2019 Investigations of Protohistoric-age Hunter-Gatherers at Macy Locality 126

Stance Hurst, Field Manager, Lubbock Lake Landmark

Published in Current ResearchLubbock Lake Landmark

The focus of the first six weeks of the 2019 field season was excavation at Macy Locality 126 — a Protohistoric-age (1450-1650) site. Volunteers from Texas, Oklahoma, and California joined the Landmark research team. Notable among the volunteers was a returning member after 47 years who first worked with Dr. Eileen Johnson during her second season of excavation at the Lubbock Lake Landmark in 1973 (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Volunteers excavating at Macy Locality 126 during the 2019 field season.
Figure 1. Volunteers excavating at Macy Locality 126 during the 2019 field season.

Macy Locality 126 was located on a terrace overlooking the South Fork of the Double Mountain Fork of the Brazos River within the Post research area. Previous surveys and excavation at Macy Locality 126 took place between 2008-2012 and 2018. The focus of this work was on the southern section of the locality that was more heavily eroded.

This locality was a regularly used campsite location. Multiple hearths were found and excavated in the previous field seasons. Two hearths superimposed on top of each other were found, indicating the same hearth was used numerous times in different years. Stone tools recovered surrounding the hearth features indicated they were being used for processing animal remains. Also, stone tool manufacturing debris suggested the manufacture of new stone tools and maintenance of transported stone tools occurred at the site.

Hunter-gatherers at this locality were regular traders with Puebloan agricultural peoples of the Southwest and possibly the Caddoan people of East Texas. Southwest trade items included obsidian flaked stone, Apache Micaceous and El Paso Brownware ceramic sherds, and a turquoise bead. The turquoise bead was a disk shape typical for aboriginal beads originating in the Southwest. The Apache micaceous sherds originated from the Taos/northeastern New Mexico area. El Paso Brownware had its center of production in the El Paso area. Obsidian often was gathered from gravel deposits along New Mexico’s Rio Grande River. Ceramic sherds with fingernail impressions suggested these hunter-gatherers also may have been trading with Caddoan people of East Texas. Further work, however, would be needed to confirm the source of these pottery sherds.

Excavation of a new area at Macy Locality 126, located north of the previous work, was the focus of the 2019 field season. In 2018, a survey revealed a new hearth feature and associated stone tool material that had eroded out of the terrace edge. Results of this further excavation showed that the occupations at Macy Locality 126 were much more extensive than previously thought.

Excavation of the new eroding hearth and surrounding areas has revealed numerous stone tools and associated manufacturing debris. Several large Apache micaceous ceramic sherds (Figure 2) have been found. The excavation of these new additional units indicates that the occupations at Macy Locality 126 extend much farther to the north of the site. The objects within the northern portion of the locality are more buried than at the southern part of the site. This observation is because it indicates much more is to be discovered at Macy Locality 126 than previously realized. The Landmark team currently is planning for additional excavations at Macy Locality 126 for next summer.

Figure 2. Apache micaceous sherd found during excavation at Macy Locality 126 during the 2019 field season.
Figure 2. Apache micaceous sherd found during excavation at Macy Locality 126 during the 2019 field season.

Volcanic Ash on the Southern High Plains

Link to original story: Current Research Lubbock Lake Landmark

Over the past three field seasons at the Post research area, the survey team has recorded the skeletal remains of several extinct Ice Age animals within the Spring Creek beds. The Spring Creek beds are lake sediments left from an extinct lake that had formed during the Pleistocene. During this time, under more moist weather conditions, several paleolake basins formed along the eastern escarpment edge of the Southern High Plains. The exact age of the Spring Creek beds and their relation to other regional extinct paleolakes has puzzled researchers for several decades.

The Blanco basin, located in Crosbyton County, Texas is the largest known paleolake of the region. This basin has been the center of early Pleistocene animal research for over a century, and also is the only one dated. A volcanic ash layer is located within lake deposits of the Blanco basin, and another upper ash layer occurs above the lake sediments within the later wind-blown sediments of the Blackwater Draw Formation.

Throughout the Pleistocene (~2.6 mya-11,000 ka), sporadic eruptions from volcanoes in the Jemez Mountains region of north-central New Mexico and Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming blanketed the Great Plains. Where these ash lenses were preserved from erosion, they provided a reliable chronological marker for determining the age of sedimentation.

In the early 1970s, researchers dated two samples of the Blackwater Draw Formation ash layer, above the Blanco lake bed, and the estimated ages of these samples were 1.4 and 1.77 million years ago. This ash layer was identified as the Guaje ash that has its source in the Jemez Mountains in New Mexico. The lower ash layer within the Blanco paleo-lake sediments was dated to 2.8 million years ago. If these ages are correct, then the Blanco paleolake sediments date between ~2.8 – 1.4 million years ago.

At the Post research area, the Landmark team has discovered a thick deposit of volcanic ash located on an upland ridge. The research team currently is tracing the lateral extinct of the ash layer and mapping the Spring Creek lake basin using a drone.

During the 2019 field season, Landmark crew member collected samples from ash beds for ³⁹Ar/⁴⁰Ar dating at the Oregon State Geochronology lab (Figure 1). This Argon dating method now is regarded as the most reliable for determining the age of volcanic ash layers. Results of this work will help to narrow down the age of the Spring Creek beds and their relationship to other Southern High Plains paleolakes.

Figure 1. Crew member collects samples from ash beds for ^39/^40Ar dating at the Oregon State Geochronology lab.
Figure 1. Crew member collects samples from ash beds for ³⁹Ar/⁴⁰Ar dating at the Oregon State Geochronology lab.

