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Test Excavations in the Devil’s Ford Creek and Chinquapin Branch Drainages

Sabine National Forest, Texas, 1999
by Velicia Hubbard, Assistant Forest Heritage Manager

Seven FS archaeologists were joined by 30 PIT volunteers from March 12 to 20, 1999, to conduct test excavations at an archaeological site located adjacent to Devil’s Ford Creek in southern Sabine County, Texas. The results of previous tests at the site suggested that an identifiable cultural component associated with the Early Ceramic period in east Texas was present. The cultural materials associated with this component would contribute to a better understanding of the emergence of sedentary prehistoric cultures in east Texas.

A rough count indicated that 591 artifacts were recovered from the excavations. The assemblage is dominated by lithic materials; ceramics constitute less than 10% of the total. Of the lithics recovered, the majority are debitage in the form of chips and flakes. A very small portion, about 4%, are projectile points or other bifacial tools. Locally available cryptocrystalline gravels and petrified wood are the dominant source materials noted in the assemblage, although other materials, such as Catahoula sand stone, are present in small numbers. Eleven projectile points were recovered from the excavations. Six of these have been classified as Friley points, three as Kent points, and one as a Motley point. The eleventh point is an unidentified dart-point fragment, which is corner notched with a slightly expanding stem, convex base, and parallel shoulders.

The entire ceramic assemblage is represented by undecorated sandy paste sherds. The assemblage includes only a single rim sherd, one sherd possessing a drilled repair hole, and random body sherds of an undetermined number of separate vessels. Some of the sherds have been treated with external and/or internal slips.

One feature we recovered early contained an ash and charcoal strata that provided several distinct culturally diagnostic artifacts, as well as definitive date of 1240 B.P. ± 40 (roughly A.D. 700). This date matches nicely with the predominance of the Friley point type. Despite the absence of clearly defined features from which to extract samples for dating, several large concentrations of charcoal were collected for 14C dating. In several instances, samples for oxidizable carbon ratio (OCR) dating also were collected. It is believed that in addition to providing an additional source of relative dates, these samples will provide an opportunity to further test the feasibility and accuracy of the OCR process relative to east Texas soils. Cumulatively, the diagnostic artifacts, 14C dates, and OCR dates will provide the basis for determining the presence or absence of a distinct Early Ceramic component, and for defining its cultural and environmental parameters at this site.

At this point in time, it is premature to draw any definitive conclusions from this year’s PIT excavations at 41SB157. Certainly, the number and distribution of diagnostic projectile points provide data that will contribute to furthering our understanding of the emergence of sedentism in the east Texas woodlands. The absence of cultural features in the units excavated and the relatively low density of artifacts recovered from these excavations seem to hint at a brief occupation, probably seasonal, by a relatively small population on at least two occasions separated by several hundred years.

Additional significance for 41SB157 may lie in its potential for improving our understanding of site formation processes on terrace/upland settings adjacent to intermittent watercourses. Few sites of this type have received intensive investigation over the years, and little is known of the apparently subtle characteristics that define their depositional history. We hope to glean relevant data from the soil through phytolith analyses, which have the potential to provide information useful in reconstructing landform morphology and possibly identifying those physical and chemical properties that may be the critical elements in defining the cultural stratigraphy of the site.
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