Mittel Site

This fascinating site contains a small sinkhole cemetery and six burned rock middens.Located about 30 miles south of San Angelo in north-central Schleicher County, the Mittel site (41SL15) is a welcome exception to the general dearth of well documented archeological sites on the western Edwards Plateau. Unlike most other sinkhole cemeteries known in the region, the one at the Mittel site is located side-by-side with a rather ordinary work place—a plant baking facility, known to archeologists as a burned rock midden.

The sinkhole cemetery was found by accident when the landowner attempted to eradicate a rattlesnake den inside the natural hole in the limestone bedrock. Clearing out the hole to make sure he had finished off the snakes, the rancher discovered human bones, bones he could plainly tell were very old. He called in archeologists from the Texas Archeological Research Laboratory to investigate. A small group of researchers and archeology students led by Darrell Creel carried out extensive survey and limited excavations in 1988 and 1989 at the Mittel site. Within the narrow confines of the sinkhole, they documented the remains of at least five individuals dating to the latter part of the Late Prehistoric period (after A.D. 1300).

The layering of the sinkhole deposits indicate that the human remains were interred after the formation of the adjacent burned rock midden, but it is not known if this midden or others nearby were still in use at the time of the burials. As explained in more detail in the Camp Bowie exhibit, burned rock middens are specialized plant-baking facilities. The juxtaposition of an ordinary work place and a special place where loved ones were buried is probably more an accident of nature rather than a purposeful choice. Clearly, the area had a concentration of the targeted baking plants; while the Mittel middens were not excavated, we know from other sites in the general region that the targeted plants may have included prickly pear cactus, sotol, yucca, and wild onions.

The Mittel site is an excellent example of cooperation between private landowners and professional archeologists. Data recovered from the site has the potential to tell us a great deal about economic patterns, social organization, and changes in how people used the landscape use over prehistoric time on the western Edwards Plateau.

photo of sinkhole
The sinkhole when archeologists first investigated the site. The landowner has cleared by the brush and removed some of the rocks from the entrance of the natural sinkhole. Archeologist Darrell Creel takes notes. TARL archives.
plan map
Plan map showing the location of the sinkhole as well as burned rock middens and burned rock concentrations at the Mittle site. TARL archives.
photo of Creel
Archeologist Darrell Creel documents one of burned rock middens at the Mittel site. Ignore the large natural rocks pushed along the road edge during clearing; the midden rocks are small fragmented rocks visible as a slight rise upon which Creek stands. Burned rock middens are plant processing facilities and are common throughout west-central Texas. TARL archives.
photo of sinkhole
View of the tight confines of the sinkhole during excavation. Though the rattlesnake den that led to the discovery of the site had been eradicated by the time this photo was taken, members of the excavation crew still referred to the sinkhole as a “snaky” place. TARL archives.
photo of arrow point
This small triangular Fresno arrow point was found in association with the burials, perhaps the cause of death of one of the individuals. This style dates to the latter part of the Late Prehistoric era or perhaps even to the “Proto-Historic” period in the 16th and 17th centuries. If so, no evidence of European artifacts were found at this site. TARL archives.