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Geoarchaeology Survey uncovers ancient Spring Lake history

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Glass bottom boat tours on Spring Lake, where a recent underwater survey discovered human history could be much older than previously thought.
Photo by: Cassandria Alvarado | Staff Photographer
Glass bottom boat tours on Spring Lake, where a recent underwater survey discovered human history could be much older than previously thought.

The recent publication of Spring Lake Geoarchaeology Survey released historical discoveries that pronounced Spring Lake previously existed more than a thousand years ago.

The publication was instituted by Jacob Hooge, project archaeologist.

During this project, Hooge found evidence of a pre-historic lake high stand. Spring Lake, formed in 1849 by Edward Burleson, points further back into history.

“The evidence is that there was a pre-historic lake, and given the lake sediments, I was able to date it was definitely there between about 1,600 years ago and about 1,200 years ago,” Hooge said.

There is no evidence found of what could have created the lake, but the new discoveries lead to future research questions.

“It is possible that a dam created that lake, but that’s all theoretical right now,” Hooge said.

He said if it were a dam that created the lake, it could have been caused from a logjam, beavers or possibly prehistoric people.

The survey came from work done in preparation for the removal of the submarine theater. The theater was a part of the amusement park from the early 1950s to 1994. Texas State bought the property in 1991. Before that, Spring Lake was privately owned.

Texas State operated the park for a few years, then decided to transform it into an educational, environmental center. In 2011, the submarine theater was removed because of toxic glue that was stuck to it, creating a potential hazard of possibly polluting the lake, Hooge said.

“In order to remove that, we had to do an archaeology survey first to establish whether the removal was going to disturb any archaeological sites,” Hooge said.

During the removal, a piece of preserved wood was found under the submarine theater that dates back to the Paleo-Indian era.

“There was nothing that made us think (the wood) was cultural in any way, but it was a preserved piece of wood that dated to 13,500 years old, which is really old for a piece of preserved wood,” Hooge said. “Nobody expected that.”

Hooge said the work done for the submarine theater removal inspired further work, thus, leading to the geoarchaeology survey.

The work for the survey was conducted from 2011 to 2012, and Hooge turned the studies in as his master thesis in December 2013. The 2016 publication was a shortened version of his master thesis.

Along with Hooge, Jon Lohse, Daniel Warren and Frederick Hanselmann led this study. National Geographic Society and the Waitt Institute financially supported their work.

Brooke Parsley, environmental interpreter at The Meadows Center for Water and the Environment, said it was important to turn the amusement park into a research facility because there is so much history to be unfolded in the area.

“Discovery of our human past is extremely important to developing a better future, and this is considered one of the longest continually inhabited places in North America, so it should be preserved for its historical context,” Parsley said. “It is also a critical habitat for eight threatened and endangered species that need to be protected by consistent research and preservation rather than fun.”

Joel Sherrouse, geography alumnus, was in a scientific diving class taught by Hanselmann. He said divers are sent down in the lake to conduct archaeology research and explore the depths of the water.

“For thousands of years, there has been constant human activity here in the lake, and when it was dammed up, it preserved a bunch of ancient archaeological sites,” Sherrouse said. “You have arrow heads, ancient pottery and archaeology treasures that have been preserved by this water.”

Hooge said he hopes to conduct other research projects in the future.

“For this project, there really are no plans to go on, though we, Center for Archaeology Studies, and my boss, Todd Ahlman, who is the director, are very interested in pursuing future research at Spring Lake. We just have to seek more money,” Hooge said.