Where in the hell am I?

January 7, 2010

Fort Hood Day 13, part 2


13.9 Feature 9 getting interesting

Originally uploaded by texasrobo

picking up…
I may have mentioned before that there’s a common belief in archaeology that you will always find something big on the last day of a project. To a certain extent, I think this is a superstition that reflects the frustration of the time and budget constraints that CRM projects generally have, compared to fancy academic digs. At the same time, every tech I know can tell you a story about at least one site where this happened.
As discussed in part 1, a good part of the day was spent documenting and excavating Features 4, 5 and 8. All of these were basin-shaped hearths with a lot of charcoal, which is interesting and great information, but not really anything unique or special in the overall scheme of Central Texas archaeology.
As I also mentioned yesterday, our other goal was to hog-out some units to explore a burned rock feature in the trench wall and floor, which we started around 10 am, recovering a really nice projectile point.
Around 12:45 or so, Feature 9 was mostly exposed (see photo above). It consisted of two large burned rocks fractured in place, and two metates stacked on top of each other. A piece of one of the metates was found in the trench floor earlier, so that wasn’t a total surprise. But this arrangement was unusual. I did a little more cleaning around the metates, and uncovered some bone adjacent to the upper metate, and extending beneath. A little more cleaning showed it to be a portion of an articulated spinal column.
This set off some serious alarms. The spine was too small to be a human adult, but could have been a baby or small child, or just an animal. The angle of the spine suggested the possibility of a flexed burial. Furthermore, there have been a number of flexed prehistoric burials capped with metates recorded at sites across Texas. In other words, with about 4 hours left in the project, we had found a possible burial, which would have invoked NAGPRA and opened a whole new can of worms.
We mapped the rocks in quickly and took photos, as we needed to start removing the metates to locate additional bones that would identify the remains as human or animal. We lifted the upper metate, and sure enough there was a crushed skull beneath, with bones extending below the lower metate. Much like the vertebrae, the fragmentary cranial bones could have been human or animal. It also more or less confirmed that this was was an intentional arrangement, further suggesting a burial.
At this point, we had called the base archaeologists to let them know we might have found a burial, and they were on their way to check it out. Our big boss, who is also our faunal analyst, needed to leave for Austin and was a little concerned.
Just before 2 pm, we removed the lower metate (which was almost 10 cm thick and must weigh around 40 pounds!). A little more bone was beneath. One person pointed out that it resembled a snout. We cleaned the dirt adjacent to the skull, trying to find a tooth or something that would finally identify the remains. Finally, the big boss found a tooth: a canine that was definitely not human. What looked like a snout was, in fact, a snout. We could relax, although we still had a puzzle on our hands.
A little more cleaning and we could see the skull profile. It’s still not clear what kind of animal it is: possibilities include a raccoon, possum, or small dog (which I suppose would include a fox?). It’s also not clear what this arrangement is all about. Is it an intentional interment of a pet, presuming the animal is a dog? Is it some fortuitous happenstance where an animal died next to some abandoned metates a couple thousand years ago, with time and bioturbation shifting the bones beneath the metates? No artifacts were recovered in the vicinity of this feature. Very few bones were located beneath the large metate extending from the spinal column, suggesting the skeleton is disarticulated. Conversely, the metate may have created an adverse preservation environment, maybe even smashing the bones to small bits that disintegrated more easily.
We collected the skull and spinal column by undercutting the bones and placing them in sand, so that we could maintain the original position. We excavated all around the feature and recovered a lot of small bits of bone, including some ribs and toe bones. With some time, I’m sure the animal will be identified and at least narrow the possible explanations. For now, it’s just a puzzle and an interesting “crazy shit on the last day” story.
A couple of people will be going out next week to take a few more soil samples and watch the units get backfilled. Eventually, I hope to be involved in the cleaning and analysis of the artifacts (what few there are), and I may end up helping with the report writing. I’m glad I was able to spend 13 days at this interesting site. As always, I wish we could have spent a couple of months more here, getting more information to make sense of the site and the lifeways of the Archaic people of Texas.

On a final note from this M.A. 2008 Texas Ex:
\m/ HOOK EM HORNS!! \m/

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