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17 October 2007
Texan prehisoric site under threat

Michael Collins, an archaeological researcher at the University of Texas (USA), has spent the past 16 years studying artifacts from a patch of Williamson County to uncover a prehistoric society that camped there nearly 11,000 years ago. A major road now covers the site, but Collins thinks land nearby has similar finds. He may never get to find out. This month, a judge reaffirmed the right of the original owners to reclaim the 21/2-acre area from an archaeological conservation group. The disputed land was never excavated, but it's next to an extraordinary piece of Texas history that attracted Collins and other researchers.
     While work was being done on an extension of RM 1431, an ancient burial site was found in 1982. It contained thousands of artifacts and the remains of a prehistoric woman that dated back about 11,000 years, Collins said. The discovery changed researchers' ideas about how tribes lived and moved through the area and how they gathered food, he said. The sedimentary bed where the remains and artifacts were found continues through the disputed land, and archaeologists are sure that there is more to discover.
     The Wilson family donated the land in 1991 so researchers could study it but took the property back last year, saying it wasn't being used in the way the family wanted. Will Wilson Jr.'s father wanted the Archaeological Conservancy a nonprofit group from New Mexico with hundreds of preserves nationwide to excavate the land, share it with educational institutions and rename it in memory of his late wife. "We wanted them to do something with the site, but they did nothing," Will Wilson Jr. said. But the conservancy and archaeologists said excavations are costly and extensive endeavors, done only when a site is in danger.
     Archaeologists said that preserving the land is the best option and criticized District Judge Burt Carnes for siding with the Wilson family after the Archaeological Conservancy sued to reclaim the land. Carnes would not comment on the case. Britt Bousman directs the Center for Archaeological Studies at Texas State University-San Marcos and worked on the Wilson-Leonard site. He said the case stems from an early misunderstanding between the family and the conservancy. "I think the conservancy was doing what needed to be done. Continuous research on a site like this is incredible because it is extremely costly and time-consuming," Bousman said. "I just wish both sides could have come to some agreement before this legal mess." The conservancy plans to appeal Carnes' decision, which could take years to complete.

Source: The Statesman (14 October 2006)

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