the United States. Major sites in the canyons of the Rio Grande date from as early as the Archaic period (beginning about 6000 B.C.) to the 19th century.
- Large Caddoan temple mound, burial mounds, and agricultural villages located in the piney woods of East Texas. Caddoan people of Late Prehistoric times (A.D. 500-1500) made some of the most beautiful Native American ceramics to be found in Texas.
- Mesa-top villages showing Puebloan cultural influences along the Canadian River of the Texas Panhandle. Here Later Prehistoric peoples built puebloan-style houses, farmed, hunted bison, and engaged in trade with other groups in Texas, New Mexico, and neighboring regions.
- Puebloan farming villages along the upper Rio Grande. The inhabitants cultivated crops, made pottery, built permanent houses, and lived in settled communities from the Late Prehistoric to the early historic period. Cabeza de Vaca, the first Spaniard to trek across the Texas wilderness, visited one of these villages in the early 1500s.
Archeologists are often portrayed as adventurers in pursuit of personal fame and golden treasure. In reality, they are more often methodically pursuing changes in the color and texture of common dirt. Burned lumps of clay and charcoal may be all that remains of an ancient hearth. Scatters of tiny stone flakes can show where nomadic bison hunters once made their knives and spear points.
Identifying these "changes in the dirt" is a slow and painstaking process, and not very glamorous, but it has revealed all that we know about thousands of years of the human past. Unfortunately, a single relic collector digging for "arrow-heads" can easily destroy a site in only a few hours. Nor are historic sites safe from vandals. Historic cemeteries as well as unmarked prehistoric burials are common targets. Relic collecting and vandalism destroy the past. Archeology discovers the past.
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