|22 October 2003
Work on Brazoria Woman continues
In 2001 the skull of a woman was discovered near Freeport (USA), on the coastal plains along the Gulf of Mexico. The skull was just a few feet below the surface, and came to light when US Fish and Wildlife workers sliced off the top while digging out a ditch. When archaeology consultant Robert d’Aigle from Spring, near Houston, was called in to record and investigate the site, a piece of skull bone was radiocarbon dated at around 13,000 years old. The site was excavated this summer by d’Aigle and a team from Texas A&M University’s new Centre for the Study of the First Americans. The dig revealed more of the skeleton.
‘Brazoria Woman’ appears to have been intentionally buried. Soil from near the skeleton showed signs of human protein, indicating that she had decomposed on the site; and she had been lying face down on a bed of shells, arms crossed across her chest. Doubts remain as to the age of the woman. When Mike Waters, an archaeologist from Texas A&M, visited the site in 2003 his conclusion was that the soil level was unlikely to be older than 5,000 years. He also questioned whether the first bone sample was in a good enough condition to be reliably dated. More bone samples will be tested over the next few months, at universities in England and the United Sates.
An early dating would add fuel to the debate over when the first humans arrived in North America (Archaeo News readers will have followed recent contributions to this debate over the past few months). Some archaeologists believe that North America was first settled between 11000 BCE and 9500BCE by the Clovis people, hunter-gatherers who crossed via an ice free corridor between Siberia and Alaska that opened after the last Ice Age. Others have suggested that the Clovis people were preceded by other arrivals, possibly by boats from Europe that skirted the edge of the ice cap; or that there were earlier crossings of the land bridge during far earlier openings in the ice cover.
Since the late 1980s the West Texas desert has produced evidence of bison hunting and nomadic hunting camps dating back to at least 13,500 years. These have been identified as Clovis settlements. But archaeology professor Reid Ferring, who discovered some of the most significant clusters of campsites in 1988, doubts that these were signs of the very oldest Texans. He believes that these will be found on the coast. A further dimension was added between 1998 and 2002, when a site dating from 10,000 to 13,000 years ago in Bell County, north of Austin, showed that the occupying ‘Gault’ people may have already been moving from a nomadic to a settled lifestyle. A University of Texas team headed by archaeologist Michael Collins has found signs of possible floor foundations, together with crafted and resharpened stone weapons, and art. With due caution, Collins says that this may suggest that people arrived in Texas far earlier than once imagined. An accurate radiocarbon analysis of Brazoria Woman that shows a very early date may add new data to the resolution of the question of America’s first settlers.
Source: Star-Telegram.com (19 October 2003)
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