Originally uploaded by texasrobo
(note: there’s a lot of links today!)
Drove up to Nacogdoches today for a pipeline survey. Not the Survey from Hell, although I’m having hard time getting excited for any East Texas survey right now. The field director suggested that we stop by the Caddo Mounds State Historic Site, aka Caddoan Mounds State Historic Site, aka the George C. Davis site as it was on the way. This large Caddo site (click the link to learn TONS about the Caddo) may be the most well-known prehistoric archaeological site in Texas, in no small measure to the fact that State Highway 21 bisects the site and runs right by the most prominent of three mounds. SH 21, in this part of Texas, follows the route of the Camino Real de los Tejas, aka the Kings Highway or Old San Antonio Road, a Spanish colonial trail which I’ve discussed a bit here before.
The first stop is along the side of the road, where a historical marker tells some of the basics of the site. Beyond this is the High Temple Mound (known academically as Mound A), which was excavated in the late 1930s/early 1940s, and again in the late 1960s/early 1970s. (note that the site has been worked on regularly up until the present, and I personally know 6 people who have dug there). According to a map at the park, the mound as currently viewed is only half of the original size, due to the multiple excavations. There are sandstone steps leading to the top, allowing for a nice view but giving a false impression of a reconstruction of the “Temple.” The mounds are all earthen construction, and would have had wood and thatch superstructures, probably with wattle and daub walls.
The next stop is the official site area, across SH 21. It turns out that it’s closed on Mondays, but we parked along the side of the road and went under the gate. If anyone from Texas Parks and Wildlife reads this, let me know and I’ll send $4 to the site. The museum and bookstore was locked, but the rest of the site is out in the open.
The park area consists of two mounds: the Burial Mound (aka Mound C) and the Low Temple Mound (aka Mound B). There’s a trail that leads counter-clockwise, starting behind the museum and heading first to the burial mound. This mound has a sign telling you not to climb the mound, as it’s a burial site for the prehistoric Caddo, whose descendents are now based in Oklahoma. This is the northernmost mound at the park.
Continuing along the trail, the next mound is the Low Temple Mound. This is more of a long, thin platform style mound, and lies between the two larger mounds. This one you can climb, although its probably only around 6 feet high. From the top, you notice the sort-of alignment of the mounds and the vast open stretches in between that were the actual residential areas. Some geophysical surveys done of this area have shown posthole patterns that are the remnants of these houses.
Across the trail from the site, at the edge of the ridge, is a large borrow pit from which at least some of the earth for the mound construction was mined. From an archaeological perspective, this is pretty cool. It also reminded me of my thesis research in Belize.
Continuing along the trail, you come to a circular patch of vegetation in the ground that is the remains of a reconstructed Caddo house. This structure was built in the early 1980s to demonstrate how the houses would have looked. It was damaged several times by severe weather. In the 1990s, a decision was made to conduct an experiment that might help with future understanding of the archaeological record. A living area was created inside the structure using reproduction artifacts, and then the house was burnt and left to the elements.
Finally, at the southwest corner of the trail, there’s a map that shows how the site might have looked when it was occupied, including an intact High Temple Mound. Following that, the trail parallels the road and you can get one more long look at the large open area in the center of the site.
Being archaeologists, we spent some time looking at the ground, in particular at the gopher burrow spoils. We found at least a half-dozen chert flakes and three pottery sherds across the site area.
All in all, I don’t know that I would recommend making a special trip from Austin to Caddo Mounds. Even with the museum open, I can’t imagine it taking more than 3 hours total to see and do everything. One could combine it with a trip to Mission Tejas State Park, which is around 5 miles west off of SH 21. And, if you end up in East Texas for some reason, it’s definitely worth stopping by to learn about some of the native Texans.
Finally, click here for some photos from 2003 investigations at the site, done by one of my best friends, Colleen.