This deeply stratified site in the Brushy Creek valley of southwestern
Williamson County contains evidence from every prehistoric time
period in Texas, the most complete single-site record of its
kind for the southern periphery of the Great Plains. The Wilson-Leonard
site (41WM235) evidences a succession of ancient peoples—from early
Paleoindian Clovis cultures to Late Prehistoric Toyah folk—practiced
a hunting and gathering lifeway throughout nearly 13,500 years. For the
last 8,500 years of that time, campers at the site also used earth-oven
cooking technology to cook bulbs from tuberous plants as well as other
The site was excavated in the early 1980s by the Texas Department of
Transportation in advance of construction of Ranch-to-Market Road 1431.
Roughly ten years later, archeologists from the Texas Archeological Research
Laboratory, led by Michael B. Collins, returned to the site to do further work. Using a host of new
technology and research methods, the team gleaned significant new information
on human ecology, chronology, and paleoenvironmental changes. Among the
more significant findings of the TxDOT/TARL excavations are:
- Recovery of an early human burial, one of the oldest and most complete
in North America. The individual—a young female—was somewhere between 18
to 25 years at time of death. She was buried roughly 11,000 years ago (9000
B.C., or 9500 radio carbon years B.P.) in a shallow grave with a worn
grinding-chopping tool placed at her side and a large limestone boulder
above her, perhaps to hold a hide wrapping. Archeologists nicknamed her
Leanne (or the “Leanderthal Lady”), in reference to the nearby town of Leander, Texas.
(See Prehistory/Leanne's Burial for more detail.)
- Documentation of a newly identified cultural component—that encompassing
the Leanne burial—and including several limestone hearths, pits (possibly
for storage or boiling foods with hot stones), and a variety of tools, including
grinding stones and Archaic-style, corner notched stemmed projectile points
referred to as Wilson. Evidence from the Wilson occupations wedged between
two lanceolate point zones more typical of the Paleoindian indicate that
the transformation to Archaic subsistence strategies was not a linear process.
Different but contemporaneous lifeways were played out in various locations
across the south-central U.S. as early Holocene peoples experimented with
different technical and social strategies to cope with environmental changes.
- Recovery of possible pre-Clovis evidence (a handful of chipped stone artifacts
including modified flakes and a biface, possibly in secondary context)
and a probable Clovis component comprising tools with strong Clovis
technological affinities and dating to ca. 11,500 B.C.).
- Indications of greater complexity and variability in Paleoindian projectile
point styles than previously known. Based on statistical analysis of
unfluted lanceolate forms from the site, a new type, St Mary’s Hall, was
proposed for points previously identified as Plainview.
- Evidence recovered from an enigmatic “Bone Bed” component suggesting
that Folsom and Plainview intervals may be more contemporary than sequential.
The component appears similar to Folsom in terms of lithic technology
(eg., ultra-thin bifaces) and association with bison, but it dated
to approximately 11,400 to 11,000 B.C., earlier than Folsom, and contained a
single unclassifiable, unfluted projectile point.
- Documentation of a 11,000-year-long sequence of burned rock cooking features
(more than 200), beginning with small cooking hearths with a few stones
and shifting to larger, more complex hot-rock appliances. By 7,000
B.C., the site saw the development of fully developed earth ovens used for
baking a variety of foods including camas (wild hyacinth) bulbs, a likely
staple for Early Archaic campers.
- Recovery of a variety of data toward a regional paleoenvironmental sequence
(based on physical stratigraphy, macro- and microfauna, diatoms, ostracodes,
plant remains and carbon isotopes).
Collins, Michael B. (Assembler and Editor)
1998 Wilson-Leonard: An 11,000-year
Archeological Record of Hunter-Gatherers in Central Texas (five volumes).
Studies in Archeology 31. Texas Archeological Research Laboratory, The University
of Texas at Austin, and Archeology Studies Program Report 10, Texas Department
of Transportation, Environmental Affairs Division.
Collins, M.B., C. B. Bousman, P. Goldberg, P.R. Takac, J.C. Guy, J.L. Lanata,
T.W. Stafford, and V.T. Holliday
1993 The Paleoindian Sequence at the Wilson-Leonard
Site, Texas Current Research in the Pleistocene 10:10-12.
