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Archaeology, Chemistry Departments team for Gault Site analysis

By Kristina Kenney
University News Service
February 7, 2013

The Department of Anthropology at Texas State University has recently teamed with the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry for assistance with the preservation of soil samples taken from the famous Gault Site, an archeological dig site located 40 miles north of Austin that has been occupied for around 13,500 years.

The Gault Archeological Project at Texas State is made up of undergraduate students, graduate students, faculty, volunteers and interns dedicated to research and education regarding the earliest peoples in the Americas. Most of their local work takes place at the Gault Site, which has yielded numerous significant archeological discoveries including more than 600,000 artifacts of Clovis age (13,000-13,500 years ago).

In order to protect and preserve the soil samples that the team has excavated from the site, the Chemistry Department has started assisting with embedding the samples into a plastic polyester resin.

Chemistry and Biochemistry Departmental Chair William Brittain said this preservation process is essential to the research process because it keeps the samples intact so they can later be sliced and analyzed under a microscope.

Anastasia Gilmer, an archeology graduate student, said the samples are classified as micromorphology samples, meaning they are undisturbed soil samples that will be analyzed under a microscope. Gilmer said the samples, some as large as a loaf of bread, will eventually be analyzed to study their geologic material and their environmental history, such as weather patterns.

“One of the research questions we have is determining if [the samples] are older than 13,500 years,” Gilmer said.

Gilmer explained that the archeological community generally identifies Clovis as the first culture to emerge in North America around 13,500 years ago. Recently, multiple sites across North America are starting to find components that date older than Clovis, but Gilmer said these findings have been met with some resistance from the archeological community. However, the Gault Site is a multicomponent site that has produced a layer beneath the Clovis component that contains multiple artifacts that have been dated by Optical Stimulated Luminescence to as old as 13,800 years.

The Gault Archaeological Project, based in the Pecos Building at Texas State, is a center for innovative, interdisciplinary research in archaeology focusing on the earliest peoples in the western hemisphere and their cultural antecedents. The project is part of the ongoing research of Michael Collins and is under the direction of Daniel Clark Wernecke.

For information regarding current opportunities visit the project offices, or email Clark Wernecke at dw46@txstate.edu.