When you think about the challenges of roadway construction, obstacles above the ground come to mind – getting over or through mountains, rivers, and the like. What’s under the ground isn’t usually on most people’s minds.
On Loop 88, a project just west of Lubbock, the Texas Department of Transportation found something unexpected: bones. The find came while TxDOT was conducting environmental surveys for the road. By state and federal law, the transportation agency must conduct archaeological surveys before beginning construction. The agency has found ancient bones before, and catalogued some of them here.
Chris Ringstaff, a TxDOT archaeologist who dug at the site after an initial survey located bones in the construction area, says his team believes the bones are those of a pleistocene mammal. Pending confirmation by paleontologists, he says the bones could belong to a prehistoric mammoth. He says mammoth bones have been found in the area before.
“Just up the street at the Lubbock Lake site, there is mammoth bone in association with the archaeological site there,” Ringstaff says.
Ringstaff says his team is trying to determine if the site is archaeological or paleontological. If the site is determined to have archaeological, it will be a more significant find, and will require more painstaking study.
“When I’m out and talking to school groups, I always tell the kiddos, archaeology is the study of about ancient humans and paleontology is the study of ancient critters,” he says.
Ringstaff says the time required to evaluate the significance of the site, and to excavate its contents means that roadway construction will not be affected. If the site is found not to have included human activity, Ringstaff says, TxDOT may offer paleontological organizations the opportunity to dig the site before construction begins.
Written by Shelly Brisbin.