Masson, M.A. and M.B. Collins
1995 The Wilson-Leonard Site (41WM235). Cultural
Resource Management News and Views 7(1):6-10.Texas Historical Commission, Texas.
For more information on the Paleoindian Wilson component, see:
Bousman, C. Britt, Michael B.Collins, Paul Goldberg, Thomas Stafford, Jan
Guy, Barry W. Baker, D. Gentry Steele, Marvin Kay, Ann Kerr, Glen
Fredlund, Phil Dering, Vance Holliday, Diane Wilson, Wulf Gose, Susan
Dial, Paul Takac, Robin Balinsky, Marilyn Masson, and Joseph F. Powell
Palaeoindian-Archaic transition in North America: new evidence from Texas. Antiquity 76(2002): 980-90.
Aerial view of the Wilson-Leonard site (41WM235) during
TxDOT excavations in the early 1980s. Situated at the juncture of Brushy and
Spanish Oak creeks in southwestern Williamson County, the site provided access
to water and a variety of food and fuel resources, making it a favored campsite
for hundreds of groups throughout prehistory. TARL archives.
Tools of the Clovis culture. This array of chipped stone tools bears attributes of Clovis workmanship, including the tip of a projectile point (a), large, early-stage biface (b), and flake from a blade core (f). Photo from Collins et al., 1998 (Fig. 7-5).
One of the oldest and most complete human skeletons in the Western Hemisphere, the Wilson-Leonard burial known as “Leanne,” or the “Leanderthal Lady,” was found by TxDOT archeologists in 1982. A well-worn tool, used for grinding or chopping, and a limestone boulder—perhaps placed on the body as a marker or to secure a wrapping around the body—also were uncovered in the grave.
TARL archeologists at work at the site. Digging through more than 19 feet (6 meters) of valley fill, the excavators uncovered multiple layers of cultural deposits representing hundreds of encampments on the banks of Brushy Creek. White tags on the unit wall mark locations where samples were extracted for special analysis (eg., plant pollen identification) to help track environmental change through time.
Net sinkers (or possible bola stones) from chiefly Late Paleoindian contexts. An increase in fish and turtle remains during the time may indicate that these early peoples were using weighted nets to exploit aquatic animals. The grooved stone at bottom dates to the Early Archaic.
Grinding tools for food processing from chiefly Archaic deposits. Click to enlarge and see more examples.
Window to the past. This idealized stratigraphy chart depicts more than 13,000 years of cultural deposits in two contiguous sections of a wall in a Wilson-Leonard excavation block. Top portion shows increasing use of stone cooking features (black dots indicate stones) in Late Paleoindian/Early Archaic times (stratigraphic units II and IIIa) and massive accumulation of burned rocks (middens) in later Archaic times, as hot-rock-cooking in earth ovens burgeoned. Bottom section shows the Leanne burial dug in from the Wilson soil (Unit Isi[c]). Wavy vertical lines indicate soil formation.
Bone Bed point. The thin, unfluted projectile point found in the bison Bone Bed component could not be classified. Its fine workmanship is more similar to Plainview technology than Folsom.
Tools from the Late Paleoindian Wilson component, Unit Isi(c), including Wilson points (middle, left), corner-notched projectile points with thick, ground-edged stems. Stemmed projectile points during this time period (ca. 11,000 years ago) are rare in Texas. This cultural zone also encompassed the Leann burial.
St. Mary’s Hall points. This Late Paleoindian, unfluted lanceolate style, while similar to Plainview, occurs later in the site deposits at circa 8000-9,500 B.C. (9900 to 8700 radiocarbon years B.P.)
Remains of an ancient oven. This large, burned rock basin (Feature 181) saw repeated use as a baking/cooking oven for large quantities of foods, including wild hyacinth bulbs (camas) during the Early Archaic period some 9,000 years ago (7,000 B.C.). More than 200 cooking features were documented at the site.
Cover of the first volume in the five-volume Wilson-Leonard report series, assembled and edited by Michael B. Collins, presents the research results of some 40 contributing authors. It was published in 1998 by TARL and TxDOT