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2,000-year-old San Marcos settlement in path of new road

City to pay for archaeological study; construction expected to move forward

By Molly Bloom
Austin American-Statesman Staff
June 6, 2007

About 2,000 years ago, a small group of hunter-gatherers settled near San Marcos springs. They built shelters for eating and sleeping, and workshops for butchering animals and making tools. Eventually, they moved on, leaving behind buildings, ovens, discarded tools and other reminders of their presence.

Soon, the last traces of this early San Marcos community could be erased.

The site lies near the path of the Wonder World Drive extension, a three-mile road and bridge linking Hunter Road to RM 12 on the west side of town.

The $70.6 million project, which will create a direct link between RM 12 in western Hays County and Interstate 35, is expected to route through-traffic away from residential neighborhoods and the downtown area.

City engineers have known of the ancient site for several years, but now they're giving archaeologists one last chance to excavate and extract what they can before the remnants of the 2,000-year-old community are largely destroyed by road construction.

"You gather as much information as you can, because once the construction starts, things get torn up pretty quickly," said Britt Bousman, director of Texas State University's Center for Archaeological Studies. "Do it now or lose it, basically, is the general pattern."

Tuesday night, the San Marcos City Council unanimously approved spending $416,000 to pay for Bousman and university staff to study the 1 1/4-acre site.

City officials are required by state and federal law to conduct the study to preserve knowledge of significant archaeological sites. Officials will make their findings available online.

Road construction is scheduled to begin in 2008.

It's not unusual to find stone tools, bones and other evidence of settlements from the same period as the Wonder World site in San Marcos, Bousman said.

Texas State archaeologists have investigated several other sites from about the same era in San Marcos, including on the peninsula between Spring Lake and Sink Creek at the Aquarena Springs golf course, and in the parking lot at Joe's Crab Shack on Sessoms Drive, according to a 2007 report by the center on the Wonder World Drive site.

But limited excavations by Texas State field schools in the 1980s uncovered what appear to be buildings from that era — a rare find, Bousman said.

"If it's confirmed, then it would be unique for Central Texas," he said, adding that uncovering the plan and artifacts will give archaeologists a chance to better understand how early residents lived.

The Wonder World Drive extension — a bridge over environmentally sensitive land at its southern end — will pass high above the archaeological site. The heavy construction equipment used to build the road probably will significantly disturb, if not destroy, most archaeological evidence there, Bousman said.

Road builders can shift the bridge pilings to where they will do the least damage to the archaeological site, said Texas Department of Transportation engineer Don Nyland. But because the archaeological site sits near where the road extension connects with existing roads at an intersection, engineers had little choice in the road's path, Nyland said.

"It's not like they could have gone around it," he said.