This section is an
updated interpretive 2006 summary with links to the original conclusions of the published site report. In most ways, I see the Hinojosa site
today pretty much as I did in 1986, but archeological research elsewhere over the
last two decades allows me to refine some inferences. And here I try to paint a broader picture of life 600 years ago for a wider
audience. It is to be expected that other archeologists today and in the future may take issue with some of my
interpretations. That is the way science works.
I see the Hinjosa as a base camp or rancheria (temporary village)
reoccupied by members of a single group of native people over no more than
several generations, perhaps less. Despite unresolved radiocarbon dating
inconsistencies, the bulk of the assays suggest the main (and perhaps the only)
occupation period was during the latter half of the 14th century (A.D. 1350-1400),
coinciding with the initial spread of the Toyah cultural horizon into the region. The people who lived at the site adopted certain new ideas and technologies shared by many other groups near and far. But they were not newcomers to the South Texas Plains.
They were denizens who continued to practice traditional
elements of the hunting and gathering way of life that characterized much of the region's prehistoric era.
During the 14th century the location of Hinojosa site was well suited as a major
campsite for peoples using stone-age technologies and living directly off the land.
The prevailing climate appears to have been somewhat wetter and perhaps a bit cooler
than today, conditions that allowed certain plants and animals to grow in the
immediate site area that are today no longer common or even present. For instance, one of the
climatic-indicator species whose bones were found is the pine vole, a
small mouse-like rodent that is today found only in the humid Eastern Woodlands, no
closer than northeastern Texas.
The inferred climatic shift for the South Texas Plains coincides with the early part of a worldwide climatic pattern often called the Little Ice Age. During the 14th through 18th centuries, the Northern Hemisphere experienced generally cooler and wetter conditions. Although the climatic impacts were not uniform, the archeological record from the Hinojosa does provide corroborating evidence that the South Texas Plains did indeed experience wetter and somewhat cooler conditions.
In those wetter times, Chiltipin Creek flowed year-round and provided
easy access to mussels, fish, water snakes, turtles, and animals such as the muskrat that are no longer found in the immediate area today. The site was surrounded by
more diverse habitats than those present today. Savanna grasslands instead of thorn-scrub brushlands covered most of the area, and there were different grassland habitats
(econiches) dominated by tall grasses (deeper soils), short grasses (thinner upland
soils), and wet/cool-adapted grasses (low-lying areas). The creek and its even
smaller tributary drainages were lined by riparian woodlands, as some
stretches still are today, but with more mature trees, a better
developed understory (the lower layers beneath the forest canopy), and a greater diversity of plants and animals.
Keep in mind that many of the differences between conditions 650 years ago and
those of today were not caused by climatic variation. They are the result of historic
land use practices, such as overgrazing, fire-suppression, field-leveling, plowing,
cultivation of non-native species, and ever-heavier demands on surface and
underground water supplies. Even though the overall climatic conditions were more
favorable 650 years ago, they were well within the modern range of year-to-year variability. Over
95% of the animal and plant species identified at Hinojosa are still characteristic
of the region today.
Clearly, the Hinojosa site was a major base camp used for
more than just fleeting stays or short-term hunting camps. The accumulation of
living debris is impressive, especially because the main occupation period is thought to have covered
a relatively brief period of time. Although the excavated sample represents only a
fraction of all of the evidence that was present, it allows us to project telling
statistics. It is estimated that the site contained a minimum of over 1,700 Perdiz
arrow points (mainly fragments thereof), 700 hide scrapers, and 8,000 pottery sherds. These materials are
concentrated in an intensive occupation zone of 1000 square meters (about 1200 square
yards) or an area measuring roughly 20-x-50 meters or roughly one-quarter the playing
area of an American football field.
We can be sure that the camp was home to entire families because of the diversity
and abundance of artifacts, the evidence of intensive food preparation, and the diversity
of animals, from large to very small. Worldwide, hunting and gathering is a family-based way of life with pronounced and predictable sexual division of labor. Although we can be certain
that men were the hunters of big game, as they are in virtually every society known
the world over, we can be equally confident that women and children did most of the work
and provided the bulk of the food, clothing, and other basics. Hide scraping would have been done by women and adolescent
girls, as was most food preparation, camp maintenance, plant gathering, and so on.
Women and children, especially adolescent boys, probably caught, snared, bopped, and
otherwise collected many of the smaller animals including rabbits, rodents, fish,
clams, snails and so on, most of which could have been found within a hour’s
walk. Women probably also made the pottery and many of the tools and implements save
for the weaponry.
We have no firm basis for calculating how many people lived at the Hinojosa site
or how long they stayed during any particular encampment, or even how many times the
site was occupied. The
sheer mass of materials tells us that the camp was used repeatedly, an inference supported by evidence that the site was occupied during
several different times of the year.
