UT professor cashes out savings to buy, donate dig site
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AUSTIN — After trying to raise the money to buy an archaeological dig site north of Austin, a University of Texas professor cashed out his personal savings to purchase the land and then donated it to the Archaeological Conservancy.
The 33-acre Gault site in Southwestern Bell County was one of the major areas of activity for the Clovis people in North America and contains relics that are as many as 13,500 years old, said Michael Collins, associate researcher at the Texas Archeological Research Laboratory at UT's J.J. Pickle Research Campus.
The Clovis — nomadic mammoth hunters who traveled from Siberia to Alaska across the Bering Strait — are thought to be the first people to enter the Americas.
Collins, who declined to specify how much he paid, said the conservancy will manage the site and preserve it for future research as new technologies allow for new archaeological theories and breakthroughs.
"It's a good idea to have important sites preserved to take advantage of those new techniques," he said. "This is the best place to place this property for its long-term conservation."
The conservancy, a New Mexico-based nonprofit group, has 380 archaeological preserves in the United States, including 15 in Texas.
Jim Walker, vice president and Southwest regional director for the conservancy, said the site provides useful insight on Paleo-Indian, or original Native American, culture.
Walker said a conservancy committee will regulate what work researchers will be able to do at the Gault site.
Since the early 20th century, UT archaeology professors have been visiting the site off and on. But with local residents digging for artifacts to collect or sell, UT researchers thought the land had been stripped of any archaeological value.
However, researchers returned in the early 1990s after a local resident uncovered some relics that caught their attention.
Collins said the excavations that followed turned up artifacts that challenge major theories about the Clovis people. For instance, he said that some finds suggest that the Clovis people were more domestic, building shelters and making tools for chores.
It's currently believed that after migrating through Alaska, the Clovis people followed mammoth herds through Canada, the United States and into South America over about 500 years.
"They were not nearly as nomadic as they would had to have been if they were hunting a single species," he said.
In 2002, Collins said, the team uncovered artifacts that predate the Clovis.
"This one site could tell us more about the Clovis than we had learned and not learned from other sites up until then, and it also had evidence of people being there before the Clovis," he said. "Those two things combined make it of extraordinary scientific interest and importance."
The UT System leased the Gault site for university use from 1999 to 2002. After the lease was up, Collins led an effort to raise money to purchase the land but was unable to meet the owner's asking price.
So earlier this year, he said he decided to use his savings to purchase the land. He finished paying for the land last month