Box Springs visit yields new discoveries and experiences for students

By Cheryl K. Miller, with contributions from Karlee Cooper, media intern

  • The archaeological field team determined the location of a mound
  • Radiocarbon dates indicate longer Native American occupancy of Box Springs site than previously thought
  • Students learned valuable skills, which brought classroom lessons to life

In the hot, humid mugginess of east Texas in August, Crystal Dozier and a group of students made two exciting discoveries at the Box Springs archaeological site. Dozier, an assistant professor of anthropology, used magnetometry and ground penetrating radar to discover the precise location of an assumed mound.

“We had suspected a mound in our first set of travels. You see a circular feature on the magnetometry, and in the ground penetrating radar it becomes even clearer,” Dozier said of the site, owned by Wichita State alum Marc Rowland. “We have this beautiful circular feature, and because ground penetrating radar actually sends those signals into the ground, we can see how it changes underneath the surface.  There is a clear disturbance under the ground that is shaped like a mound.”

Mounds are human-made, elevated structures constructed of earth and were used for rituals, meetings and homes of important ancient peoples.

During an excavation near the mound, the group uncovered a diagnostic projectile point. Archaeologists know that this example of a tiny arrowhead was made in a short time frame about 1,000 years ago.

“That matches the early Caddo occupation that has been assumed for this site,” Dozier said.

However, radiocarbon dates from soil samples cored both near the mound and at the residential area of the site indicate a possible additional occupation in the 1600s.

“A late Caddo occupation, which has not been confirmed archaeologically yet, is something I’m really excited to explore,” Dozier said. “Whether this was a continuous occupation or two separate occupations we’re not quite sure yet.”

Students Jennifer Banks and Arland Wallace participated in the August site visit and found the field experiences invaluable.

Banks, a graduate student, had previous experience with fieldwork in Iowa and Nebraska. As crew chief at Box Springs, she guided others in shovel testing in the wooded areas of the site. She had also worked with several of the same students at the Etzanoa (Kansas) site in July.

“Between their first field school and the project in east Texas, I observed a lot of growth in the students that was impressive and exciting because of what it means for their future in archaeology,” Banks said.

Arland Wallace, an undergraduate and returning adult student, learned how to dig shovel test pits, a skill that can be used at other archaeological sites.

“I really enjoy being outside and digging to help unlock past societies' secrets and maybe answer some questions about who we are and how we as people do the things we do,” Wallace said. “One of the most satisfying moments occurs when you can observe the difference between an artifact, flake, and an ordinary rock. This process requires many sifts of dirt from the screens and the experience of seeing many rocks and artifacts to provide visual knowledge to tell the difference.”

Dozier was pleased with the August site trip, especially with the students’ experiences, the team’s camaraderie, and the discoveries they made.

“This project was especially rewarding with the discovery aspect. From the day that we start breaking ground, I'm not quite really sure what it's going to look like,” she said. “My expectations of what I expect to find are very often challenged by what we actually find. It's intellectually rewarding to be encountered with a mystery.”

The intellectual rewards are tempered with strenuous physical labor. Team members dig holes, excavate observation units and core ground samples. However, the mental and physical aspects of archaeology are complementary.

“The students would ask me exactly the right kind of questions,” Dozier said. “They understood what they were doing as they were doing it.”

Dozier plans to return with students to the Box Springs site over the 2022 spring break. The focus for the trip will be the excavation of units they marked in August.