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2013-12-05

Archaeology & Bandera County landowners

By Evelyn Snyder Special to the Courier

Dr. D. Clark Wernecke, executive director of the Gault School of Archaeological Research, spoke to members of Ranchers and Landowners of Texas at the Tuesday, Nov. 19, meeting.
His topic, "What is Archaeology and What Can it Do for Me?", discussed archaeology from the prospective of ranchers and landowners.
According to Wernecke, archeologists are detectives who look for clues in the ground to reconstruct stories. In the United States, archeologists are part of anthropology, which is the study of human behavior. Archeologists are interested in human behavior, not artifacts. They use machines with sensory radar that can see objects up to eight feet below the surface clearly.
Wernecke was involved with unearthing a mass grave in Brownsville from the Mexican-American War. The clues he found recreated the battle in a different way than it is recounted in history books.
He stated that there are no laws in Texas covering archeology on private property except burial laws. Wernecke said it is against the law to possess human remains or burial goods - regardless of their age.
Landowners who find a skeleton must contact the authorities, and burial sites on private property cannot be moved arbitrarily. However, an archeologist can obtain a permit for relocation. And, contrary to rumors, archeologists cannot take artifacts away from anyone nor can they remove them from private property.
What are the procedures for landowners if they find artifacts on their land? Actually, they don't have to do anything - although Wernecke considers that course as not being good stewards.
A better option is to protect the area from people, animals, or weather. Also, landowners should document where items were found even with just a rough sketch of the area showing trees, hills, etc. It is also helpful to take several pictures of the item(s) and area that includes identifying landscape.
Also, document anything removed from the site and where it was found. This will help recreate history later. Stabilize the area from erosion or heavy use by cattle or people. Fencing helps preserve the site. Planting poison ivy helps, too, as the most seasoned poachers won't come near it.
If possible looting is suspected, call the game warden because they are probably already looking for people who poach artifacts are usually people they are already seeking. As an anecdote, Wernecke said one sheriff told him in, effect, "Oh, arrowhead collecting is a way of life in Texas. I won't arrest anyone for that." Currently, most looting is connected to drugs because anyone can take arrowheads anywhere and sell them for easy cash, no questions asked. Wernecke is always happy to receive pictures on email, have people bring things in, or go out and take a look.
Archaeologists with the Gault School of Archaeological Research is currently working at the Gault site in Bell County, located in central Texas. Only 3 percent of the site has been excavated, which has yielded stones with engraved designs that are 13,000 years old; a mammoth jaw surrounded by human tools including projectile points that indicates a kill site, of which there are only 14 in America; a stone floor with evidence of a previously building over it; and over 2.6 million artifacts.
However, Wernecke pointed out that just because an item is found in a specific area doesn't mean those people used it, It could have been carried in by people or animals, washed in by a flood or blown in. To eliminate controversy, the Gault School uses several methods of dating, not just carbon dating.
In conclusion, Wernecke noted that registering private property with an archeological society does not mean the public will automatically overrun the land. It also does not give landowners' any legal protection. Poachers usually follow watercourses to look for sites because early people settled near water.