Heritage, Volume 11, Number 2, Spring 1993 Page: 9
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Digging for the Remnants
of 12,000 Years of Human Habitation
By Margaret S. Simon, Ph.D.
Photographs by Artie Limmer
The Lubbock Lake Landmark Project is the only state park where
academic research is conducted alongside tourist activities.
T he Chamber of Commerce in
St. Augustine, Florida, may tout their
city as the oldest in the United States, but
archaeologists believe that a good chance
exists that the oldest community in the
New World may be Lubbock, Texas.
Such an assertion would have come as a
surprise to school children in Lubbock several
decades ago who studied theirs as one
of Texas' newest cities, founded in 1909.
But that was before professional archaeologists
at the Lubbock Lake Landmark
began to uncover evidence that humans
lived continuously in Lubbock for 12,000
The remarkably complete depositional,
cultural, floral, and faunal record at the
Lubbock Lake Landmark has earned it an
international reputation as one of the most
significant archaeological sites in North
America. In addition to its designation as a
National Historic Landmark, the site is
also a Texas State Historical Park.
The Texas Monthly Field Guide to Archeological
Sites of Texas describes the Lubbock
Lake Landmark as follows: "Approaching
the buildings and excavations of
the landmark, a visitor will typically begin
to sense the significance of the site. It is
Anthropology students from around the world spend
summers at the Lubbock Lake Landmark State
Historical Park where they interact with school
groups and other visitors to the park. Lubbock Lake
is the only state park in Texas with an active
research program on site.
difficult to put into objective terms, but the
feeling springs from the realization that this
is a specific place where human beings can
be shown to have been living for about
12,000 years. That sensation cannot be recaptured
in museum demonstrations or replications."
The unique 300-acre site, located in a
meander of Yellowhouse Draw in northeast
Lubbock, features layers of sediment 24 to
30 feet deep that have been undisturbed by
erosion. Each layer contains a record of a
particular time period.
"The site is basically little packages of
time stacked one on top of the other," said
Eileen Johnson, curator of anthropology at
the Museum of Texas Tech University and
director of the Lubbock Lake Landmark. "It's
one of the largest hunter-gatherer complexes
we know of in the New World. You can study
humans' entire existence in one spot instead
of having to go to 100 different sites."
Artifacts found at the landmark date
back to the Clovis Period some 12,000 years
ago. Skeletal remains that have been unearthed
include those of bison; a giant armadillo,
about the size of a Volkswagen Beetle;
and a giant short-faced bear, which in mass
was about three times as large as bears today.
When dedication ceremonies were held
in October 1990 to open the park, Texans
had a unique new tourist attraction for several
reasons. First, Lubbock Lake is the only
state park in Texas with an active research
program on site. Visitors at the park can find
a picnic table adjacent to a chest-deep hole
where archaeologists are digging for remnants
of a bison slaughter field more than
500 years old. The interaction between
archaeologists and tourists can be so animated
that several visitors have returned
as volunteer amateur scientists and joined
Also unique to Lubbock Lake is its
organizational and management structure.
The park is a joint venture between Texas
Parks and Wildlife Department, which
operates the interpretation center and the
park grounds, and the Museum of Texas
Tech University, which oversees the research
at the site and the public education
programs at the park and is keeper of the
artifacts and documents from the site. In
addition, the city of Lubbock owns the
land and provides the infrastructure. According
to Johnson, the cooperative venture
between the city, Texas Parks and
Wildlife Department, and Texas Tech is
one of the first in the world to allow
scholarly research to go on under university
governance while the infrastructure
and management of the facility is under
the control of a governmental agency.
The benefits of the joint venture are
twofold: the public can experience archaeological
research firsthand while the
researcher can be assured of a site welldeveloped
and protected by a government
agency for scholarly purposes.
"The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department
welcomes this cooperative effort.
Our unique partnership will ensure this
HERITAGE * SPRING 1993 9
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Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage, Volume 11, Number 2, Spring 1993, periodical, Spring 1993; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth46808/m1/9/: accessed October 22, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas Historical Foundation.