Skip to comments.Skeletal remains may be 11,000 years old
Posted on 08/11/2002 3:17:04 PM PDT by vannrox
Aug. 9, 2002, 10:45AM
By TERRY KLIEWER
Copyright 2002 Houston Chronicle
LAKE JACKSON -- The gummy clay of coastal Texas holds plenty of secrets, but it may have given up one of its
oldest when routine excavation near here uncovered prehistoric human bones.
John Everett / Chronicle
Archaeologist Robert d'Aigle unearthed bones three years ago in the
San Bernard River National Wildlife Refuge in south Brazoria County. He may have found only the third human skeleton in North
America that dates back at least 10,000 years.
The bones -- a skull, two vertebrae and part of a jaw with some teeth -- may date back 11,000 years or more, according to preliminary
analysis that included radiocarbon dating at the University of Arizona.
A final report on the site and the find were submitted this week to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service by Spring-based archaeologist
Robert d'Aigle, who recovered the skeletal remains three years ago in the San Bernard River National Wildlife Refuge in south
D'Aigle announced his discovery this week.
The bones were turned up during mechanical excavation work on a levee on federal land in the refuge, he said. They were buried about
three feet deep in what d'Aigle thinks is a vertical position, leading him to suspect the area was a bog in which the victim
became trapped and died.
D'Aigle said experts who examined the remains believe they are from an adolescent female who was about 4 feet tall.
If confirmed, this would be only the third discovery in North America of skeletal remains that are 10,000 or more years old, experts
say. As such, "Brazoria Girl" may turn out to be a milestone in documenting the inhabitation of the continent.
The find comes as scientists are rethinking the long-held theory that North and South America were populated by prehistoric tribes
that crossed from Asia via a Bering Strait land bridge. Even those who don't question the migration aren't sure about its timing.
D'Aigle, a registered professional archaeologist, said his discovery may force scientists to revise their timetable.
"This will shake up a lot of archaeologists," he predicted.
Anthropologist Michael Collins of the Texas Archaeological Research Lab in Austin called the find "rare and extremely important,"
but doubted it would be as important as d'Aigle thinks. Other discoveries, mainly of artifacts, have long since established human
presence in Texas 100 centuries ago, Collins said.
"There is carbon dating and then there is carbon dating," he added, expressing reservations about the University of Arizona's
testing capabilities. He urged more tests on both bones and soil, noting that bones often are contaminated by carbon from
Most prehistoric discoveries are subjected to multiple tests by several labs, Collins said. Until that is done, "I certainly
wouldn't call this a hoax, but its reliability is in question," he said.
But Collins' own nominee for the most highly credentialed carbon dating analyst in the country, geologist Tom Stafford of Boulder,
Colo., said he has little doubt that d'Aigle's find is the real deal.
D'Aigle sent an ear bone and a sample of soil from within the skull to the Stafford Research Laboratories for analysis. Stafford
said that, while his own radiocarbon testing was inconclusive, other signs, such as the soil in which the bones were found, point to
the remains being at least 11,000 years old.
Stafford also said the importance of d'Aigle's find is not necessarily that it is the oldest human skeleton on the continent, but
that it is one of so very few.
As such, he termed it "a pretty incredible discovery" on par with two other 10,000- to 11,000-year-old specimens, one from Montana
and the other from California.
"Our population of prehistoric skeletons is pretty small."
Besides, he said, the University of Arizona has a "spectacular" lab and is capable of reliable radiocarbon testing. However, he too
said more testing by other labs is needed to determine the age of the remains.
As for the discovery's importance, he said, "I'd give a very enthusiastic but qualified 'yes.'
"I think we're in the right ballpark for age. I think it really may be what Bob (d'Aigle) thinks it is."
D'Aigle said his delay in announcing his April 1999 discovery was imposed by his contract obligations to the federal government. The
radiocarbon dating and other analysis done on the recovered remains was done largely on a voluntary basis by several labs and at
least 10 scientists, he said.
The findings were included in a report submitted this week to the Fish and Wildlife Service. D'Aigle said he was free to talk
publicly only after completing the report.
David Siegel, historic preservation officer for the federal agency's southwest region, said the remains may go to the University of
Texas for museum preservation and possible exhibition. He cautioned that federal regulations about the handling of Native American
remains and artifacts will first have to be considered.
The discovery site has been covered with dirt to preserve it and prevent tampering, Siegel said.
"At this juncture, we have no plans other than to leave the site alone," he said. "It could be years before we do anything
I am supposing that there is a good chance these, like the ones resembling Patrick Stewart, may not be "Native American" in the sense that phrase is generally used.
I suspect so, if one defines Native American as the peoples inhabiting the Americas in 1492 or slightly before. It's already well known that there were "others" here before them. This little lady might be from that group, or a still earlier one.
Actually, current theory is that H.Academis, or Academic Man, is descended from South American ancestors; this has to do with the similarity between academic debate and two troops of Howler Monkeys defending their turf.
Thanks, what a relief! I'm a "Strolling Bones" fan and worry 'bout Sir Nick and the self-embalmed Keith.
Not the ones I know. They are genuinely interested in pre-European history of the continent, and aren't exactly apologists for the various and sundry social structures that existed.