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CRP, No.9:20-22

Current Research in the Pleistocene 9:20-22 (1992)


Paleoindian Archaeology at McFaddin Beach, Texas

Hester, Thomas R., Michael B. Collins, Dee Ann Story, Ellen Sue Turner, Paul Tanner, Kenneth M. Brown, Larry D. Banks, Dennis Stanford, and Russell J. Long

On November 15 and 16, 1991, a conference was held in Port Arthur, Texas, to examine and evaluate archaeological remains from McFaddin Beach (41JF50), a locality on the upper Texas coast. The site was originally published by Long (1977) and is best known for the large number of Paleoindian projectile points found there over the years. These include more than 65 Clovis points. Earlier study and photography of some of the McFaddin Beach materials had been done by Story and Lawrence Aten in 1987 (on file, Texas Archaeological Research Laboratory, The University of Texas at Austin).

The 1991 conference was organized by Story, Turner and Tanner, and was designed to bring together professional archaeologists and geologists with avocational archaeologists and collectors who had frequented the beach, some since the 1960s. In addition to the authors, other researchers at the conference included Sherwood Gagliano, Paul Goldberg, Richard Weinstein and Don Wyckoff. Local participants were contacted by Tanner and Long, and 27 collections were assembled for review, photography, and preliminary documentation.

McFaddin Beach is a locality about 24 km in length, stretching from High Island on the west to Sea Rim State Park on the east. Lithic artifacts, sometimes beachrolled but sometimes little altered, occasionally wash ashore, along with Pleistocene faunal remains. Examination of several kilometers of beach at the time of this conference revealed little more than a flake and some weathered fafaunal remains. In essence, discovery of artifacts and fauna is the result either of serendipity (some collectors have worked the beach for a year or less) or dogged persistence, year after year.

Geological studies by Pearson (1977) have provided a fairly detailed picture of geomorphological change and sea-level rise at McFaddin Beach. Briefly put, the coastline at the time of Clovis was about 80 km to the south and 120-140 m below present sea level. The continental shelf was cut by a deeply entrenched Sabine River, flowing at that time through earlier deltaic deposits formed by the Trinity River, which had abandoned the area around 20,000-25,000 yr B.P. The McFaddin Beach archaeological and paleontological remains are presently eroding from submerged relict deltaic landforms - an upland area not fully inundated by rise in sea level until 2800 yr B.P. Wave action, particularly at times of elevated wave energy, transports the dislodged materials and deposits them on the present-day beach. The older artifacts tend to be pristine whereas the younger types are heavily rolled. This is interpreted as evidence that erosion has relatively recently cut into older deposits. The geologic scenario fits well with the archaeological remains, which are truncated in late-Archaic times.

Space permits only a few summary observations on the McFaddin assemblage. Pearson (1983:1) has listed the Pleistocene fauna as "mammoth, mastodon, peccary, deer, horse, bison, sloths, giant armadillo, sabre-toothied cat ... small mammals, fish, and turtles." He notes a radiocarbon assay (laboratory not given) on mammoth tusk of 11,100 +/- 750 yr B.P.

Paleoindian artifacts include numerous Clovis points, some of great length and others much reworked, a Clovis preform, Clovis blades, a single Folsom point (of Keokuk variety, Boone Chert, Oklahoma), San Patrice, Scottsbluff, Pelican, Golondrina, Dalton, Midland(?), Plainview, and Angostura. Three of the large Clovis points (120+ mm in length) are highly similar in workmanship and raw material. These were found in close proximity along the beach, and two were found within days of each other. These circumstances raise the possibility that a cache was disrupted and at least some of its contents washed onto the beach. Early-Archaic diagnostics include Big Sandy and Bell; the middle to late Archaic includes the Gary, Evans and Pedernales types, and Poverty Point-related forms, such as Pontchartrain, Epps, and Delhi. Banks observed that 90-95% of the raw materials are central- and east-Texas cherts. One Archaic-style contracting stem biface of obsidian has been sourced by Precise X-Ray Fluoresence technique at the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory (F. Stross, F. Asaro and R. Giauque, pers. comm.) to the source at Zacualtipan, Hidalgo, Mexico, more than 1000 km to thee south.

The McFaddin Beach data offer a tremendous resource for the study of typology and technology of Paleoindian and later assemblages on the upper Texas coast. Eventually, investigation of offshore deposits may be warranted.


Thomas R. Hester, Michael B. Collins, and Kenneth M. Brown, Texas Archaeological Research Laboratory, The University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX 78712-1100.

Dee Ann Story, Route 1, Box 112, Wimberley, TX 78676.

Ellen Sue Turner, 123 Danville Drive, San Antonio, TX 78201.

Paul Tanner, 3649 Roanoke, Port Arthur, TX 77642.

Larry D. Banks, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Southwestern Division, 1114 Commerce Street, Dallas, TX 75242-0216.

Dennis Stanford, Smithsonian Institution, Museum of Natural History 304, Washington, DC 20560.

Russell J. Long, 675 Alma, Beaumont, TX 77705.


References Cited

Long, R. J. 1977 McFaddin Beach. The Patillo Higgins Series of Natural History and Anthropology, No. 1. Spindletop Museum, Lamar University, Beaumont, TX.

Pearson, C. E. 1983 The Archaeology and Paleogeography of the McFaddin Beach Site, Jefferson County, Texas. Paper presented at the Minerals Management Service, Fourth Annual Information Transfer Meeting, New Orleans, LA.


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