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An Update on the Storm Site

Sam Houston National Forest, Texas, 2000
by Douglas Mangum, FS Archaeologist

One summer’s morning in 1997, two Sam Houston NF archaeologists had just found a new site and were beginning to dig additional shovel tests to find out more about it. Suddenly, the cloudy skies burst with torrents of rain, and the archaeologists departed to dry off. The rain didn’t last long, however, and they returned for another try. Within an hour of beginning their second effort, the archaeologists were once again driven off by a second heavy burst of rain. With that inauspicious beginning, the Storm site (a.k.a. 41WA218) acquired its name.

Investigations since that day have included more than 30 shovel tests, more than a dozen soil probes, one 2-by- 3-m and four 2-by-2-m excavation units, and a subsurface survey using ground-penetrating radar. What we determined from all this work was that the Storm site was special. Most sites on the Sam Houston are on shallow soils that predate human migration to the New World. The artifacts found in them have been mixed over time by various processes. The Storm site was different and appeared to have a small area that contained soils lain down periodically during periods of human occupation, probably by flood wash from the nearby Brown Branch. Within this area, we had excavated as deep as 3.2 m and not found sterile strata. Additionally, the artifacts recovered throughout the levels seemed to indicate that there was an unmixed sequence at the site. The artifact sample was relatively small, however, and we really needed a larger collection to be sure.

In March 2000, 34 PIT volunteers from all over the country (and one from Denmark), backed up by six FS archaeologists, and led by Zone Archaeologist Wally Kings borough, began an ambitious project on the Storm site. Over a span of eight days, the volunteers excavated more than 40 m3 of fill from four contiguous 2-by-2-m units, and a fifth 2-by-2 beneath those four. The overall depth of this excavation was 3.36 m, and we were still finding artifacts! Two additional 1-m-deep 1-by-1-m units were excavated nearby in an attempt to retrieve more detail from the complex upper stratum. Overall, some 78 bifaces and biface fragments were recovered, along with 322 pottery sherds. There were also thousands of lithic flakes, some animal bones, turtle and mussel shell fragments, and thousands of bits of carbonized walnut shell. Preliminary analysis of these artifacts, combined with radiocarbon dates, indicates that the site has an intact sequence dating from A.D. 1700 in the uppermost levels to at least 3000 B.C. at 2.2 m below the surface. Further analysis will have to wait for the October 2000 PIT lab project, but we anticipate that those results will reinforce what has already been hypothesized. Additional radiocarbon assays, oxidized-carbon-ratio (OCR) dates, phytolith analysis, and a study of the site’s soil by Dr. Hallmark of Texas A&M University are also anticipated in time for the final report.

Luckily, the project at the Storm site was not all work. When Storm lived up to its name and rained us off of the site one morning, we all loaded up into vans and went to the Sam Houston Memorial Museum for a look at the life and times of one of Texas’s heroes. Our thanks to PIT volunteers Betty Elvin and Sandra Rogers, who arranged and gave the tour. We also had our traditional Friday night steak dinner with visits by the Sam Houston’s ranger, Tim Bigler, and Texas Forest Supervisor Ronnie Raum.

Our special guest at this year’s project was OCR guru Douglas Frink, who gave both a lecture and a practical field exercise on aspects of his dating method. To add to the educational aspects of the project, we also had a morning tour of our lab facilities. Lab Director Velicia Bergstrom (who celebrated her first PIT-wedding anniversary with husband Roger led everyone through the processing of artifacts, including a showing of all the “goodies.” Then our resident illustrator, Doc “I think I’m developing webbed fingers” Ball, showed us how to do water flotation of soil samples.

What was amazing about the project was the immense energy of the volunteers. Despite the heavy workload, they had to be pried out of the excavation for water breaks, crew changes, and even meals! On the last day, when soils in the units had turned the consistency of partially hardened concrete, there was one individual who took after it with a pickaxe rather than admitting defeat. It was wonderful to see such a diverse crew of people working together so well as a team, and we can’t thank them enough. Thanks to their effort and enthusiasm, a new chapter in the prehistory of southeast Texas has been opened.
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