Prehistory & History

Archaic Period

6,500 B.C. – A.D. 700

The Archaic Period lasted from about 6, 500 B. C. to the introduction of the bow and arrow about A. D. 700-800. This long archaeological record is well preserved in Bexar and the surrounding counties. The Richard Beene Site in Bexar County (41BX831) (Thoms and Mandell 2007), for example, not only contains Archaic components, but also exhibits a continuous record of human occupation for the past 10,000 years. Archaeologists have divided this long Archaic sequence into chronological sub-periods (Perttula 2004: Table 1.1; Turner et al. 2011: 44-51).

The Archaic period is divided into three sub-periods: Early, Middle, and Late (which is often further sub-divided into the Late and Transitional or Terminal Archaic). These sub-periods are distinguished by the differences in material culture (such as projectile point types) and the availability of specific food resources brought about by changing climatic conditions.

Archaic Dart Points From A Prehistoric Site In San Antonio

Archaic Dart points from a prehistoric site in San Antonio

Early Archaic Sub-Period

Native American groups during the Early Archaic period (6,500 B.C. to 2,500 B.C) at first continued to exhibit many of the characteristics of the preceding Paleoindian period. This has led some archaeologists to refer to the early part of this period as a time of transition between the Paleoindian and the Archaic periods. During the Early Archaic, however, hunting practices shifted from pursuing big-game species to pursuing medium and small-game animals, such as the modern buffalo, deer and rabbits. Edible roots, nuts, and fruits were gathered and eaten, as were mussels. Most of the projectile points from this period are well made and many exhibit characteristics typical of the previous Paleoindian stone tool technologies.

Projectile point styles characteristic of this period include Gower, Martindale, Andice and Bell. Task-specific tools were also introduced during the Early Archaic sub-period and include the Clear Fork adzes and Guadalupe adzes meaning that the stone was chipped on two sides for use as a knife or adze (Turner et al. 2013). These Early Archaic artifact forms have been recovered across central Texas. The variety of projectile point types distributed over such a large area has prompted Prewitt (1981) to suggest that these people were organized in small, dispersed bands that roamed broad territories. Sites in Bexar County with Early Archaic components include the Higgins site (41BX184) (Black et al., 1998) and the Panther Springs site (41BX228) (Black and McGraw 1985)).

Middle Archaic Sub-Period

The Middle Archaic sub-period spans from 2,500 B.C. to 1,000 B.C. and is characterized by another shift in stone tools produced by prehistoric inhabitants of central Texas. The Middle Archaic can be subdivided into early (Clear Fork) and late (Round Rock) intervals. The Clear Fork interval is marked by the Nolan, Bulverde, and Travis projectile points, where as the Round Rock interval is characterized by the Pedernales, Kinney, Marshall, and Langtry points (Turner et al., 2011).

Projectile points from this period tend to be large and straight-stemmed, are quite numerous and occur in large frequencies at some sites. During the Middle Archaic, the number, size, and distribution of sites increased, probably in response to increasing population and changes in social organization (Prewitt 1981; Weir 1976).

Hot rock technology and the use of burned rock earth ovens to cook a variety of plant food (such as sotol and other bulbous plants) become more common during the Middle Archaic period (Black and McGraw 1985; Hester 1991). Repeated use of earth ovens at some locations resulted in large accumulations called “burned rock middens.”

Middle Archaic sites in Bexar County include the Panther Springs site (Black and McGraw 1985), Culebra Creek Site (41BX126) (Nichols et al 1998), and Elm Waterhole site (41BX300) (Katz 1987).

Corner Tang Knives

Late Archaic Sub-Period

The Late Archaic is the last major sub-period of the Archaic and dates from around 1,000 B.C. to A.D. 700. The beginning of the Late Archaic period saw a proliferation of new projectile point types, but there is a continuation of Middle Archaic subsistence strategies promoting the continued use of hot rock technology and their most archeologically recognizable by-product—the burned rock midden.

Projectile points associated with this period include the point types Montell, Castroville, Lange, Marcos, and later the Ensor, and Frio, points (Turner and Hester 1993). Archaeologists have interpreted the increase in both projectile point production and type during the Late Archaic as a return to the social pattern of small, dispersed bands with wide-ranging territorial areas, much like the Early Archaic Period. This may have been a response to population stress or climatic strain at this time. Further support for this explanation extends to the wide variety of food resources used during the Late Archaic Period.

The presence of bison, for example, fluctuated through time, with periods of their presence or absence being linked to climatic changes (Dillehay 1974). They were hunted extensively, and during the intervals in which they were present in the region, significant subsistence and technological shifts occurred. One such interval occurred during the Late Archaic when Montell and Castroville points were in vogue, and when such butchering tools as corner-tang knives were used to process bison, and end scrapers were used to work the hides. The importance of bison hunting is also reflected in the processed bone found at archeological sites dating to this time period.

Cemeteries become common in central Texas during the Late Archaic (Dockall et al., 2006; Potter 2005), These occur in open campsites such as 41BX1 (Lukowski 1988), Loma Sandia (Taylor and Highley 1995), Silo Site (Lovata 1997), and Coleman Cemetery site 41BX568) (Potter et al., 2005), as well as in vertical shaft caves such as Bering Sink Hole (Bement 1994) and Hitzfelder Cave (41BX228) (Collins 1970).

Interestingly, deer antlers are often associated with the human remains as well as worked conch shells from the Texas coast. These associations suggest deer symbolism and regional exchange with coastal groups.

The last 1000 years (300 B.C. to A.D. 700) of the late Archaic sub-period is often considered the Transitional Archaic. This period does not differ significantly from the Late Archaic. The hunting and gathering lifeway continues, but there is a variation in stone tool style. For example, at local sites, the Transitional Archaic is typified by the presence of numerous small dart point styles such as Ensor, Frio, Fairland, and Darl (Black and McGraw 1985). Bison are sparse in the archaeological record during this period.

Hot-rock cooking and the accumulation of burned rock middens continue throughout this sub- period (Ricklis and Collins 1994).

Image Sources

  • “Archaic dart points”. Office of Historic Preservation Files.
  • “Corner tang knives”. Photo. TexasBeyondHistory.net 13 July 2015. < http://www.texasbeyondhistory.net/st-plains/images/KA102-corner-tangs.html>
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