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Traveling Texas: Archaeological site unearths wealth of information

Posted at 2:09 PM, Oct 19, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-19 15:09:12-04

CENTRAL TEXAS — Texas has a rich history going back thousands of years. Ann Harder goes to a Central Texas archaeological site that reveals the earliest human inhabitants of the state.  

Scientists have learned through the archaeology here at the Gault Site, humans were here much earlier than first thought, 20,000 years ago as opposed to 13,500 years ago. And they’re still trying to figure out exactly how these ancient people got here. 

Dr. Clark Wernecke is the executive director of the Gault School of Archeological Research.  New discoveries lead them to believe the old story of an overland arrival by humans is out. 

“You know, for a long time, we thought that the Clovis culture, which was 12,700 to 13,500 years old, represented the first peoples in the Americas because it was the oldest thing we'd found. We know enough to know the old story is wrong but not enough to know what the new story is,” said Dr. Wernecke.

“This site is really an important site. We have 22 archaeological cultures that you can find in Texas, we have all 22—including a-yet-unnamed one that’s between 16,000 and 20,000 years ago. And then of course we find a culture that we didn’t expect to find below Clovis, something that was much older. So, the first Texans were here 20,000 years ago,” said Dr. Wernecke.

The Gault Site is near the Bell and Williamson County line, not far from the town of Florence, and proved perfect for human life. 

“When I first got here, I mean, it was August of 1999, it was mighty hot, and I kept thinking, why would anybody live here? But first of all, we have a lot of water resources here. We're on the edge of the Edwards Plateau, which is where the bulk of water comes from, certainly in Central Texas,” said Dr. Wernecke.  

In the early 1900s, the land belonged to Henry Gault who found lots of arrowheads as he cultivated near Buttermilk Creek.   

For years, the general public could come to dig for those arrowheads and later, Dr. Michael Collins bought the property to preserve it. 

“It did a lot of damage to the archeology, I mean, archeologists are not Lara Croft or Indiana Jones. We're a CSI prehistoric. We look at all the clues in context to try and figure out what happened here. We're interested in human behavior, not artifacts. So, removing artifacts from a site changes the story just like any good mystery movie,” said Dr. Wernecke.  

But at deeper levels, archaeologists found a treasure trove of artifacts and evidence of an even earlier people.  

“One of the first things found here by a collector were two small stones with incising designs on it. And this is actually a cast of one. It's got an incised paired line grid on it. And he said he found the two of these things sitting like this in a little sandwich with an alibates clovis point in between them. Now alibates is this type of rock that comes from alibates national monument. It's north of Amarillo, so it's a good 400 miles away from home. And a clovis point is representative of that first named culture in North America,” said Dr. Wernecke.  

But this even earlier people group doesn’t have a name.

“There's no name yet. One site is a data point. Cultures are patterns of human behavior. So I need to find another site like gault before you can name a pattern,” said Dr. Wernecke. 

The Bell County Museum has a permanent exhibit on the Gault Site and helps facilitate tours there so you can learn more. 

“we have already basically disproved the old hypothesis; we haven’t changed it yet in elementary schools but we changed it in colleges. And we’re still learning a lot about the other cultures here in texas from the sheer quantity of manufacturing sites like this.” 

The Gault Site unearthed a wealth of new information on the earliest people who lived right here in the heart of Texas.   

If you would like to take a tour of the Gault Site, there are monthly scheduled tours organized by the Bell County and Williamson County museums.