One of the research problems that the 1981
investigations sought to evaluate was the hypothesis that the Hinojosa site mainly
represented a winter bison hunting camp. This idea was put to rest by the finding
that deer were by far the main big game prey and by many indications that the site
was occupied in the warm months of the year. For instance, freshwater drum were most
likely caught in the early spring, while goosefoot, sunflower, hackberry seeds,
and persimmon fruits ripen in the summer.
Hunting and gathering peoples have mobile lifestyles because there are not
enough available resources near any one place to stay for too long. There are also attractive
resources that are abundant only in certain places in certain times of the year.
For instance, the major rivers to the east, such as the Nueces and the Guadalupe,
supported large stands of native pecans that ripened in the late fall. And keep in mind that
the South Texas Plains is situated on the continental climatic divide between humid
and arid, east and west. The region has always experienced
wetter and drier spells of varying lengths of time. The
Hinojosa site could never have been a permanent village. It was
one of many major camps where the peoples who called the place their own would have stayed
as they moved across the landscape from season to season and year to year.
One of the challenges in envisioning and understanding what the Hinojosa site was
like in its heyday is the fact that we did not recognize any definite evidence of houses (huts or dwellings or structures). From the accounts of early Spanish travelers, it is almost certain that structures were erected
during any stay beyond a brief visit. But in warm and relatively dry
regions, hunter-gatherer dwellings wouldn’t have been much more than a simple
hut, ramada (shade arbor), or windbreak. Such “residential structures”
would have had simple bent-pole frameworks covered by leafy branches, bundles of grass,
woven mats, and/or animal hides. The most useful lightweight parts—woven mats and tanned hides—were probably taken to the next camp
when the group moved on, leaving behind the frameworks and plant remains as silent
organic skeletons that were soon reclaimed by vegetation and decay.
There is one good candidate for the location of a dwelling at Hinojosa: the small
pit hearth, Feature 5, which was surrounded by a small area relatively free
of most debris. The accompanying interpretive graphic fuses several plan
maps and shows some of the evidence. One inferred dwelling does not a rancheria make,
but the site area is large enough to accommodate quite a few scattered huts
strung mainly along the creek bank as several Spanish accounts describe elsewhere in the region. We’ll
never know, but larger excavations may well have provided other candidates.
To learn more about the 1986 site interpretations , read Chapter 10 of the report. Chapter 11 synthesizes what was then known about the Late Prehistoric era in
southern Texas and may be most useful today as an historical review of
various now-outdated interpretive concepts. The brief concluding chapter summarized the site as a
Toyah Campsite .
In 1986 I proposed the Toyah “horizon” concept to emphasize that the Toyah
cultural pattern seems to have spread rapidly over a broad geographic area. Archeologists of an academic bent often
argue about terminology and definitions, and that is sometimes a healthy and necessary
thing. To advance ideas, we coin new terms and redefine existing ones for new
purposes. When the labels we propose stick, they are often quite useful for
communication, but other new terms just add jargon and make it harder for the
non-specialists and succeeding generations to follow the literature. The Toyah
phenomenon is a case in point.
The “Toyah” part isn’t the problem and, in fact, helps us get
around the semantic spats because at least that part doesn’t change. But
in the archeological literature you’ll find mention of the Toyah “phase,” “horizon,”
“culture,” "techno complex," and, most recently, “interval.” Each of us who
have championed one term over another have our reasons and we often justify our favored
choice with citations, quotes, and finely split hairs. You can read my take and some of the
history of debate in the Hinojosa report. But I’ll confess that the
“horizon” concept, as sensible as I thought it was in 1986,
hasn’t really caught on.
Toyah is a broad cultural pattern exemplified by a distinctive set of
artifacts sometimes known as the “Toyah tool kit.” This set of things
reflects the adoption of a set of technologies (bow and arrow weaponry, large animal
butchering and skinning tools, earthenware pottery making). Based on the ethnic diversity encountered by the Spanish in the 16th and 17th centuries, the Toyah cultural pattern was obviously shared by many different groups speaking different languages, having different names, living in different territories, and, in general, having different lives, different histories, different ethnicities and so on.
But what does this widespread pattern say about how these diverse groups interacted? What accounts for the shared material culture? What did trigger the widespread dissemination of the Toyah tool kit? Climatic change? Population pressure? Buffalo migration? How do the small-scale societies that shared Toyah culture in late prehistoric times relate to the historic Indian groups observed by the Spanish in the 16th and 17th centuries? What happened to Toyah culture?
The evidence from the Hinojosa campsite on the Toyah horizon in deep south Texas may continue to prove useful in helping archeologists come up with more convincing answers to these questions. And ask better ones.