The Landmark team also is collecting ash samples from the Blanco basin to double check the ages of the 1970s results. Geologists at the time used fission-track dating, and some researchers have questioned these age determinations. Results of redating the Blanco ash layers and ascertaining the age of the ash found in the Spring Creek beds will help to refine the known ages of extinct Southern High Plains paleolakes and the extensive extinct animal remains within them.

Archaeology is a Science with a Little s

A saying of one of my professors at the University of Oklahoma was that archaeology was a science with a little s. What he meant with this statement was that archaeologists can never know for certain what happened in the past. We do not have a time machine. Instead archaeologists use science to better interpret the past.

Scientific methods in archaeology such as radiocarbon dating, sourcing materials, dendrochronology, etc. give archaeologist more accurate data to interpret the past. Science in archaeology also holds archaeologists accountable in their story telling by making sure the story is told from a perspective so that other researchers can judge the value of the story. This is the theoretical framework of archaeology.

There are many different theories used in archaeology such as cultural transmission, evolutionary ecology, agency theory, optimal foraging theory, etc. Each theory has its advantages and weaknesses in interpreting the archaeological record. However, in the development and use of theory – the manner in which the archaeological record is interpreted and used to tell a story – other researchers can examine the data to see if the information fits with the perspective of the theory or story teller.

A recent problem within the field of archaeology is the extreme use of post-modern theory. This has been labelled as post-processual theory to signify a change from the more scientific approach of processual archaeology. In post-processual theory, the individual perspective is the center and there are many different possible interpretations of the archaeological record. The problem with this perspective is that there is no accountability, and it does not progress our understanding of the past.

Many researchers now label themselves as processual+. This simply means archaeology should also study intangible aspects of the archaeological record such as identity while also holding onto a scientific perspective. In these types of studies often a science perspective is used as a yard stick to more objectively document intangible aspects of past culture. For example, I am using GIS to objectively measure prominent locations on the landscape, defined as differences in elevations over a given distance, to ascertain if rock art localities and campsites are more frequently associated with prominent places than would be expected. This allows me to get at an intangible aspect of past culture within a scientific framework.

Archaeology is best situated within a scientific framework, but also allowing for more subjective interpretations that can be actively debated due to well-defined perspectives. This is the essence of archaeology as a science with a little s.

Teaching Anthropology

I taught an introductory course in anthropology for several years while finishing up my Phd at the University of Oklahoma. I have taught other classes in archaeology including Great Discoveries, North American Archaeology, and World Heritage sites. I feel that I have had the greatest impact on students in my Intro to Anthropology classes. Most of these students were only taking the course to satisfy a humanities credit. However, for most of them this course was and will be their only exposure to the concepts of culture, cultural diversity, identity, the concept of race, human evolution, past cultures, and modern cultures. These are all extremely important topics that I believe all Americans should be exposed to as part of their general education.

I was listening to NPR early in the morning while driving to a dig site to meet the crew at 6:45 a.m. The radio had my full attention for over an hour. One of the news segments discussed the controversy of Mexican-American classes being taught in Arizona. I think ethnic study classes are great for providing students with a sense of history and identity.

However, rather than teach specific ethnic classes why not give anthropology a try? Teaching the four subfield approach of anthropology in either Middle School or High School curriculum would provide all students with a holistic view on culture. In biological anthropology students would learn about the origins of our species, and how race is not a valid biological concept. The archaeological section of the class would demonstrate the long history of the creation and change in cultures throughout the world. From linguistics, students could learn how language shapes culture and is a marker of identity. Cultural anthropology would enlighten students to the diversity in modern cultures and how this diversity is a hallmark of our species, and how culture continuously changes and impacts our daily lives.

The lack of cultural awareness, and knowledge of our history as a species for graduating seniors is sad. U.S History taught in high schools typically focuses only on the recent Euroamerican time period with very little mention of past Native American groups and the over 12,000 years of Native American history. At my high school in Oklahoma we had only a half of a semester devoted to Oklahoma history taught by a coach, and the other half was Drivers Ed. We also spent a lot of that semester outside playing softball.

Teaching evolution in schools would be a sensitive subject in many states, but students need this education regardless if it conflicts with their religious beliefs. Studying evolution would demonstrate to students that even though we have many different beliefs today, we all come from the same place. Evolution is often poorly misunderstood and students with different religious belief systems could become better educated about evolution rather than assuming incorrectly that evolution equates to “survival of the fittest” or that “humans evolved from monkeys”.

Conflicts over education normally boils down to conflicts over identity. The development of ethnic classes is important to show the importance and value of cultures that do not dominate culture today. I argue that anthropology can enlighten students to cultural awareness from a broader perspective than more specific ethnic courses, and that this is a necessary part of the education system for all students.

Total station for elevation control

Using an EDM (Total Station) for elevations only.

I discovered this trick when several of our transits and levels were damaged and stopped working.

Set Up:

No need to set up over a grid point. Simply set up the total station anywhere at the site. Make sure that it is level. Then shoot to a known elevation point. Add or subtract this difference in elevation to the total station’s instrument height. Sometimes it can make it easier to zero out the HI for the total station to know how much to add or subtract to the total station HI. Then reshoot to the known elevation point to confirm that the resulting elevation is the correct elevation of that known point. You can also shoot to other elevation points to confirm the elevation accuracy. This method is easy to use, and there are no calculations necessary to subtract the elevation from the HI of a transit or level from the stadia rod. The total station does all of this for you. This method also works great when there are dramatic elevation differences at the site.

Special Note: The total station also works great around camp for star gazing at night.