Monday, February 21, 2011

My Kerrville Daily Times column: History under your footsteps

My filing system is distracting, which makes it even more interesting.
I was looking for a manuscript from the turn of the last century and stumbled across a cache of old Arti-Facts, the newsletter of the Hill Country Archeology Society, including Volume 1, Number 1, issued in May, 1969.
Gentle Reader, I must confess:  I had forgotten I had these old newsletters. But once I'd found them again (using methods not unlike field work in archeology), I was once again fascinated by them. Even if finding them distracted me from what I'd been looking for in the first place (and have yet to find).
The archeology newsletter copies I have seem to be photocopies of originals -- photocopies of mimeographs -- and they're light and often difficult to read. But what I can read is quite fascinating.
Many of the newsletters deal with a site called 41Kr10, located in Kerr County, which seems to
have been the focus of the group in its early years. I have visited the site, next to a creek, and can imaging ancient peoples camped and living there.
41Kr10 yielded much information: not only were around 2000 items found and cataloged, but some interesting observations about the peoples who lived there could also be inferred.
Unlike most "collectors," or folks who just dig for arrowheads, this group was serious about the science. They collected not only worked flint, but also snail shells, bones and charcoal, seeds, large rocks ("primarily burned limestone") and miscellaneous, or "all objects not identified in one of the above categories."
Why did they collect seeds and snail shells?  Why didn't they just focus on the stone tools and points?
Most "Indian mounds" are just trash piles, where debris from cooking, food waste, and even broken stone tools and pottery were discarded. The same was true at 41Kr10. So the seeds and snails could provide clues about the people who'd lived there.
Take the snails, for instance. Three main types of snails were found in the dig: Bulimulus schiedenus, Helicina orbiculata and Polygyra dorfeuilliana, and each at distinct levels. Since these different snails have different habitat requirements, one could speculate about the climate of the site at different periods of time. The seeds, too, can reflect climate change. While one of the snails is large enough to be a food source for man, the other two are too small to be  eaten; since snails are scavengers, their presence at the site might indicate peaks in human occupation of the site, as the snails foraged in the trash pile.
A wide variety of points was also found: Frio, Montell, Pedernales, Castroville, Edgewood, Perdiz, Marshall, Scallorn, Bulverde and Edwards, among others. Pedernales, Montell and Frio dart points are dated to about 3000 BC; Edwards and Scallorn to about 1200 AD. The site, then was occupied, off and on, for around 4000 years.
Since Joshua Brown, the founder of Kerrville, arrived here only in the mid-1840s, or less than 200 years ago, there is a lot more history all around us than we realize.
41Kr10, by the way, is now, for the most part, a Kerrville neighborhood with houses and streets. Few there realize, as they sit in their living rooms watching their large-screen televisions, that they are part of a very long history of human occupation of that little shelf near the creek, and that they're adding their own little strata of artifacts to an already history-rich meadow.
By the way, I have yet to find the manuscript for which I was looking when I discovered these old archeology newsletters.
Until next week, all the best.
Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who could use the aid of a trained archivist. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times on February 19, 2011.  His book of historic Kerrville Photographs is available by clicking here.

1 comment:

  1. I believe that it was in the 1960's when the land in the general area of Donna Kay Drive was cleared and made ready for house construction.

    No houses had been built, but soon there would be many homes constructed in what was a new residential area.

    Someone found an arrowhead in the dirt and the news spread like wildfire throughout the town.

    Soon, hundreds of people were at the site looking for artifacts.

    I was told that some people found arrowheads and some found thick layers of snail shells. The layers covered large areas of land and were 1 - 2 feet thick.

    The snail shells confused everyone. Surely, they thought, the Native Americans couldn't have eaten something so small (I wouldn't have eaten them if they had been as big as cows).

    A rather scholarly gentleman, who was also searching the area, told everyone that Native Americans used to gather the snails and put them in their food as it was being cooked.

    Once the food was cooked, the shells were removed from the food and thrown into a pile of rubble.

    I have no idea if the gentleman was correct - maybe so, maybe not.

    I wish that I could have been there for the "dig." I would have liked finding an arrowhead.


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