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14 December 2008
Dig turns up 10,000 years old flint flakes in Texas

Many, many years ago, the area now known as Zilker Park (Austin, Texas - USA) was a settlement for some of North America's early hunter-gatherers. As many as 10,000 years ago, those people used stone tools to cut meat, chop wood, scrape hides, and fashion spear points. Artifacts of their lives have long been entombed under layers of mud and sediment washed ashore by the flooding Colorado River.
     The Austin City Council could decide to pay as much as $700,000 for a three-month dig in Zilker Park to uncover troves of these stone tools. The dig was prompted by a major sewer line upgrade that was completed late last year that touched on an area of known archaeological deposits. The dig, which is expected to begin in February, would expand on a preliminary archaeological investigation in Zilker Park in 2006 that uncovered 887 flint flakes associated with the making of stone tools about 10,000 years ago.
     That preliminary investigation was prompted by a collision of federal and state rules. The city was forced to improve its sewer tunnel and lift station in Zilker Park. But the sewer pipe project ran through a proven archeological site, so under the state antiquities code, Austin had to do some archeological work to document cultural resources in the area. In the end, the City of Austin negotiated with the Texas Historical Commission to dig in a field south of Barton Springs Road near the sewage pipe project.
     If an early hunter-gatherer "was making a projectile point, a tip for a spear, he might be chipping off pieces of rock," said Jim Bruseth, the director of the archaeology division at the Texas Historical Commission. Putting those flakes and stone tools under a microscope can help archaeologists learn about the hunter-gathering civilization because wear left on the tool can illuminate how they cut their meat or shaped wood, according to Michael Collins, a researcher at the Texas Archeological Research Laboratory at the University of Texas who has studied artifacts from Zilker since the early 1990s.
     "The location of that site, or that park, is absolutely an ideal setting for hunter-gathering people to live," Collins said. "That's right at the juncture of the Gulf Coastal Plain with the Edwards Plateau. It's a great edge of contrasting environments, with different plants, animals, and soils. For hunter-gatherers relying on natural resources, situating yourself on an edge is an ideal point to be," he said. The natural makeup of the area flooding rivers that wash sediment and mud ashore, which preserves artifacts makes it well-suited for archaeological work.

Source: American-Stateman (11 December 2008)

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