Site 41JS73

Known among archeologists as Alexander’s Covered Mound, Site 41JS73 is a large cairn cemetery or group of cemeteries along a high rocky escarpment west of the Clear Fork River. Cyrus Ray excavated four cairns at the site in the 1930s, and archeologist Joe Ben Wheat excavated another series of cairns in approximately the same area several years later. 

In total, as many as 20 individuals were buried at site 41JS73, some in multiple graves within the same cairn. There was considerable variation in how the individuals were interred and, based on presence of arrow points and missing skeletal elements, it is evident that some met a violent death.  Several skulls were buried without other body parts, some skeletons lacked skulls, and mandibles were missing on some. Based on written descriptions, the arrow points may have been of the Moran type.

1930s Work by Cyrus Ray

Ray conducted excavations on successive visits over a period of several years. Brief notations on his findings thought to be from this site are within articles in Texas Archeological and Paleontological Society bulletins in 1933, 1939, 1940. Ray numbered the four cairns as  AM#1, AM#3, AM#4, and AM#5 (AM#2 was located elsewhere).  There is only scant information on the locations of these cairns relative to one other.

AM#1:  The remains of five individuals were found within this cairn mound.  Previously disturbed by relic hunters, some graves contained only fragmentary remains. The first grave in the central portion of the mound had been badly damaged. The second, in the northern sector, contained fragmentary remains within a slab-lined, rectangular cist with a horizontal slab covering and vertical slabs erected above.  Skull fragments were found the near the top of the cist, and a few bones at the bottom.

In the western portion of the mound, a complex grave containing remains of two individuals was found. A rectangular, slab-lined cist with a horizontal slab covering had been placed at a depth of about four feet below the stone mound visible on the surface. The cist contained a flexed skeleton in seated position with both hands on sides of the skull. One of the mandibles was missing from the skull.  On top of the slab covering this cist, additional vertical slabs had been erected. Roughly  18 inches above these and below other vertical slabs, the remains of another individual had been interred in flexed position, on its side.  Only the skull, mandible, and other skeletal elements were present.

AM#3:  This feature was multi-layered, with cobbles stretching roughly 6 feet across atop two parallel, upright slabs set on edge with additional flat stones.  Beneath this covering, at a relatively shallow depth (about 20 inches), was a flexed skeleton on its back. According to Ray, the left femur showed much evidence of bone disease in the form of exotoses (bony outgrowths) and the head of the bone was described as “deformed, much mushroomed, and eroded.” 

AM#4:  A total of 65 stone slabs in complex arrangement covered this single burial. The individual lay in flexed position with head to the south in a pit roughly three and a half feet deep. At least two layers of horizontal slabs covered the pit, and these were covered with vertical slabs, with additional slabs placed at varying angles. The entire stone cairn extended about seven feet in diameter.

AM#5: This cairn, located roughly 18 inches from AM#4, contained four burials at different levels within a large, stone-covered pit nearly five feet deep. In the northeast portion, a large skull lay on top of what Ray described as a “much smaller skull;”  next to these were two arrow points characterized as long, thin, and serrated.  The long bones of the skeletons were mixed below the skulls.  A third skull, with no other bone, lay in the southeast end of the pit. Another skeleton lay in the west end along with three serrated arrow points. According to Ray, the points were like those shown in the 1939 BTAPS Bulletin (Plate 51), from a site now recorded as 41JS1.  The illustrated points are Moran type, associated with the Blow Out Mountain phase.

Excavations by  Joe Ben Wheat

Wheat conducted excavations at the site in 1940 as part of a WPA archeological project in the Abilene area.  In his quarterly report for the project, he described his findings in considerable detail.  Two different burial groups were situated roughly 300 yards apart. The first cairn group (labeled Site 1), encompassed four cairns containing nine burials. An additional burial was found nearby (Site 2).

Cairn 1 held three burials, including the bundle burial of an adult male placed as if in the arms of a female, who had been interred in a seated position. The man was approximately 40 years old at time of death.  His remains apparently had been allowed to deflesh, then the major bones gathered and deposited amid the burial of the female.  The skull, minus the mandible, was placed upside down on the pile of bones.  In Wheat’s view, these burials were made at the same time. Several inches below this dual grave lay the bundle burial of another individual, a female adult.

Cairn 2 contained a cremation burial within a small niche of the rock mound, the burial of an infant, and the fully flexed burial of an adult male. The remains of the man had been badly crushed by the overlying rock slab, and only fragments of his skull could be accounted for.

Cairn 3 covered a slab-lined pit, which had been subdivided, and contained the remains of two individuals: a child and a male adult.  The child had been placed in flexed position on its left side atop a layer of flat stones in the upper part of the pit. Three Olivella shell beads accompanied this child.  The remains of the man had been placed in seated position within a cist lined by five slabs set at a sharp angle.  In Wheat’s estimation the burials within this cairn were made at different times.

Cairn 4  contained the flexed remains of a child buried atop flat stones within a pit. The burial was covered over with a great mass of what Wheat described as “shingled” rocks.  The skeleton had been badly crushed by the weight of the stones; the entire cranial vault and most of the vertebral column were missing.

A second plot (Site 2)  contained one “massive burial” at a shallow depth. This included the remains of an adult man in flexed position, and that of another adult, probably originally in flexed position.

Artifacts and field notes from the excavations are curated at Texas Tech University. Plans are underway to photograph some of the artifacts, particularly the arrow points, and will be added to this section when available.

 

 

Views of cairn at 41JS73 showing (1) top layer of mounded stone structure and (2) burial pit below.  Photo by Cyrus Ray (1940: Plate 44).

In the northeast corner of the pit one large skull lay on top of a much smaller skull, and two long thin serrated arrow points lay beside them on the south... . In the west end another skeleton lay, and two more serrated points were found with it. In the bottom another point lay amongst the long bones.

-Cyrus Ray, describing points found in one cairn at 41JS73, likely of type Moran.

Cemetery with four cairns excavated by Joe Ben Wheat.  The cairns held the graves of eight individuals. Drawing by Joe Ben Wheat (1940: Fig. 3, unpublished WPA report on file, TARL Archives).

Flexed burial (Number 7)  within stone cist. Drawing by Joe Ben Wheat (1940: Fig. 2, unpublished WPA report on file, TARL Archives).

Cross-section of typical unlined burial pit showing layers of limestone slabs over burial. Drawing by Joe Ben Wheat (1940: Fig. 6, unpublished WPA report on file, TARL Archives).
Chart of burial data from the site compiled by Joe Ben Wheat for his report to the WPA in 1940. TARL Archives.