In a rural setting outside of Florence, sits a wooded valley that to the untrained eye looks much like the other nearby farms. But something remarkable happened on this acreage, which sets it apart.
It turns out that some of the earliest peoples in the Americas trod this land and left remnants of their life behind for researchers to find more than 13,500 years later. And they did. Modern-day archeologists working in the Central Texas location—which became known as the Gault Site—found more than 2.6 million lithic artifacts there. James Pearce was the first professional archeologist in the state to excavate the site in 1929-1930, followed by Drs. Thomas R. Hester and Michael B. Collins, of the Texas Archeological Research Laboratory, who conducted further research in 1991. The findings of those men set the scientific world on its ear—causing old theories of the peopling of the Americas to crumble.
According to Dr. Clark Wernecke, director of the Gault School of Archaeological Research, this Texas evidence suggested a different settlement premise. “For many years, the most common hypothesis was that the highly mobile hunters utilizing Clovis technology were the first to explore the New World. There were certainly alternate theories, but little to support them. The evidence that emerged at Gault helped forge new theories of the peopling of the Americas.” What archeologists found was proof of a hunting and gathering culture that had arrived long before the Clovis people, more than 1,000 years earlier—causing scientists everywhere to reconsider long-accepted theories.
Research on the artifacts collected during excavations from 1999-2013 is still being conducted at the Prehistory Research Project at Texas State University in San Marcos.
THF supported this groundbreaking research on several occasions. In 2005, funds from the Joseph Ballard Archeology Fund helped researchers analyze some of the earliest art in the Americas using polynomial texture mapping (a way of recording texture with photographs) and then disseminate that information to other professionals and school children in the state. Subsequent later funding provided assistance for production of a video and companion study guide for use by educators.
New archeological evidence from the Gault Site has added compelling detail to the quest for the origin of the first Americans—and put Texas archeologists at the epicenter of that search.