Native American burial site found, debate ensues
A crew of archaeologists working under a contract with the Texas Department of Transportation and under permit from the Texas Historical Commission have discovered an additional burial site in the path of the Grand Parkway in west Harris County, delaying a 15-mile, four-lane toll road.
After the trial judge ruled on Sept. 11 that TxDOT could remove the burials, the Harris County Historical Commission filed a notice of appeal the following day. The pathway will be blocked off while the case is being appealed.
“I have attempted to describe archaeological methods as they apply to contract or salvage archaeology as it has been applied by TxDOT and THC in the case of this site,” said Kenneth Brown, a UH archaeology professor. “I testified in court concerning the state law that is being used by TxDOT and THC to remove the burials they have currently identified and any others that they might find.”
With his archaeological backgrounds, Brown is deemed an expert witness.
“I am an archaeologist who has conducted a number of contract projects in Texas and elsewhere, and I have some experience with the question of prehistoric burials and working with members of the First Nations in dealing with burials and their repatriation,” Brown said.
Despite the findings of animal bones, the court dispute is over human burials, with each burial including a variety of body parts.
Brown said the site consists of two major components: one estimated to be around 2,000 years old and the second possibly more than 9,000. All of the current burials appear to have been placed between 5,000 and 1,000 years ago. Court testimony put the number of graves at two, but that number has grown.
“Both the THC and TxDOT archaeologists consider (these findings) both major components to be critical for understanding Native American life in this portion of Texas,” Brown said. “The components are rare and have or will provide important, new information on Native Americans. The burials are important, but THC and TxDOT will not be permitting scientific tests beyond standard demographic ones.”
The lawsuit is being handled by Assistant County Attorney Clarissa Bauer, who is hoping to find a balance between TxDOT’s interests in getting the toll way built quickly versus the advancement of human knowledge from a site rich in artifacts — human as well as non-human.
“My client, HCHC, intervened in the lawsuit. It believed that this archaeological site contained important data about the late archaic and early ceramic periods,” Bauer said.
“Basically, the site had the potential to expand our knowledge of early human occupation on this continent.”
The HCHC believes it’s in the public’s interest to maximize the scientific and historical knowledge which could be derived from the site, according to Bauer.
The case is still on going as the appeal is being processed.
Any students wishing to learn more about archaeology can check out the course catalog for the UH Department of Anthropology at www.uh.edu/academics/catalog/colleges/las/courses/anth/.