19 February 2006
Solemn reburial for ancient remains
There's a little slice of Bell County, north of Belton (Texas, USA), that has a story to tell. The story is one of Indians, arrowheads, an amateur archaeologist, a tight-knit family and the soil that binds them across thousands of years.
The beginning of this story is uncertain, beyond documented history. So we'll begin at the end. A motley group of about 40 people gathered earlier this year at the Aycock family ranch for a burial. Members of the Four Winds Tribal Society mingled with the like-minded Comanche Gap Medicine Men, a group that shares a love of American Indian and early Texas history. No sad occasion, this burial had been long-awaited — a chance to return the remains of more than 30 American Indians to the ground they were taken from nearly three quarters of a century ago. "These people may well have been some of our ancestors," said Ray Duncan, an associate of Four Winds and of Keetowah of San Antonio. "This brings their spirits, their people to rest."
More than 30 burials were documented during a dig on the Aycock family ranch in 1935. There were skeletons without skulls, skulls without skeletons, as well as complete burials. According to H.K. Aynesworth, a contributor to the excavation project, it was determined that 26 of the skeletons were adults and five were children. Arrow points were found embedded in the chest of one skeleton. The skulls of others had been damaged.
A premature infant of about seven months was buried in the arms of a woman, presumably its mother. A 2-year-old child lay curled on his side, by himself. Most of the skeletons were found in a flexed position, with knees bent, heels doubled up to the pelvis. Bony hands were raised, covering the faces of some skeletons.
The historic discovery was made by the late Frank Watt, an amateur archaeologist but a valuable contributor to early Central Texas archaeology. He wrote that it is likely the site was used as a burial ground over an extended period. Watt, who died in 1981, captured the story of the dig in the March 1936 edition of the "Bulletin of the Central Texas Archeological Society." A weathered copy of the bulletin is a treasured possession of the Aycocks. The book includes sketches by Watt of the location of the burials and the position of the remains, as well as a few photographs of the site, including some of the skeletons in their original positions.
The articles in the bulletin fail to suggest in what period the burials occurred. An added piece, affixed to the front cover of the book, offers the only hint of scientific dating of the burials. The addition, labeled "Waco, Oct. 20, 1960," says that carbon-14 datings, performed 15 years after the excavation, place the date of shelter burials at well more than 10,000 years ago. If the information provided in 1960 is correct, the remains would be classified as from perhaps the late "Paleo-Indian" culture, which existed on the tail of the late Pleistocene Epoch, the last Ice Age. "These people came long before Indians," Aycock said.
For the past five years, Aycock and his father have been working to return the remains to the land they came from. Now the remains have been reinterred in a nondescript grave with no marker, no record. Though nearby, the new site is not actually where the unearthed journey of the remains began. The original burial site, in a rock shelter, now belongs to the federal government, making reburial there impossible.
Source: Chron.com (18 February 2006)