Students feeling the urge to explore the cultural habits of prehistoric civilizations are given the opportunity through the Experimental Archaeology Club.
Texas State students are given the opportunity to explore the cultural habits of prehistoric civilizations through the Experimental Archaeology Club.
The Experimental Archaeology Club is a group of primarily anthropology students seeking to test the survival habits of 11,000-year-old Texas inhabitants. Club activities include networking, testing pre-historic tools and weapons, and practicing Paleo-American (the ancestors of Native Americans) cooking habits.
Members do not have to be licensed archaeologists experienced with excavating prehistoric remains. Current members are simply students testing existing archaeological theories.
“We’re trying to better understand human behavior,” said Stephen Black, assistant professor of anthropology and club facility sponsor .
Black studies Paleo-American people who lived in the Lower Pecos Canyonlands in Texas along the Rio Grande. They were hunter-gatherers who lived in a harsh environment, creating new practices and technologies to adapt and survive. Some of these same practices were used by Paleo-Americans who lived in the San Marcos area.
“We try to develop experiments that link the past to the present,” said Jerod Roberts, anthropology senior.
Club members explore specific factors and concepts not easily understood at archaeological sites. One purpose, according to the club, is to figure out how prehistoric ovens functioned and understand hardships prehistoric people endured to survive.
Members dug a meter-wide, foot-and-a-half-deep hole in ground. They then heated up rocks by burning logs and pieces of wood below the surface. They removed the logs and placed prickly pear cactus pads over the rocks when the stones were heated to 800 to 600 degrees Celsius. The food was placed on top of the prickly pears with additional cactus pads set over the food and then coated with a mound of dirt.
However, the club members pointed out these earth-oven reenactments are not completely accurate. Prehistoric civilizations that used them wound up having dirt in their food from lacking shovels and other modern tools or aluminum foil to keep the meals clean.
“We are very pampered,” Roberts said.
Vicki Munoz, club president and anthropology senior, said meat was a rarity and required a lot of effort to obtain and cook. She said the Paleo-Americans’ diets were mostly vegetarian. What the club cooked in the recreated ovens would be considered a feast.
It takes about two to three hours to cook the food using an earth oven. In this time, the club socializes and experiments with other recreated prehistoric tools like the atlatl, an 18-inch stick used to launch spears.
The club schedules the earth-oven experiment each semester, the most recent of which was held on Saturday.
“We try to do it a couple times a semester,” Munoz said.
The club holds experiments on the 140-acre property of Grady Early, former faculty member, approximately five miles from west campus. Early’s property is additionally used for other anthropology projects, including forensics.
University President Denise Trauth and other administrators will visit the project sites April 22 and participate in club events, including taste testing for the Experimental Archaeology Club’s earth-oven-cooked food.