Woodrow Heard Site

The Woodrow Heard site (41UV88) is a large campsite on the upper Dry Frio River in northern Uvalde County. Prehistoric groups stopped at this locality many times over a span of at least 8500 years beginning at the onset of the Early Archaic period. This site is one of many favored campsites within the sheltered canyons of the Western Balcones Canyonlands subregion of the Edwards Plateau. There, clear spring-fed rivers formed inviting oasis-like ribbons amid a rugged landscape that grows increasingly arid as one moves westward.

Archeologists from the Texas Department of Transportation conducted major excavations at the Woodrow Heard site in 1982-1983. Some years later, the site materials were analyzed and reported by Susan Decker and others from the Texas Archeological Research Laboratory; they also carried out geoarcheological trenching and sampling at the site in 1997. To learn more about the dynamic landscape revealed by the geoarcheological work, see the Dry Frio Dynamic Landscape entry [LINK to DL1]—here we’ll concentrate on the archeology.

The Woodrow Heard site occupies a large river terrace and is a sizable campsite that prehistoric peoples visited repeatedly from the early part of the Early Archaic (ca. 7000 B.C.) through the Late Prehistoric periods. At least eight burned rock middens formed on the terrace, only one of which was partially excavated. Because the archeological investigations were restricted to the narrow limits of a road-widening project, we have a somewhat skewed understanding of the site. It isn’t really “a campsite” – rather, it is a camping zone and large river terrace upon and across which many different prehistoric visitors did many different things (hunted, gathered, camped, cooked, made tools, slept, and so on) over a vast 9,000-year stretch of prehistory.

Archeologists documented and partially or wholly excavated 58 cultural features. All but one of these features were burned rock (cooking stone) accumulations and they ranged in size from tiny clusters of eight rocks representing very small basin-shaped hearths less than 2 feet (60 cm) in diameter to a massive burned rock midden over 65 feet (20 meters) in diameter. This midden represents an accumulation of cooking debris that formed over hundreds or perhaps thousands of years, The midden is the result of the repeated use of this spot as a cooking locality where heated rocks were used to bake plants (such as sotol and yucca) within earth ovens.

The river terrace on which people camped shows clear evidence that the river channel migrated and changed course several times during the long span of human history of this spot. Most noticeable is an abandoned channel that gradually filled with washed-in sediment while people continued to camp in the vicinity, sometimes baking plants in cooking pits dug into the fine sediments filling the abandoned channel. The relatively few and scattered artifacts and cooking features found within the in-filled channel proved informative to archeologists precisely because these materials were separated by thin layers of sediment. In contrast, elsewhere at the Woodrow Heard site the terrace surface was stable for long periods of time and accumulated very slowly. As prehistoric groups returned many times over the generations to camp on this river terrace, the debris they left behind during site use episodes hundreds or even thousands of years apart became mixed together.

Because of how the site formed, the only discrete site component (a set of closely related materials left during a relatively brief period) dates to about 7,400-6,900 B.C. This Angostura component is named after the distinctive Angostura dart point, a lanceolate shaped projectile point that represents the last Paleoindian-style projectile point style in the region. The overall evidence, however, from the Woodrow Heard site and other sites in the region with Angostura components suggests that the lifestyle at the time was clearly part of the Archaic tradition.

Reference:

Decker, Susan, Black, Stephen L. and Thomas Gustavson
2000 The Woodrow Heard Site, 41UV88: A Holocene Terrace Site in the Western Balcones Canyonlands of Southwestern Texas. Studies in Archeology 33, Texas Archeological Research Laboratory, University of Texas at Austin. [Read Abstract.]

photo of Woodrow Heard site
View across the Woodrow Heard site and the broad terrace or floodplain of the Dry Frio River. The river is not visible, but it is in the background where the topography dips. The scattered rocks visible in the ploughed field are burned rocks or ancient cooking stones. The low mound visible just to the right of center is a large burned rock midden, the site’s largest. This impressive feature lay outside the road expansion project and outside the area investigated by archeologists. In recent years this mound has been destroyed by artifact collectors. TARL archives.
photo of excavations
View of the excavations. The dark, rocky layer in the wall is a burned rock midden that dates to the Late Archaic and Late Prehistoric periods. Beneath the midden are earlier layers and cooking features such as the distinct semi-circle of rocks that sticks out from the wall (Feature 11). TARL archives.
photo of sheet midden
View of a sheet midden, or large dense pattern of cooking stones (Feature 37) thought to represent debris cleaned out of a cooking pit that was later found beneath the darker, open area near the yellow and red arrow. This cooking area was found at the bottom of a machine-dug exploratory trench that was placed across a swale or old filled-in river channel. You can see later layers higher in the wall. TARL archives.
drawings of angostura points
Drawings of Angostura points from the Woodrow Heard site. All of these specimens are at the end of their use life and have been resharpened (items a, c, e, and f), broken by impact (item b) or snapped by use (items d, g, and h). The dots mark the extent of lateral edge grinding (from the base)—this technique, along with some parallel-flaking and the overall lanceolate form are technological holdovers from the Paleoindian lithic tradition. From Decker et al. 2000, Figure 172.
aerial photo of Woodrow Heard site
Aerial photograph looking south showing the broad triangular terrace upon which the Woodrow Heard site is situated. The Dry Frio River flows from right to left in this photo – the triangular shape of the terrace is formed by a sharp bend in the course of the river. Note that two swales (old river courses) are clearly visible within the plowed fields at the center of the photograph as darker curving lines more or less parallel to the modern river. At the top of the photo are steep limestone ridges lined with early-morning shadows.
photo of excavations
Close up showing the dark burned rock midden below which is Feature 11, the semi-circular rock layer that extends into the wall. The wall marks the edge of the right-of-way that formed the outer limits of the investigated area. The scattered rocks on the floor of the main excavation block date to the Early Archaic and probably represent the remnants of scattered cooking features. TARL archives.
photo of excavations
Close up of a partially excavated cooking pit (Feature 49) found beneath Feature 37 within the swale (old filled-in river channel). The pit fill has been partially removed to show the pit’s original shape. This pit was part of an earth oven—layered cooking arrangements of hot rocks insulated by an outer layer of earth. The oven had probably been cleaned out and rebuilt many times, each time adding more spent cooking rocks to the scattered donut-shaped layer that archeologist call a “sheet midden” (Feature 37). Charcoal from the fill of the pit was radiocarbon dated to about 3500 B.C. (4670 +/- 60 B.P. in radiocarbon years). TARL archives.