November 2, 2016

11,500 years of stratigraphy in a tractor.

Ancient peoples first occupied Bandera County, Texas from the end of the Pleistocene (Ice Age), until the early 18th century. Some of the flint points highlighted in Mike Leggett's recently published article in the Statesman, filed ironically under the category "Sports", appear to be from Archaic cultures.  Flint points like these varied in shape over time and analyzing these points against those from other archaeological sites could be useful in pinpointing the period when the article's dig site was in use by cultures of the past.

But that won't be possible when 11,500 years of stratigraphy are gouged out of the ground with a tractor or backhoe for sport.

Even more painful to read Leggett's statement:

"And there’s nothing wrong with organizing and orchestrating a dig such as this. There are no burial grounds to be disturbed here and no unknown artifacts that might offer some sudden insight into Native American life and culture."

"Nothing wrong" is a pretty broad term.

But is it illegal? 

On private property in Texas, no.  Under specific conditions, it is perfectly legal (unfortunately) to dig on private lands where middens and ancient historical objects can be found.

In Texas, the presence of an archaeologically significant site on private property does not restrict the property rights of the individual landowner.  In fact, these sites and their contents actually belong to landowner who can manage their property in the manner they choose within certain restrictions.  Some choose to use their sites as moneymaking ventures as some flint points are worth a few dollars, while rarer ones can be valued anywhere from between $7,000 and $12,000 each. 

On public property in Texas and under specific conditions, yes it is illegal. 

But having said all that, what we know of the nomadic prehistoric people who populated the region is quite limited so it's a pity when hobbyists with artifact obsessions see the territory only as their own personal treasure trove of pointy objects. 

In 2005 Thomas Hester presented a paper on there area where he said: 

Unfortunately for history, it looks as if the flintheads have the upper hand. Archeological sites will continue to be mined for profit in the Southwest as long as artifacts have sentimental and monetary value on the national and international ancient art markets. 

But what does it really mean when hobbyists take historical memories out of the ground like this, permanently sifting the land grain of sand by grain of sand until nothing is left.  

Collectors in some states can buy history, but preservationists know you can't buy culture.

Texas Pay Dig Site
Texas Pay Dig Site
Texas Pay Dig Site
Texas Pay Dig Site

By: Lynda Albertson


Thanks for this thoughtful response to poor journalism from the Statesman. Would you consider sharing it in the comments section of the original article?

Another note, do you mean 'legal' instead of 'illegal' in this sentence: "On private property in Texas, and under some specific conditions, no it is (unfortunately) illegal"