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University of St. Thomas(UST)
3800 Montrose
Houston TX TX 77006-4626
Building 20, Anderson Hall
Main No.: (713) 522-7911

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Third Thursday of each month
Time: 7:00 pm - 9:30 pm

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Email: lindagorski@cs.com Phone: 713-557-1496

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DATA-RECOVERY INVESTIGATIONS AND PUBLIC OUTREACH AT THE DIMOND KNOLL SITE (41HR796)

Jason W. Barrett
Richard A. Weinstein

Site 41HR796, also known as the Dimond Knoll site, is located approximately 14 miles northwest of the Houston city limits in northwestern Harris County, Texas. The site was represented primarily by a low sandy knoll formed atop a Pleistocene-age terrace of Cypress Creek, measuring approximately 20 meters north-south by 30 meters east-west, and measuring somewhat over one meter in height. This is one of many similar knolls that once flanked Cypress Creek for much of its length. The site was discovered in the early fall of 1996 by a team from Moore Archeological Consulting, Inc. (MAC) when they conducted the initial cultural resources survey on behalf of TxDOT for Segment E of the proposed route of SH 99, also known as Grand Parkway.

In October and November 2006, TxDOT sent a crew from PBS&J to revisit the site and conduct eligibility testing for the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP). Overall, the testing data indicated a robust Late Archaic occupation, possibly beginning ca. 2500 B.C., and an equally well represented Early Ceramic occupation during the first few centuries A.D. PBS&J concluded that the site was eligible for listing in the NRHP and that data-recovery investigations would be necessary if impacts could not be avoided during highway construction.

Linda and Lenore
Two radiant ladies - HAS President Linda Gorski
and Lenore Psencik at the screens
Initially, TxDOT planned to avoid impacting the site during construction by bridging the knoll. However, the terms of the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) permit, negotiated by the Harris County Toll Road Authority, required TxDOT to undertake data recovery excavations. From the beginning of May to the end of October 2012, Coastal Environments, Inc., (CEI) and MAC conducted data-recovery investigations with Rich Weinstein of CEI and Jason Barrett of TxDOT serving as co-Principal Investigators. A previously unidentified, deeply buried paleosol was discovered on the first day of fieldwork, yielding artifacts dating to the Late Paleo-Indian period. Upon this finding, TxDOT archeologists amended the original research design, expanding the scope to include extensive investigation of this new component.

The archeological investigations at Dimond Knoll have produced a wealth of important new data relating to prehistoric diet, resource use, technological transitions, and patterns of group mobility and interaction. While material analyses are presently in their incipient stages, a preliminary overview of findings suggests that the site was visited regularly by mobile foraging groups for nearly 10 millennia. Artifacts recovered within the upper 60 centimeters or so of the sandy mantle included both Late Prehistoric pottery and arrow points and Late Archaic dart points. The next 40 centimeters also contained Archaic material, but included items generally associated with both the Late and Middle Archaic periods. Particularly intriguing was the diversity in both arrow and dart point types identified throughout the sandy mantle deposit: Alba, Axtell, Catahoula, Perdiz, and Scallorn for the arrow points; Bulverde, Carrolton, Darl, Gary, Godley, Kent, Morhiss, Palmillas, Pedernales, Yarbrough, and possible Andice and Bell for the dart points.

points
Examples of projectile points found during screening
Artifacts recovered from the deep paleosol were particularly interesting and suggest that the paleosol contains both Early Archaic and Late Paleo-Indian components. Items associated with the clayey silt sediments in the heavily bioturbated upper portion of the paleosol included probable Hoxie and Big Sandy points, plus the relatively well-preserved remains of bison and deer. Artifacts associated with the darker, more clayey and less bioturbated lower portion of the paleosol included an Angostura point, two Golondrina points, an unfluted lanceolate point, a fluted lanceolate point, several San Patrice points, and a likely Paleo-Indian side and end scraper fashioned on a prismatic blade. As with the upper paleosol, faunal preservation within the lower paleosol was relatively decent, with more deer and bison present, along with large quantities of turtle shell fragments. Overall, 160 square meters of paleosol were investigated through meticulous excavation at the site (representing approximately 60 to 70 percent of the total paleo-bearing sediments), likely making this the largest excavation into an Early Archaic/Paleo-Indian occupation in southeast Texas.

Several pit features containing human remains were discovered during the course of data recovery excavations. Some contained only very poorly preserved bones that appeared to be human based on size, identifiable features, and context. Others had relatively well-preserved elements observed in an orientation indicative of flexed burials. Most of the burials are believed to date to the Late Prehistoric and later Archaic periods based on stratigraphic positioning within the sandy sediments of the mantle. However, the upper portion of one relatively large pit that contained the remains of three poorly preserved individuals appeared to be truncated and then capped by the upper paleosol, suggesting that it had been dug during either Early Archaic or Paleo-Indian times. This question, however, will remain unresolved. On December 11, 2012, TxDOT entered into a Memorandum of Agreement with Tribal groups, FHWA, and Texas SHPO to preserve each of the identified burials in place without exhumation. Thus, the remaining portions of the site, including each of the identified features containing human remains, were subsequently covered with a protective layer of sand and then covered with a cement cap in the presence of a tribal monitor. No artifacts were recovered from the pit features, and no analysis of the burials - including dating their sediment matrix - was completed.

lab
Beth Aucoin is centered among volunteer lab workers
enjoying their work and their wine!
Work and wine sounds mighty fine!
Once the upper deposits of the knoll had been examined by excavation of the 32 1-by-1-meter units included in the original scope, it was decided that the most practical means of investigating the paleosol was to strip away the remaining sandy mantle, and then to open up a series of 2-by-2-meter units into the paleosol. This process included the careful removal of the sandy sediments in the upper mantle by a Gradall in thin 3- to 4-centimeter cuts. Each scrape was monitored by archeologists, as well as a physical anthropologist from Texas State University trained in the identification of human remains. In this fashion, controlled stripping provided a means to detect additional archeological features so that they could be identified and appropriately addressed. Sediments were removed from discretely defined block areas, with the material from each block kept separate in order to preserve relative spatial relationships. Rather than simply discarding the stripped soil, TxDOT made arrangements with the Houston Archeological Society (HAS) to have the sediments from each block area moved to an off-site location for screening. Through the ongoing participation of HAS members, a substantial amount of additional archeological data is being retrieved, helping archeologists to achieve a more accurate understanding of prehistoric lifeways in the Houston region.

The TxDOT/HAS screening project has evolved into a tremendously successful public outreach effort under the direction of Dr. Barrett. Dozens of HAS members have signed up for the project since this effort began in early February 2013. Participants from the Brazosport and Fort Bend archeological societies have also joined the project, as well as anthropology/archeology students and professors from several local colleges including the University of Houston, St. Thomas University, Houston Community College and Lone Star College. The project has also been host to school groups from Rosehill Christian Academy and the Kincaid School, and will be joined by a group from the Houston Museum of Natural Science later this summer. The project has generated outstanding word-of-mouth communication, encouraging the participation of many people who have wanted to be archeologists since childhood but have never had the opportunity. All the artifacts recovered at the screening site will be cataloged, analyzed, curated, and reported along with those recovered in the hand-excavated sample from the site.

To learn more about this project contact the President: president@txhas.org