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Can You Dig It?

These archaeological and paleontological sites are simply awesome—no bones about it.

By March 2014Comments

Photograph by Kenny Braun

WACO MAMMOTH SITE, WACO

In 1907 T. L. Eyerly, a science teacher from the Panhandle, took his students on a field trip to the prehistoric ruins along Wolf Creek. Their investigation of pre-Columbian stone dwellings, known as the Buried City, is the earliest-known archaeological excavation in the state. Texans have been eagerly digging up the past ever since. Other headline-making discoveries include well-preserved dinosaur tracks in Glen Rose, caves festooned with rock paintings in the Lower Pecos, and a trove of 15,500-year-old artifacts from the oldest-known human habitation in the U.S., found just north of Austin in 2006. Merely reading about bones older than Jesus can be dry, but a pilgrimage to the hallowed grounds of our history is an exercise in stupefaction. Few finds conjure the drama of the early Texas wilderness quite like the massive Columbian mammoth bones that two arrowhead hunters stumbled upon in 1978 near the Bosque River, in Waco. Over the next two decades, the remains of 22 mammoths (including several juveniles), likely felled by a flash flood at the end of the Ice Age, were carefully extracted. The tent that once covered the dig site was replaced in 2009 with a sleek building where visitors can amble along raised catwalks and peer down on the bones of 6 of the tusked creatures still in situ at the largest single-herd mass grave ever found.
6220 Steinbeck Bend Dr., 254-750-7946, waco-texas.com/cms-waco-mammoth

GALLOWAY WHITE SHAMAN PRESERVE,  COMSTOCK

One of the world’s most significant art collections lies in a steep gorge near the mouth of the Pecos River. Four thousand years ago, aboriginal artists, using mineral pigments on limestone, created detailed depictions of monsters and men, probably after consuming hallucinogenic plants. Perhaps the creative process hasn’t changed much. (Guided tours Saturdays, September to May.)
42535 U.S. 90W, 210-525-9907, rockart.org

LUBBOCK LAKE LANDMARK, LUBBOCK

From the dusty layer cake of soil and sediment at this national historic landmark, archaeologists have reclaimed Paleo-Indian spearpoints, charred bison bones, broken Puebloan pottery, and the remains of a giant, armadillo-like pampathere. If you squint long enough, you can begin to envision the ancient springs that made the now-arid site a popular watering hole for almost 12,000 years.
2401 Landmark Dr., 806-742-1116, depts.ttu.edu/museumttu/lll

ALIBATES FLINT QUARRIES, FRITCH

Like a prehistoric Home Depot, these ancient quarries on the edge of Lake Meredith were where Plains Village Indians fashioned the pointy tools needed for their “honey-do” lists. (Kill elk for dinner. Check.) The state’s lone national monument is still so lousy with agatized dolomite chips that you’ll traverse a “lithic carpet” on your ranger-led tour. (Reservations required.)
Five miles west of Texas Hwy. 136, along Cas Johnson Rd.; 806-857-3151; nps.gov/alfl

THE GAULT SITE, FLORENCE

Back in the day—say, 13,500 years ago—this lush valley near Buttermilk Creek was prime real estate. Since 1929, anthropologists (and profiteering relic collectors) have dusted off millions of artifacts and tools used by early hunter-gatherers. With the recent discovery of earlier civilizations just downstream, the ongoing excavations at Gault are as important as ever. (Tours offered via the Bell County and the Williamson museums.)
3433 FM 2843, 512-245-8734, gaultschool.org

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