Development site may contain ancient burial ground artifacts

By: 

News Reporter
Lisa Marie Coppoletta, “community organizer” and environmental activist, sifts through dirt at her San Marcos home Oct. 27 in search of artifacts.

A new apartment complex development has some San Marcos residents upset because they believe the construction and excavation will likely destroy archaeological artifacts and sites.

Many citizens believe an ancient Native American burial site is located at the Woodlands development area, said Lisa Marie Coppoletta, self-described community organizer, environmental activist and San Marcos resident. Archaeologists cannot yet confirm the existence of human burials, but experts believe the Woodlands property, formerly known as Cape’s Camp, on River Road between the IH-35 access road and Cape Road likely contains a significant number of artifacts, Coppoletta said.

Concerned citizens are unsatisfied with the number and quality of archaeological surveys performed by Horizon Environmental Services, Inc., a company hired by the property’s developers, Dovetail Developments, she said.

Coppoletta said she knows of amateur surveyors who have found artifacts like Clovis point arrowheads, flint spearheads and one mastodon jawbone fragment at the Woodlands.

“The ‘rock hounds,’ the ‘river rats,’ they find this stuff and they may not broadcast it,” Coppoletta said. “This whole area is one mass (archaeological) site.”

Coppoletta can recall the hundreds of concerned citizens who rallied against the City Council’s decision to develop the Woodlands property at the Jan. 7 meeting.

“200, 250, maybe 300 people showed up,” Coppoletta said. “And this was not like tree-hugging hippies. This was like people of all political persuasions, and they all had concerns about building near the river.”

Todd Ahlman, director of the Center for Archaeological Studies at Texas State, agrees the Woodlands construction site likely contains buried artifacts.

“Prehistorically, people tend to live along rivers, so it makes sense there would be a site there,” Ahlman said.

Horizon vice president Lee Sherrod acknowledges the finding of artifacts at the Woodlands property in a letter dated Aug. 22, 2013 to Doucet & Associates, an engineering firm hired by Dovetail.

According to the letter, miscellaneous historic and pre-historic debris were found on the project site during a cultural resources survey of the property. However, the debris was determined not to be significant.

Coppoletta said she has been trying since July 2014 to speak with Horizon officials to learn the nature of the recovered artifacts.

“They won’t return my phone calls, and I want an answer,” Coppoletta said. “I have repeatedly asked, ‘Where are those artifacts?’ You have to use an arrowhead to pry the truth out of them. ”

Sherrod and Horizon officials were unavailable for comment.

“What to you is insignificant, if you’re a person who’s being paid, may be very culturally significant to a tribal elder,” Coppoletta said.

Ahlman said developers are not required to conduct “shovel tests” or other archaeological surveys when they work on private property and do not take federal or local government funding.

Conductors of shovel tests use one-foot-wide holes to screen dirt and look for artifacts or other evidence of human occupation, Ahlman said.

“When we are out looking for stuff, we can’t dig up all the ground, so we do shovel tests to look for sites,” Ahlman said.

In the Aug. 22 letter, Horizon officials acknowledge their lack of obligation in conducting surveys and revealing the findings.

According to the letter, the proposed project would be a “private development.” The Texas Historical Commission does not have authority under the Antiquities Code of Texas or Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act to review cultural resource issues.

Texas state law requires developers to cease work and contact authorities if human burials are found at a site, Ahlman said.

Coppoletta said the preservation of ancient artifacts is more important than apartment construction.

“Long-term preservation of those artifacts and the spiritual respect that we owe to those ancestors who once lived attuned with nature is much more important than the short-term gains of throwing up an apartment complex,” Coppoletta said.

The destruction of artifacts and archaeological sites at the Woodlands development project is irresponsible and hurts the entire community, Coppoletta said.

“Let’s say even if they did want to build an apartment complex there, what’s wrong with opening that up to Texas State archaeology students to let them excavate that site?” Coppoletta said. “To me, that would have been the most respectful way to proceed.”