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Archeologists use new technologies to reveal ancient buildings

University Of Texas At Austin : 30 April, 2003  (Technical Article)
Archeologists at The University of Texas at Austin are using a new technology, gradiometry, to map a large prehistoric Caddo Indian village at the Caddoan Mounds State Historic Site near Alto in East Texas, revealing previously unknown structures and houses.
This village has been the site of intensive archeological research, now conducted by the Texas Archeological Research Laboratory and the Department of Anthropology in the College of Liberal Arts, since the late 1930s. Recently, the university has initiated an effort to conduct a comprehensive survey of the entire site using a cesium vapor gradiometer. This instrument generates high-quality images of large features such as pits and house outlines, helping archeologists determine the existence and location of prehistoric buildings that are not visible on the surface. With the cart-mounted gradiometer, archeologists can conduct an intensive survey very quickly and cheaply, covering the equivalent of a football field in about an hour.

“Results so far have been spectacular,” said Darrell Creel, director of TARL. “Particularly important is the fact that, for the first time, archeologists will have a nearly complete architectural plan of what was a very large prehistoric community. Normally, archaeologists have to be satisfied with the glimpse of the small part of a site that they have revealed through excavation. Seeing the whole community would be prohibitively expensive and time-consuming via conventional techniques, but remote-sensing technologies such as gradiometry are revolutionizing archeological research. Until this project, no one had attempted a complete remote-sensing survey of such a large archeological site anywhere in the world.”

This and similar remote-sensing geophysical technologies have been used by archeologists before, but not on this scale. The university team will ultimately survey an area of about 48 acres, with nearly half already completed. The remainder will be done in May and will be followed by excavations targeting specific prehistoric architectural remains identified by the gradiometer.

Caddoan Mounds was a frontier settlement of the Early Caddos in about 800 A.D. The settlement represented the westernmost group of indigenous mound builders who inhabited the woodland in the east part of the United States for 2,500 years. The Caddoan people built both ceremonial burial mounds and temple mounds, and erected beehive-shaped dwellings of pole and thatch construction.

The site is the only public facility dedicated to commemorating the Indian tribe that gave Texas its name, Teysha, which is Caddoan for “friend.” The site was abandoned, for unknown reasons, in about 1300 A.D.

Funding for this project comes from Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, the Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation, the Friends of the Texas Archeological Research Laboratory and the Vander Poel Fund at The University of Texas at Austin. For more information, visit the TARL Web site.
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