The Road To Prehistory

When archaeologists discovered several ancient Caddo sites during a highway expansion project in Texas, they had to make some difficult decisions about what could be preserved.

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Archaeologists David Sandrock and Bo Nelson clean the bottom of an excavation unit. The lines scratched into the unit wall help show different layers in the sediments. Credit: Michael Amador, TxDOT
Archaeologists David Sandrock and Bo Nelson clean the bottom of an excavation unit. The lines scratched into the unit wall help show different layers in the sediments. Credit: Michael Amador, TxDOT

Winter 2015: By Elizabeth Lunday.

U.S. Highway 175 emerges from the sprawl of Dallas, shaking off the suburbs as it stretches southeast. Just beyond the city of Athens, this four-lane highway narrows to two lanes. Through Anderson and Cherokee counties it continues up and down rolling hills until it reaches Jacksonville, and terminates at the intersection with U.S. Highway 69.

Southeast of Athens, the highway runs along a low hill. In the sparse shade provided by a few tents, a team of archaeologists scrapes and sifts the soil near the roadway. Some 500 years ago, a small community of Caddo people occupied this hillside. They grew maize and beans, made tools from bone and rock, lived and died, and were buried in this quiet corner of the world. But this hillside is soon to be transformed. U.S. 175 is scheduled to be widened to four lanes and portions of the Caddo sites will be bulldozed and paved. Work is already underway several miles back toward Athens, with crews grading the new roadway with enormous earth-moving equipment.

Before the backhoes reach this site, the archaeologists will excavate and recover information about the ancient peoples who lived here. Preserving information about the past in the face of its imminent destruction by the demands of the present is the essence of cultural resources management (CRM), a field of archaeology that often requires its practitioners to make tough decisions.

Summary. Read More in our Winter 2015 Issue of American Archaeology, Vol. 19 No. 3

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