Between 7,000 and 10,000 years ago, it is believed that man entered East Texas in small, roving groups that filtered into the area in search of bison and other large game animals. These early hunters killed their prey with spears thrust by hand or propelled by the atlatl, or throwing stick. These people had few personel possessions, and for shelter utilized natural bluff overhangs or constructed simple brush or animal skin lean-tos, which could be quickly and easily built, or abandoned when it was time to move.
To these primitive, non-agricultural people, the local forests offered all that they needed to sustain their preferred lifestyle. By about 5,000 B.C. this “hunter-gatherer” period gave way to the Archaic Period, which lasted until about 200 B.C. During this period, people living in this area, like those throughout Southeastern North America, learned to better utilize local resources. They hunted deer and small game and collected various freshwater mussels, or clams, (very abundant in the Neches-Angelina River system), as well as various edible seeds, berries, nuts, and roots . Brush and skins continued to be the most common form of shelter, and extended family groups, (older adults, grown children, and grandchildren), traveled together in search of different resources as they became seasonally available. As favorite sites were visited yearly, seeds collected at previous campsites were often unintentionally dropped and frequently sprouted, producing new plant populations at these camping areas. Favorite plants included sunflowers, squash, marsh elder, and gourd. The major weapon continued to be the small spear, propelled by the atlatl. During this period a great variety of spear points were developed. Also making their appearance were crude, multi-purpose knives, scrapers, and other tools, frequently made from locally gathered petrified wood or chert, as were the spear points.
Following the archaic cultures came the woodland culture, which probably spread into this area from what would later be Ohio and Illinois. During this period the basic hunting and gathering mode of life continued, but the people became much more concerned with concepts of life after death than their predecessors had been. Society became stratified, resulting in construction of community projects such as burial mounds. Vast trading systems were established, allowing the acquisition of items from far-distant locations. This is proven by the finding of the remains of numerous cremations at the Jonas Short mound, a woodland culture site excavated by archeologists in what is now San Augustine County. With these cremated remains were buried numerous large, finely-flaked knives fashioned from non-local flint, as well as cold hammered copper bracelets, quartz crystal pendants, two ground and polished boat stones, and an elk-tooth necklace, along with some of the earliest pottery found in the area.
Between 500 and 700 A.D. pottery manufacture became widespread and abundant, with a wide variety of vessel forms and designs being produced. The bow and arrow replaced the atlatl and spear as the major weapon and hunting implements; consequently small arrow points were needed instead of the large projectile points previously used. During this time the first houses and small permanent villages appeared, frequently at the same locations previously used as campsites. These changes were necessary because during this time the people began to cultivate certain food crops, such as maize, which required attention over a prolonged period. Fields were cleared, burned, and planted. Digging sticks, the forerunners of plows and shovels, were used to plant fields and obtain clay for pottery. Some mound building took place, as evidenced by the large ceremonial complex near Alto, Texas, which dates from this period. Burials, particularly of important individuals but in some instances of multiple persons, frequently included items imported from other areas through the trade networks. Bodies and grave items were carefully oriented within the graves. These people were probably the ancestors of the later Caddoan or Atakapan groups (Caddoan Mounds State Park).
The earliest European contact with residents of this area was made by the Spanish Explorer, Cabeza de Vaca, between 1528 and 1533, who encountered the Caddoan Adai somewhere between Nachitoches, Louisiana, and Nacogdoches, Texas. De Vaca was followed by a second explorer, Moscaso, whose report of his crossing of the Angelina River near it’s junction with the Attoyac Bayou mentions the following Caddoan groups: Nondacoa (Anadarko), Nasoni, Ayish (Eyisy, Aays), Nacacahoz, and Naquisca. In 1685, La Salle, the great French Explorer, reported what were probably Hasinai Caddo near Nacogdoches. In 1690 the Spanish established the first two European Missions in the area at sites west of the Neches River in Houston County, followed by four missions among the Caddo in southern Rusk County on the upper Attoyac Bayou and two at Nacogdoches, by 1716. The Spaniards reported that the native people actively cultivated fields of maize, which they supplemented with gardens of beans, squash, and other vegetables, as well as hunting and fishing. Trotlining was a favorite fishing technique. When surpluses permitted maize was exported, as well as locally gathered osage orange, (bois de arc), wood, a favorite material for fashioning bows. Artifacts found from this period are similar to those from the previous one; however, European trade items such as metal knives, metal arrow points, and glass beads also begin to appear. Pottery from this period maintained quality and variety of form and design. Unfortunately, contact with Europeans also brought deadly diseases, which decimated the populations of the Caddoan Confederacy villages. Remnants of these once-numerous people now reside in Oklahoma and Louisiana.
Under Title 36, Code of Federal Regulations, 327.14- Destruction, injury, defacement, removal or any alteration of public property including, but not limited to, developed facilities, natural formations, mineral deposits, historical and archaeological features, paleontological resources, boundary monuments or markers, and vegetative growth, is prohibited except when in accordance with written permission from the district engineer.
For more information concerning Federal Regulations protecting Archeological Resources consult the following documents, (PFD Format, Acrobat Reader Required to View Documents):
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Archeological Resources Protection Act (ARPA) 1979
Archeological Resources Protection Act (ARPA) 1988 Amendment
Native Americans Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA)