The Prehistoric Sites of Choke Canyon Reservoir, Southern Texas: Results of Phase II Archaeological Investigations




Hall, Grant D.
Hester, Thomas R.
Black, Stephen L.

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Center for Archaeological Research, The University of Texas at San Antonio


Reported in this volume are the results of archaeological investigations at 72 prehistoric sites located in the basin of Choke Canyon Reservoir on the Frio River in Live Oak and McMullen Counties, southern Texas. The sites investigated in this study will be affected in one way or another by a lake formed after construction of Choke Canyon Dam, a project of the United States Bureau of Reclamation (USBR). The research was sponsored by the USBR as the second and final phase of a two-stage program of archaeological investigations designed to mitigate damage or destruction of cultural resources resulting from dam construction and subsequent long-term inundation of a large area of the Frio River valley. Methods used to study Choke Canyon's prehistoric sites during the Phase II investigation were various types of subsurface excavations, documentation of surface features and characteristics, and collection of artifacts from site surfaces. The people who inhabited the Choke Canyon region in prehistoric times, representing an approximate span of 10,000 years, existed as mobile hunter/gatherer bands. They subsisted by tapping virtually every conceivable source of edible natural food. A full spectrum of animals, from lowly field mice and lizards up to bison and deer, was exploited by various techniques of hunting, trapping, and catching. Large land snails and mussels were sources of meat food that Choke Canyon's prehistoric people could easily gather. Gar, drum, and turtles were taken from local creeks, sloughs, and the river, perhaps using spears, nets, or weirs. Analysis of vertebrate faunal remains, results of which are presented herein, rather conclusively demonstrates that Late Prehistoric people exploited big game species more commonly than did their Archaic period predecessors. Floral products must also have comprised a substantial portion of the foods consumed by Choke Canyon's prehistoric inhabitants. Direct evidence of plant food utilization is nonexistent on the sites. However, the very common occurrence of sandstone manos and metates implies heavy reliance on seeds, nuts, or beans. Also, the tremendous amount of burned rock that accumulated in Archaic components at many sites, often found as very carefully constructed hearth features, suggests that baking or roasting activities were extremely common. Roots, tubers, stalks, and other edible plant parts may have been what was being prepared in these facilities. Diagnostic artifacts recovered from prehistoric sites at Choke Canyon during the various phases of archaeological investigation clearly indicate that the general vicinity witnessed aboriginal activity from Paleo-Indian times up through the early Historic period. Evidence of Paleo-Indian people is limited to surface finds along the valley margin and on high, ancient terrace formations down in the river valley. No in situ subsurface Paleo-Indian components have yet been isolated at Choke Canyon. Where previously the earliest subsurface component known at Choke Canyon dated to the Middle Archaic period (ca. 3400 B.C. to 2400 B.C.), the Phase II excavations led to discovery of an Early Archaic component dating to the period from 5000 B.C. to 4000 B.C. While recognizable Paleo-Indian, Early Archaic, and Middle Archaic components are relatively scarce, the Late Archaic and Late Pre-historic periods are amply represented in the prehistoric sites at Choke Canyon. Phase II investigations also produced the first clear indication of an aboriginal component containing evidence of contact with Anglo-Europeans in early historic times. The bulk of cultural, paleobotanical, and vertebrate faunal data representing the prehistory of Choke Canyon indicates that floral and faunal communities and the general climatic regime remained essentially unchanged from at least 4000 B.C. up to the period in historic times when certain livestock and land management practices led to a drastic expansion of brush communities and severe erosion of formerly stable land surfaces.



Texas History, Excavations (Archaeology)--Texas--Live Oak County, Excavations (Archaeology)--Texas--McMullen County, Indians of North America--Texas--Choke Canyon Reservoir Region--Antiquities, Choke Canyon Reservoir Region (Tex.)--Antiquities, Live Oak County (Tex.)--Antiquities, McMullen County (Tex.)--Antiquities, Archaic, Late Prehistoric